As the flames consumed Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum, figures from across the political spectrum took to social media to mourn the loss of thousands of items – including precious fossils and pieces of Brazilian history. According to the National Museum Institute, “it was a scenario of total loss.” The museum building has been shut down by the Civil Defense Authority, as it could collapse at any moment.
Virtually every politician running for office in October’s general elections went on their own Twitter rant about the years of neglect from authorities toward the country’s cultural heritage. The Minister of Culture himself admitted this disregard in an interview to Globonews – blaming past administrations. Libertarian candidates used the case to claim the government’s incompetence, defending a smaller state. Those on the left are doing the opposite, blaming the tragedy on the lack of a stronger state.
As often happens in Brazil after an event which has caused so much commotion, the National Museum tragedy should now come to the forefront of the political debate, at least until the beginning of the next news cycle.
Nearly all presidential hopefuls have commented on the case, pulling no punches and attacking the current administration. While President Michel Temer’s government does shoulder part of the blame, it is not solely responsible for the museum fire. Such a disaster can only happen after decades of mismanagement, and Mr. Temer has only been in power since 2016.
However, despite today’s grandstanding on social media, very few of the candidates’ programs include any reference to federally-run museums.
Of the 13 candidates running in October, only two presented proposals for the culture sector in the programs they submitted to the Electoral Justice system: Marina Silva and the Workers’ Party. Four candidates – former Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, far-right Jair Bolsonaro, right-wing former firefighter Cabo Daciolo, and Trotskyist Vera Lucia – make no mention of the subject. The remaining seven have only vague proposals loosely connected to culture.
Of the five leading candidacies, we have checked exactly what is being proposed with regard to culture:
The former environment minister has included a national museum appreciation policy, promising to “improve operating conditions of museums, archives, and libraries.”
Lula’s party promises to “strengthen the national museum policy,” increasing investments into the National Library, the Palmares Cultural Foundation (which preserves Afro-Brazilian culture), and Casa de Rui Barbosa (a memorial collection of literary documents).
One of the chapters in his program is dedicated to culture. However, there is no mention of national museums. He says only that his administration would “preserve and amplify our cultural and artistic heritage.”
The Social Democracy Party candidate uses the same arguments regardless of the subject: recuperating the path to GDP growth will improve the cultural landscape. Mr. Alckmin believes that a thriving industry will invest in encouraging cultural expressions – but there’s nothing more specific than that.
Mr. Dias makes a reference to “free culture with the Culture Card,” but provides no explanation as to what that would entail.