Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Waldir We Hardly Knew Ye
Waldir Pires, the Brazilian defense minister who has been in charge of the country's aviation system, was fired today as air-traffic chaos worsened after the most recent disaster last week.
Pires, who is in his 80s, has been mocked in this space as "Wonderful Waldir" since last October, when he steadfastly refused to assign any blame to Brazilian air-traffic control or Brazilian aviation for the Sept. 29 mid-air collision between a commercial 737 and a business jet that killed 154 over the Amazon.
For far longer than any reasonable person should have done -- and especially a person in charge of an aviation system that was manifestly unsafe -- Pires pursued a policy of criminalizing and politicizing the Sept. 29 accident.
As he did that, he failed to address or even acknowledge the fact that the accident was caused by technical faults in Brazil's air traffic system and by air traffic controllers who assigned both planes to a collision course at 37,000 feet in an area over the Amazon where radio and radar dead zones are known to exist. Wonderful Waldir, of course, denied they exist.
Pires was fired by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula ("Lucky Lula") de Silva -- I call him "Lucky" because the Sept. 29 accident and the resulting orchestrated anti-American furor gave him a toe-hold in a presidential run-off election that he went on to win. Lucky Lula allowed this scandal to continue unchecked while his nation's aviation system became exposed as a disgrace around the world.
Firing a clueless old man won't fix the problem, and it's clear that Lucky Lula is stalling for time while Brazilians' fury over a collapsed air-traffic system mounts.
And two American pilots remain falsely criminally accused in an accident that never, ever should have been criminalized to begin with.
Wonderful Waldir did have his moment, incidentally. As a presidential aide, he publicly took a courageous stand in 1964 against the military coup that led to a 22-year military dictatorship in Brazil. That coup, supported by the U.S. government, was perhaps the seed of his anti-Americanism.
But that was 1964 and that was a very long time ago. Wonderful Waldir was malfeasant in railroading two American pilots. He was a fool in not summoning the simple courage to admit what went wrong and talk about how to fix it.
And as the man in charge when Brazil's aviation system collapsed, he did nothing to alleviate it. All he did was look for people to blame -- without looking in the mirror or at his patron in the presidential palace.
So give Wonderful Waldir his gold watch.
And tell him not to let the door hit him in the ass on his way out.