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Museum Fire in Brazil Was ‘Bound to Happen’

As evidence of lax oversight surfaces, so does recrimination between the public institutions responsible for the museum’s administration and maintenance. Accused of poor management, university and museum officials point to their budgets, which have been severely slashed by the federal government in the last four years as Brazil faced a stifling recession.

“The government prefers to invest in some things and not others,” said Mr. Kellner, pointing to Rio’s Maracana soccer stadium, which underwent a $ 540 million renovation before the 2014 World Cup.

“You can’t blame one person specifically” for the fire, he said, pointing out that when firefighters responded, they found the fire hydrants in front of the museum dry and had to use water from a nearby lake to fight the flames.

But other evidence suggests the neglect was chronic. In the fire’s aftermath, local media outlets scoured their archives, finding reports dating to the 1950s that a tragedy was imminent.

The museum is “an easy target for a fire,” said one 1978 headline in the newspaper O Globo. In May 2004, Sérgio Alex Azevedo, then the museum’s director, said the museum didn’t have a fire-suppression system, “just a couple fire extinguishers.”

Officials from the university didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A handout issued by the university’s rector, Roberto Leher, mentioned improvements that were being implemented and stressed the institution’s lack of funding. To him, the main cause of the tragedy was a set of government priorities “that reduces our memory to ashes.”

On Monday, as he spoke to the news media, Mr. Kellner acknowledged the importance of accountability. Even as he fended off questions about what was left of the museum’s collection, he asked society to press the authorities — including himself — for answers.

“It’s right to ask about what was lost,” he said. “Society has the right to know. Call for it! Demand it from us.”

Source: NYT > World

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