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  • Brazil's budget cut dismays scientists

[MONTEVIDEO] Brazilian scientists are concerned by an unexpected 23 per cent cut to Brazil's 2011 science budget announced by the president, Dilma Rousseff, last month (9 February).

In an attempt to reduce public spending and control inflation, Rousseff vetoed the Ministry of Science and Technology's 2011 budget of US$4.9 billion (R$8.1 billion), which had already been approved by Brazil's Congress, cutting it to US$3.84 billion  — 18 per cent below the 2010 level.

"This is a huge and unexpected cut," Luiz Davidovich, a board member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, told SciDev.Net. "It certainly does not help the country attain the level of 2–2.5 per cent of GDP to be invested in R&D [research and development] by 2020, an objective supported by society and government."

"We hope this cut will be reversed and that this action does not represent a change in science policy in Brazil, which would contradict strong statements on the importance of science and technology made by President Rousseff," he added.

Science and technology experienced a boost under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Last year Lula approved a 2010 science national budget of R$7.8 billion (around US$4.1 billion at the exchange rate at the time), almost a third higher than the 2009 budget and the first time the country's core science budget was not cut during the approval process.

This rise was expected to continue under Dilma Rousseff, who took office on 1 January. However, she was planning general budget cuts and Brazil's scientists campaigned to avoid or reduce them.

In December 2010, an open letter signed by the presidents of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Brazilian Association for the Progress of Science stated: "Science is a factor in the development of nations, and Brazil is heading that way. In just 20 years, Brazil's participation has risen from 0.62 per cent to 2.4 per cent of world scientific output which puts Brazil in 13th place in the world ranking."

"This evolution of Brazilian science arose from a state policy that made continued and increasing investment for several decades — and especially in recent years — in the training of human resources for higher education and research and knowledge production," they added. "Thus, this policy needs to be consolidated and expanded, rather than suffer setbacks."

On 4 February, days before the announcement Brazil's science and technology minister, Aloizio Mercadante, said he opposed the mooted cuts because science and technology are "very important for the future of the Brazilian economy". But after the announcement (14 February) he said that cuts could be "softened" with loans from the Brazilian Development Bank.