A few days ago, we were surprised by the shocking news of the crash of a plain transferring the players of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense from Bolivia to Colombia, to play the finals of the Copa Sudamericana, against the Atlético Nacional de Medellín. 71 of the 77 passengers died, among them most of the team and technical staff, plus members of the crew and a great number of journalists.
By Ari Russo.
After the initial shock, we immediately saw a generalized solidarity with the team and the families; solidarity that did not took long to be exploited by the media and the soccer entities for the great “show of tragedy”. In parallel, it came the fall of technical explanations and the search for responsible ones (with the debate of the responsibility of the pilot regarding the lack of fuel, and the legality of LaMia, the air company), as much as the search for scapegoats to channel part of the responsibility (the role of the Traffic Control Services in the airport, for example). But so far there have been no explanations about what is actually the root problem: what was, in fact, a chain of “errors” has a root “error” and clear responsible ones: the dirty affairs of the soccer industry, and the corruption and money laundry by the high summit, in this case of the Conmebol.
A chain of “errors”
LaMia, a Venezuelan capitals’ company established in Bolivia; small, with 15 workers, all family or friends, with license for local flights; with 12 ships declared but only one in use (plus two in maintenance), dedicated exclusively to the transfer of Latin American soccer teams by nearly half the price of market is, for some reason, the chosen firm by the Conmebol to transfer the teams participating of the championship.
A kind of ship that has not been produced since 2001, acquired by LaMia in 2014 –precisely when the firm started dedicating exclusively to this type of transfer-, with a flight autonomy of almost 3000 km – about the same distance of the flight in debate. And a pilot who, for some reason, decides not to make any scales to load fuel despite the warnings before departure. An emergency not reported in time to the Traffic Control sector, and the refusal of priority landing in Bogotá’s Airport when the fuel is almost over. All of this, a chain of “errors” that ends up the worst way possible: with the plane crashing and the death of almost all the passengers.
No one will say this was an “attack”, as it would be ridiculous. But to talk about “mistakes” is also wrong: it is the case of deep negligence in each one of the steps of the “tragedy”. There were no errors but decisions responding to one specific criteria: the economic profit above everything.
The Dirty Affairs Of Conmebol
Why does the Conmebol recommend, as the teams’ official transfer, a practically inexistent company? Initially, LaMia charged US$40,000 less that the competitors for the same service. The profit criteria used by the Conmebol in this instance is clear, and it is actually not the first time it happens.
Nevertheless, the soccer industry moves thousands of millions of dollars. Why would they care so much to save US$40,000, a change for the numbers they are used to? We need to look for the less obvious explanation, the one backstage, the millionaire reason, in the precedents for corruption and money laundry of the international soccer entities.
On December of last year it went public the dirty affair of money laundry of the Conmebol regarding the transmission of games. According to the statement of the president, Eugenio Figueredo, the transmission license was given to a TV firm that offered highly competitive prices in comparison to the market, and he recognized that “by being evident the illegal use of the money by the Federation, and because of the contracts it signed, when assuming as president he attempted to ‘legalize’ the ‘sweet money’ that was being divided among the members of the corruption network (…)”.
According to the legal process, “Since the moment he assumed as member of the executive committee of the Conmebol, [Figueredo] received important amounts of money coming from ploys binding several integrants of such confederation (…)”.
At the same time, the precedent for these investigations was the FIFA global corruption scandal, also in 2015, when leaders of the world soccer industry were imprisoned by being directly involved in organized crime and corruption by fraud, bribery and money laundry.
So, it is no news that the institutionalized international soccer is a major capitalist business, in which it is not the sports but the profit of the big businessmen involved what moves the ball, and there have already been processes and imprisonments in the frame of the alleged “dismantling” of this corruption network.
The US$40,000, which are in fact “saved” of the flight costs, by reducing the security conditions (as we will see later on), are at the same time the visible mask of a millionaire business in which contracting illegal companies produces direct economic benefits for the high summits and businessmen that rule this dirty business. The death of an entire soccer team, in this case, is not an “accident’ at all: it is the high cost of the impunity of the international organized crime.
The Scale That Was Not Made
After the initial investigations, the version that seems to be the concrete explanation of why the plane crashed only 50 km away of Medellín is lack of fuel.
According experts, the ship had a flight autonomy of around 3000 km, approximately the same distance there is between Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia), departure point, and Medellín (Colombia), final destination. One version says the pilot, Miguel Quiroga, was advised not to do a direct flight, and he was recommended to make a scale in Cobija or in Bogotá to recharge fuel, and Quiroga refused. “Probably to cut costs, he decided to make a direct flight without scales”, informs Jorge Eduardo Leal Medeiros, aeronautical engineer and professor of the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo, one of the specialists investigating the case. The pilot’s decision is easy to explain if we consider that, besides a pilot, he was also owner of the company: a scale would have costed one more hour of flight, plus US$10,000.
The turbines, turned off and intact, and the fact that the plane did not explode when colliding with the floor, are substantial proofs that it was not a previous mechanical fault what crashed the plane but, in fact, the lack of fuel.
Pure negligence? Yes, but not only by the pilot. Quiroga thought more as a businessman than as a pilot. It is not an individual “mistake” but, once again, a clear profit criteria at the moment of making decisions and evaluating risks.
The Non-Reported Emergency
In a second moment, when Quiroga sees they are running out of fuel and there is no way to get to Medellín on time, he reports the situation to the Bogotá Airport, asking priority landing, and the airport does not give permission, as a commercial flight of Viva Colombia, also in emergency situation, had been previously reported. Then, the monitoring system shows the LaMia airplane making two laps in the air before starting to reduce the speed and finally falling. These images, though, are only seen later, during the investigation, after the tragedy.
One obvious question raises: why did the pilot not report the emergency right away?
If Quiroga had reported it on time, he would have been able to land; however, he would have been reported by the aerial authorities for flying under illegal conditions, out of the norm, without enough fuel and no emergency tank, what would imply the lost of his license to pilot, as well as of the two co-pilots, besides the prison of the specialist technician on board (who survived the crash) and the Bolivian flight dispatcher and chief of operations, who allowed the plane to depart without complying the conditions; and also the lost of LaMia license to operate and an investigation for negligence, what would leave the company broke after paying the costs of the demand and the compensations to the families. Not to forget it would open an investigative summary on the Conmebol by signing a contract with an illegal company.
So, once again, as the constant of the equation, the answer is in the corporate criteria to make decisions, now not only regarding the profits but also regarding the cover-up of the corruption network that gives it bases.
There is a third debate that raises during the investigation, and it is the responsibility of the Colombian Traffic Control for the crash, and the matter of deregulation of flights.
We need to be categorical about this: the “tragedy” was not, at all, responsibility of Traffic Control.
To explain what we are talking about: Traffic Control Service is the sector in charge of guiding pilots to a safe landing; so problems in this sector are of high risk, and the lack of controllers, lack of training and/or bad work conditions are the main reasons why the ships have problems landing or even end up crashing.
When the issue is lack of fuel, just like with a car, the ship runs out of energy, the turbines stop functioning and the boards turn off (so the pilot loses reference of location, speed, etc.), demanding from Control what is called “vectors”, to be able to plane safely with no power until reaching the ground, be it inside or outside the airport.
The fact that the emergency was not reported on time made it impossible for any response of the controllers to be effective despite the orientations given by them, as the ship was at a lower altitude than what it should in a mountainous area, turning any planning maneuver insufficient for a safe descent.
The Colombian Traffic Controllers went public, after the accusation, requesting prudence in accusing them by the accident, informing they did everything humanly possible to avoid the crash.
Making clear that, in this case, it is not a Traffic Control responsibility, it is worth to make a deeper debate regarding the work conditions of the Controllers.
As we saw, it is a high risk job with a lot of pressure. The lack of proper work conditions can cause the death of hundreds of people. However –and to keep the formula, once again following the criteria of profit as a constant-, this seems to lack importance to the authorities.
A few days after the crash, the Paraguayan controllers, breaking the silence about the real work conditions, went out public denouncing in the country there are only 60 controllers. That is to say, if the 6 hours shifts with one day of rest are respected (what is necessary because the alert condition this kind of control requires), the volume of national and international flights highly exceeds the control capacity.
In the case if Colombia, specifically, in an article of 2009 the Traffic Controllers of the country publically denounced failures of the radars, communication problems with the airplanes and excess of work, in what they called a SOS situation. In the same statement they inform only in October that year there were 33 critical situations reported, while in November, also of 2009, after the denounce, the number not only did not decrease as it increased up to 43.
Among the denounces, one of the most alarming arguments is the fact of having Controllers following more than one radar at the same time, due to lack of workers; besides dealing with equipments without proper maintenance, what hinders the job of the controller technically speaking, and also increases the level of pressure in key moments that define life or death (not to speak about the fact of not having regular psychological support, as demanded by the profession). In front of the denounce, the Colombian government limited to respond “there is nothing we can do, as the Ministry of Finances does not have enough budget”.
We say it once again: the LaMia case had nothing to do with a Traffic Control problem. But even if it was, there is no way to blame a controller individually ignoring the conditions they work under. In Colombia, the situation is particularly critical given the high volume of flights; thus, is not by chance it is the fourth country with more plane crashes in the world.
Unfortunately, this capitalist logic of putting profit over life safety is a logic that exceeds by far one or other event, and even one or other industry. It is the base functioning of the system, whether we talk about soccer, planes, public transportation, hospitals, etc.
The Show Of Tragedy
The solidarity of the people with the soccer team was extremely touching. From the valuable attitude of the Atlético Nacional de Medellín, requesting the Conmebol to declare Chapecoense as the Champion; going through Brazil, where the fans of four rival teams gathered to pay tribute to Chapecoense Campeón; and Britain, where the Liverpool and the Leeds played a game on Chapecoense’s name, and the entire stadium remained in silence for one minute to then explode in chants of solidarity; to Colombia and South America as a whole, dressed in green and embracing the pain of friends and families, moving to tears. Thousands and thousands of people all over the world raised in solidarity with the small regional Brazilian team.
However, together with the honest mourning and solidarity of the Latin American and world peoples, we saw those directly or indirectly involved using the popular feeling to cover up the dirty business with the show of tragedy.
It fills us with rage to see how they use the most human feelings to continue making profit, shedding crocodile tears, setting events and publishing specials, while they turn a blind eye to the problems that led to this situation, and that put our lives at risk daily. In the honest sorrow of the masses they see nothing but another opportunity to cover up the true responsibilities and continue making business.
Thus, we express our deep solidarity with the families of the passengers and the soccer community “from below”, and together with it we denounce it was not a tragedy but a consequence of the functioning of this putrid system, that does not hesitate when it comes to putting our lives at risk when it is profit that is on debate. At the same time, we demand prison of all the responsible ones, from the air company as much as from the Conmebol higher summit at the moment of the accident, and we call to open a extensive investigation, under popular control, of all the regional, national and international soccer entities, to avoid something like this to happen again.
By contractual conditions, the Insurance company is not responsible for the compensation to the families in case of lack of fuel, as it is considered negligence by the responsible company.
Translation: Sofia Ballack.