Scrawny teens hold up signs on cruise ships that say “fome” (hunger) in large letters. Children, who in many cases have not attended school for more than a year, they beg for food outside supermarkets and restaurants. Entire families are crowded into flimsy camps on the sidewalks of Saint Paul And they ask for baby milk, cookies or whatever.
One year after the start of the pandemic, millions of Brazilians are hungry.
The scenes, which proliferate in recent months on the streets of different cities in Brazil, are stark evidence that President Jair Bolsonaro’s commitment – to avoid public health policies to control the virus in order to protect the country’s economy – failure.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, the Brazilian president has been skeptical of the impact of the disease and disdains the advice of health experts, arguing that the economic damage of the closures, the suspension of business activities and the mobility restrictions that They recommended it would be a greater threat than the pandemic to the country’s weak economy.
That sacrifice caused one of the highest death toll in the world but it also failed in its objective: to keep the country afloat.
The virus affects the social fabric by setting painful records while the health crisis worsens and drives businesses out of business, destroying jobs. The advancement of an economy that for more than six years has hardly grown.
Last year, emergency cash grants from the government helped put food on the table for millions of Brazilians. But when that money was slashed this year faced with an imminent crisis of doubt, many cupboards were left empty.
A line in front of an evangelical church to receive a bag with a breakfast. Photo: The New York Times
More than half the country hungry
Last year, some 19 million people went hungry, almost double the 10 million who experienced a similar situation in 2018, the most recent year for which there is data, according to the Brazilian government and a study by a network of Brazilian researchers on deprivation during the pandemic.
The report showed that around 117 million people, or about 55 percent of the country’s population face food insecurity with uncertain access to nutrition in 2020, a huge jump from the 85 million who were in that situation two years ago.
“The way the government handled the virus deepened poverty and inequality,” said Douglas Belchior, founder of UNEafro Brasil, one of the organizations that have come together to raise funds to bring food to vulnerable communities. “Hunger is a serious and incurable problem in Brazil,” he remarked.
Long wait to receive a bag of food at a charity in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo: The New York Times
Luana de Souza, 32, was one of the mothers queuing outside a makeshift food bank one recent afternoon in hopes of getting a bag of beans, rice and oil.
Her husband had worked in an event planning company but was unemployed last year as a eight million people who joined the ranks of unemployment in Brazil during the pandemic and pushed the rate above 14 percent, according to Brazil’s Institute of Geography and Statistics.
At first the family carefully managed government assistance, De Souza said, but this year, when they cut payments, they have struggled.
“There is no work,” he said. “And the bills keep coming in.”
A beaten economy
In 2014, the Brazilian economy entered recession and had not recovered when the pandemic struck.
Bolsonaro often evoked the reality of families like De Souza’s, who cannot afford to stay home without working to argue that the lockdowns imposed by the governments of Europe and other rich countries to stop the spread of the virus were unsustainable in Brazil.
Last year, governors and mayors across the country decreed a suspension of activities for non-essential businesses and ordered mobility restrictions, measures that Bolsonaro described as “extreme” and warned that they would cause malnutrition.
The health crisis left a trail of new poor throughout Brazil. Photo: The New York Times
The president also dismissed the threat of the virus, cast doubt on vaccines, which his administration began to procure belatedly, and often encouraged crowds of his supporters at political events.
A second wave of cases this year led to the collapse of the health system in several cities. Local officials reimposed a number of tough measures and found themselves in war with Bolsonaro.
“People need freedom, the right to work,” the president commented last month, saying that the new quarantine measures imposed by local governments amounted to living in “dictatorship.”
This month, when the number of daily deaths caused by the virus exceeded 4,000, the far-right president recognized the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis facing his country. But he did not take responsibility and rather blamed local officials.
The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, rejected the confinement measures against the coronavirus. Photo: DPA
“Brazil is on the edge,” he said, arguing that the fault was “whoever closed everything.”
But economists claimed that it was “A false dilemma” say that restrictions to control the virus would worsen Brazil’s economic crisis.
The request of economists and businessmen
In an open letter addressed to the Brazilian authorities at the end of March, more than 1,500 economists and businessmen They called on the government to impose stricter measures, including a lockdown.
“It is not reasonable to expect economic activity to recover from a runaway epidemic,” they wrote.
Laura Carvalho, an economist, published a study that showed that restrictions can have a negative impact on the economic health of a country in the short term but that, in the long term, it would have been a better strategy.
“If Bolsonaro had implemented confinement measures, we would have left before the economic crisis,” said Carvalho, a professor at the University of São Paulo.
Brazil has already exceeded 383,000 deaths from coronavirus. Photo: AFP
Bolsonaro’s approach had a broad destabilizing effect, said Thomas Conti, a professor at Insper, a business school.
“The Brazilian real was the most devalued currency among all developing countries,” Conti said. “We are at an alarming level of unemployment, there is no predictability for the future of the country, budgetary rules are violated and inflation is growing non-stop.”
The Covid-19 crisis in the country, which is deteriorating, leaves Bolsonaro politically vulnerable.
.This month the Senate launched an investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic. The inquest is expected to document errors, including government support for ineffective drugs to treat COVID-19 and a shortage of basic medical supplies, such as oxygen. Some of those failures will likely be blamed for causing preventable deaths.
Creomar de Souza, a political analyst and founder of the consulting firm Dharma Politics in Brasilia, said the president underestimated the threat that the pandemic posed to the country and did not put in place a comprehensive plan to address it.
“They believed that it would not be something serious and assumed that the health system could handle it,” he criticized.
De Souza said that Bolsonaro has always campaigned and governed with a combative style, presenting himself to voters as an alternative to dangerous rivals. Its response to the pandemic has been consistent with that operating manual, he noted.
“The great loss, in addition to the rising death toll in this tragedy is an erosion of governance,” he said.
“We are facing a highly volatile scenario, with many political risks because the government did not comply with public policies.”
Defense groups and human rights organizations this year started a campaign called “Tem Gente Com Fome”, (There are People with Hunger), with the intention of raising funds from companies and individuals to get food to people in need. of all country.
Belchior, one of the founders, said the campaign is named after a poem by the writer and artist Solano Trindade. It describes scenes of misery seen while in Rio de Janeiro, he toured the poor neighborhoods from which the State was absent for decades.
“More and more families are asking for food to be delivered earlier,” Belchior said. “And they depend more on the actions of the community than on the government.”
Inflation and inequality
Carine Lopes, 32, president of a community ballet school in Manguinhos, a working-class district of Rio de Janeiro, responded to the crisis by turning her organization into a makeshift help center.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the price of commodities increased dramatically in nearby stores, he said. The cost of cooking oil more than tripled. A kilo of rice has doubled. As meat became increasingly prohibitive, Sunday cookouts became a rarity in the neighborhood.
For a long time, Lopes got used to receiving calls from parents who desperately wanted a place for their children in ballet school, but now he has gotten used to something very different.
Every day old acquaintances and strangers send you text messages asking about the food baskets that the dance school was distributing weekly.
“These moms and dads are just thinking about the basics now,” she said. “They call and say, ‘I’m unemployed, I don’t have anything else to eat this week. Is there anything you can give us? ‘
When the virus finally recedes, poorer families will have a harder time recovering, he predicted.
Lopes despairs thinking about the students who were unable to connect to online classes from their homes because they have no internet connection, or where the only display device belongs to a working parent.
“No one will be able to compete for a scholarship with a middle-class student who managed to keep up with the classes with his good internet and his tablets,” he said. “Inequality is exacerbating.”
By Ernesto Londoño and Flávia Milhorance
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