The prolonged coronavirus pandemic in Brazil has pushed millions of Brazilians into poverty


Guarulhos, Brazil – Not yet able to face her new life here, she has closed her eyes. The morning was still very cold, very dark. Next to her, under a black plastic roof, slept a young family she barely knew. They’ve been together here for weeks, economic refugees from Corona Virus A pandemic, unemployed and fired, now bands together to hope for better days to come.

Clear sky. Zulidi da Conceição Felix, 67, emerged from her barren shack on the outskirts of the capital, São Paulo. She made coffee on her stove – a relic of her old life – and tried to shrug off the cold. Felix, an illiterate maid, had been living a poor life, and for the past few years had worked for $240 a month. But even she hasn’t gone through anything like this.

“My husband and I had a bedroom,” she remembered. “We had a living room. We had a TV. a kitchen. It was all we needed.”

I looked at the ground.

“Now we are here.”

Here: a group of shacks built on the scrap remains of a bankrupt factory, cut off from public transportation, with no running water and no market—another new settlement in a glut of sprawling communities now populated by homeless Brazilians and an outbreak that refuses to retreat.

These are the people President Jair Bolsonaro said he wanted to protect as he adopted the unorthodox pandemic strategy of doing little to control the spread of the coronavirus. Facing one of the world’s worst outbreaks, he has undermined nearly every containment measure proposed by federal and state officials by appealing to the needs of poor working-class Brazilians. He said they couldn’t stay home. They had to work to survive.

“Hunger kills more people than the virus itself,” said in March. “We have to face reality. There is no point in running away from what is there.”

But rather than helping the most vulnerable, economists say, Bolsonaro’s coercive approach has only prolonged the crisis — and pushed more people into poverty.

A child observes burning leaves and small pieces of wood on deserted terrain on June 14 at Nascer do Sul camp. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

Marcia Luana da Silva’s children’s clothes hang in her cottage in Jardim Julieta. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

Donate tomatoes to those who live in Nascer do Sol. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

Top of the page: A child observes burning leaves and small pieces of wood on deserted land on June 14 at Nascer do Sol camp. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post) Bottom left: Marcia Luana da Silva’s children’s clothes hang in her cottage in Jardim Julieta. (Rafael Villela for The Washington Post) Bottom right: Tomatoes donated to those who live in Nascer do Sol. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

Almost 1 in 5 Brazilians say they are stranded without any income. Half the country struggles to put food on the table. Nineteen million say they suffer from hunger. Unemployment and inequality are at record levels. After the government slashed the pandemic payments program for the poorest Brazilians, the The largest number of Brazilians Within a decade extreme poverty , Living on less than $2 a day. displaced population swell.

“When people are afraid of getting sick, when people get sick to the same degree that they are in Brazil, there will be a great deal of instability,” said Marcelo Neri, an economist at Getúlio Vargas, a university in Rio. de Janeiro. “This has been awful for the economy, and especially for the informal workers.”

Brazil is now left with the worst of both worlds: half a million dead – more than anywhere else outside the US – and millions more without work.

Felix was among those left unemployed. Her elderly boss told her to stop coming to clean her house after the virus arrived. The older woman worried that Felix would bring illness from the crowded buses she had taken to work.

I promised the woman Felix, I’ll call you when things get better.

That was 15 months ago. Things have never improved. The virus continues to rip through Brazil. And Felix—who ran out of savings, went three months without paying rent, was evicted and now lives here among what’s left of her belongings—is still waiting for that call.

Not protecting the poor

Tent cities pop up in a matter of hours.

Someone spilled on the church floor of a famous evangelist. Another took root on land owned by the state oil company. In São Paulo, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, more than 800 families poured into a vacant shipping container yard. Six hundred others signed up for a space in an empty field next to a favela.

The communities, populated largely by people who have lost their jobs and homes, have come to symbolize the government’s failure to protect its poorest citizens from the economic impact of the pandemic. It provided $120 in monthly emergency payments to millions in need — uplifting some families From poverty, temporarily – but this program was reduced in September, then suspended for several months. the government Evictions were not prohibited, as the United States did, nor did catalyst Employing poor, vulnerable young people, as the UK did.

What did Bolsonaro do to save the economy? asked Lina Lavinas, an economist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “The only thing he did was say, ‘Nothing can stop.’ This is not a proposal to save the economy.”

Bolsonaro’s office did not respond to a request for comment. In public, the president was concerned about government debt. When asked if he should have done more to alleviate the suffering, he expressed his annoyance. “Which country in the world did what we did with emergency payments?” Asked. “And they still criticize saying they want more.”

The new settlements, many of which were established after payments were reduced, are now fueling one of the most protracted and polarizing debates in Brazil. A country of vast unused areas and inevitable inequality, Brazil has long been the scene of bitter land disputes between landowners and squatters who have nowhere else to go. Many irregular enclaves, now numbering in the millions, live under constant threat of removal.

During the pandemic, as people were driven into the streets and settlements proliferated, authorities ramped up removals. In São Paulo, they expelled nearly 4,000 people – most of them in Brazil. An additional 3,000 people have been removed in Manaus, the Amazon city devastated by the virus. Brazil’s Supreme Court this month suspended the removals until the end of the year, angering Bolsonaro, a fierce advocate of landowners.

“It’s the end of private property,” he declared. “What a terrible decision.”

Janed Pereira lives in Jardim Julieta camp. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

Jardim Julieta houses an impromptu pub. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

Men fly kites in Jardim Julieta on June 13. The area is popular with kites flying from across the state on the weekends due to the lack of electrical wires. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

TOP: Janid Pereira lives in Jardim Julieta camp. (Rafael Villela for The Washington Post) Bottom left: Jardim Julieta includes an impromptu bar. (Rafael Villela for The Washington Post) Bottom right: Men fly kites in Jardim Julieta on June 13. The area is popular with kites flying from across the state on the weekends due to the lack of electrical wires. (Rafael Villa for The Washington Post)

But settlements often form on vacant land – that’s exactly how desolate stretches next to an industrial yard in North Sao Paulo It seemed to maid Janid Pereira. She was walking outside her building last June, frantic. She lost her job. The mother who worked for her said she wanted to protect her children from potential exposure to the virus. Now Pereira was about to lose her home, too.

“I had nowhere to go,” she said.

This dusty plot where people fly kites and throw trash seemed her best option. She checked out her belongings, tied a black plastic tarp and built a new home for her five children. Within hours, she had neighbors. They filled every corner of the land owned by the city. Small wooden houses soon rose. Running water and electricity were created by cutting nearby lines. The settlement of Jardim Julieta was born.

The people who arrive now, some with wounds from life on the streets, are reluctantly turned away: the community is full. The camp leaders tell them about another place five miles to the north. There, on the forested lands of a bankrupt plant, another settlement is formed.

And so that was where Felix went.

struggle for survival

“Water!” A shout came from afar. “Water!”

Felix raised her head and got up. The community ran out of water the night before. All morning there was a fear that the city waterman, who had been filling a 2,000-liter cistern of books, had forgotten it.

Felix’s husband pulled out several empty buckets. He handed it one, and walked away laughing, stepping through the rubble and rubbish left here by the builders. They found the water man in front of the community.

“Water!” Felix shouted with joy.

She was trying to be happy here. But she’s been feeling it more and more for 67 years. Her body was hurting. She had diabetes. And there was a lot of uncertainty in life in the settlement. The water can stop. People can forget to send them the food donations they live on. One day she brought in a young family with three young children – one of 250 families now crowding the settlement – and they now share their hut and one lamp.

We were evacuated,” said Andrea Rodriguez de Oliveira, 36, the mother. “Three nights we spent sleeping under a shop canopy before we heard about this settlement.”

Every day he waits for Felix. When she was about to lose her home, she called her boss. Felix said the woman – “really good people” – bought her a tank of gas and reminded her that she would be in touch. When the pandemic passed. But then Felix moved here, her phone could not receive a signal, and she realized that if her boss called, she wouldn’t know.

Arrived The community faucet and watched the water flow into buckets. She raised them with a grunt and made her way to her hut. She reminded herself that things would get better. The epidemic will pass. Maybe her boss calls her daughter, her daughter will find her here, and Felix is ​​back at work.

put water. She looked at her new home. She thanked God for what she had. The water arrived today. Looking at the distance between families everywhere, she realized that she would never be alone. Nearly 400 more are expected to arrive in the coming days.

“Every day there is more,” she said.

Heloisa Traiano contributed to this report.

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