BRAZIL. Rio de Janeiro. There has been little in the way of uplifting information coming out of Brazil in recent months. As their coronavirus caseload rapidly approaches two million, even the country´s president, Jair Bolsonaro, announced that he tested positive for the virus last Tuesday, 7 July. At a glance, it seems COVID-19 alone has brought the mighty South American nation to its knees. However, according to locals, it merely worsened the existing flaws in the country´s already struggling infrastructure.
There is a lot more to Rio than beautiful beaches. Tiago Abrantes, a Rio de Janeiro local, was quick to elucidate that even before the coronavirus, Brazil was fighting to keep its head above water. In a Transcontinental Times interview, Abrantes didn´t hold back when asked about the troubles his nation is experiencing. “My country is in the top five percent in the world for depression. We´re resilient people, but our current government has made wealth inequality much worse in recent years. Especially since coronavirus became a problem.”
He continued, “I try to be very positive and live my life that way, but right now, life is like a punch in the face.” Abrantes referred to the economic crisis brought about by the quarantine for those working in what has been classified as non-essential industries. “My work has been affected severely because I work with wood design. We had to cancel many contracts due to the quarantine”, Abrantes continued. He also spoke about the cost of living in Brazil being a major hindrance to healthcare access. “Our public healthcare is amazing, but everything here is expensive and many are out of work. Only the rich can afford a hospital bed now.”
A lack of on the ground support for the people. When asked about any kind of government assistance for the public during the pandemic, Abrantes said, “The left side of our government literally had to force our president to give the people a one-time payment of 600 reais, which isn´t much. It´s just over 100 US dollars.”
Lastly, Abrantes stated that Brazilian banks have too much power in politics. “Six of the ten wealthiest companies in Brazil are banks. They have gained far too much influence in the government.”
In a country that boasts one of the most dramatic wealth equality gaps in the world, banking industry roots seeping into politics doesn´t come as a big surprise.
Some say the government is to blame for more than just COVID-19. Another Rio native, Camila Pedras, shared her insights from Miami, where she currently resides. Though living abroad, she still has family in Rio, Sao Paulo, and Teresopolis. During a Transcontinental Times interview, she was candid about how she felt her government has handled COVID-19, “Bolsonaro was irresponsible and treated this virus like it was a little cold.”
Going a step further, Pedras alluded to the speculation that the government may already have a vaccine, “Brazil has many resources. Some people are saying a vaccine is ready but hasn´t been made available because of politics.”
This calls attention to the nation´s booming pharmaceutical industry, which has grown every year since 2008. It accounts for 76 billion reais of annual revenue. “There are rumors that a vaccine will be available between September and December and I hope so! This virus is taking a huge toll on people´s lives. Chaos and poverty are already big problems in Brazil”, Pedras continued.
Though president Bolsonaro has many times said the Brazilian economy needs to be the primary focus during the pandemic, it´s more than evident that such a maneuver won´t solve the existing problems accentuated by some of his fellow citizens.