Brazil’s Uplifting Olympics

Roger Cohen – The New York Times, 08/15/2016

When I was a correspondent in Brazil 30 years ago inflation was rampant. It ran at an average of 707.4 percent a year from 1985 to 1989. The salaries of the poor were wiped out within hours of being paid. The country went through three currencies — cruzeiro, cruzado and cruzado novo — while I lived in Rio. The only way out for Brazilians, people joked, was Galeão, the international airport.

 Antônio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim, the composer of “The Girl from Ipanema” (whose name is now affixed to that airport), famously observed that, “Brazil is not for beginners.” It was not then and it’s not now. It’s a vast diverse country, a tropical United States, whose rich and poor are divided by a chasm. High crime rates are in part a reflection of this divide. Flexibility is at a premium in a culture fashioned by heat, sensuality, samba and rule bending. Life can be cheap. You adapt or you perish.

Edmar Bacha, a friend and economist, had coined the term “Belindia” to describe Brazil — a prosperous Belgium perched atop a teeming India. I wrote a story about the poor kids from north Rio, far from the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon, who would get their kicks as “train surfers” — riding the tops of fast-moving trains — rather than surf Atlantic waves. Often they died, electrocuted. I will never forget the twisted corpse of one in the city morgue.

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Zika epidemic uncovers Brazil’s hidden birth-defect problem

Alex Cuadros – Washington Post, 03/01/2016

As researchers race to establish a link between the Zika virus and a birth defect known as microcephaly, one of their biggest obstacles is the lack of reliable health data in Brazil, where the epidemic broke out there last year.

Since October, Brazil’s Health Ministry has received reports of about 5,600 suspected cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads. Many cases have been thrown out, and many more are still being investigated, but given that the country previously reported 150 such cases per year, the number would still seem to indicate a massive jump.

Many doctors, though, say that the jump is largely illusory — based on massive underreporting of microcephaly and other birth defects in Brazil. What’s more, this poor record-keeping reflects much larger public health problems here: poor prenatal care and woefully inadequate services for children with disabilities. Until the Zika epidemic, these issues were mostly swept under the rug.

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In Brazil, are the poor more likely to contract zika?

Sam Cowie – Aljazeera, 02/12/2016

In Ibura, a poor neighbourhood in Recife, north eastern Brazil, Gleyse Kelly, 27, breastfeeds her three-month-old daughter, Giovanna.

“I hope that she will be able to walk, talk and go on to study,” Gleyse says.

Giovanna has microcephaly, a condition which causes babies to be born with smaller than average heads and suffer varying degrees of brain damage, leading to developmental problems and severe learning difficulties. Some die shortly after birth.

Experts say that it is very likely that Giovanna will require full-time care for the rest of her life, putting enormous pressure on Gleyse, a mother of four who earns only $250 a month working as a toll booth attendant, and who receives $25 in government child benefits. Her husband is unemployed.

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The Brazilian doctors who sounded the alarm on Zika and Microcephaly

Reed Johnson, Rogerio Jelmayer- Wallstreet Journal, 01/29/2016

RECIFE, Brazil—When they first started seeing newborns with shrunken skulls last August, Dr. Vanessa van der Linden Mota and her mother, Dr. Ana van der Linden, didn’t realize they were looking at a looming public-health disaster.

But it didn’t take long for the two neuropediatricians to start connecting the dots. The tiny heads were classic signs of microcephaly, an incurable condition associated with incomplete brain development typically caused by chromosome disorders or maternal alcohol abuse. Unusually, though, some of the infants’ heads were draped with excess skin. Others’ skulls bore calcified patches that squeezed their brains in a vise grip. Some of their limbs were crumpled and bent at odd angles. Also oddly, in 70% of the cases the two doctors were seeing, mothers reported itching or rashes during their pregnancies.

Then there was this: In a typical year, the doctors said, they might see one microcephaly case every couple of months. Suddenly, they were seeing dozens.

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Young, Black, Alive – Breaking the silence on Brazil’s soaring youth homicide rate

Atila Roque – Live Wire, 11/26/2014

Earlier this week, many people around the world waited with bated breath for a grand jury’s decision in a case where a police officer shot dead an unarmed young black man on the street. While the 9 August shooting of Michael Brown took place in the US suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, the case has a deep resonance here in Brazil. The tragic course of events leading up to the teenager’s death could just as easily have played out on the streets of our cities orfavelas.

Of the 56,000 homicides in Brazil every year, 30,000 are young people aged 15 to 29. That means that, at this very moment, a young person is most likely being killed in Brazil. By the time you go to bed, 82 will have died today. It’s like a small airplane full of young people crashing every two days, with no survivors. This would be shocking enough by itself, but it’s even more scandalous that 77 per cent of these young people are black.

Since 1980, more than 1 million people have been murdered in Brazil. According to Global Burden of Armed Violence 2008, in the period from 2004 to 2007, more people were killed here than in the 12 main wars worldwide. However the violence doesn’t impact Brazilian society equally. Murders are rampant in poor and marginalized communities. Prejudice and negative stereotypes associated with the favelas and city outskirts have a key role in perpetrating this violence.

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Brazil’s favela fairy tale: When Prince Charming packs heat

Flora Charner – Aljazeera America, 11/24/2014

As Marcelle Rosa, 15, walked onto the dance floor, she looked like a modern-day princess. She was wearing a pink and black ball gown with a tightly laced corset and a tiara on top of her coiffed curls. Suddenly, a man in a pressed uniform took her by the hand and led her in a waltz. She could not stop smiling.

Rosa and a group of her closest friends were living any girl’s fairy tale, far, far away from the favela they call home. While the night was everything she would have dreamed, she never imagined her Prince Charming would be an officer from Rio de Janeiro’s military police.

The music switched from Tchaikovsky to Brazilian funk, and the teenagers let go of their partners. With each beat, the girls bounced and gyrated, swishing their long dresses on the floor. A group of female police officers joined the dance circle and shimmied with the girls. This was the Cerro-Corá favela’s debutante ball, organized by the fairy godmothers of the local Police Pacification Unit, or UPP.

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Extreme poverty up in Brazil after falling for a decade

EFE – Fox News Latino, 11/05/2014

The number of Brazilians living in extreme poverty grew from 10.08 million in 2012 to 10.45 million in 2013, the first increase after 10 consecutive years of reductions, the government said Wednesday.

Even with the uptick in 2013, the total number of indigent people is less than half what it was in 2003. Total population in Brazil climbed from 198.66 million in 2012 to 201.93 million in 2013, a 1.2 percent increase. The 3.7 percent increase in the number of destitute people was reported by the official Institute of Applied Economic Research, known by the Portuguese initials IPEA, drawing on data from an ambitious household survey.

The data was posted on the IPEA Web site without comment after the agency received criticism for not releasing the figures earlier, as scheduled, before the Oct. 26 runoff vote that gave President Dilma Rousseff a second term.

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“This is not a speech. It is a life”

H.J. – The Economist, 09/18/2014

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who is hoping to be granted a second term in next month’s elections, has claimed that only a vote for her can ensure the continuation of the country’s best-known anti-poverty programme, the Bolsa Família. Since 30m people out of an electorate of around 140m are directly or indirectly dependent on the programme’s cash handouts, this is potentially enormously damaging to her opponents, of whom Marina Silva is the best placed in the polls.

Ms Silva’s response was broadcast on television in her electoral advertising on September 16th. To feel the full force of her words, you need to know that she was born in the Seringal Bagaço, a poor, rural part of the Amazonian state of Acre, to parents who were rubber-tappers. Unlike almost anyone else in Brazilian politics, she knows how hunger feels. The video below is in Portuguese, subtitled. Our translation into English is underneath—but if you want to understand why this woman, who was not even a presidential candidate until her running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash on August 13th, has a strong chance of becoming Brazil’s next president, you should watch the video with the sound turned up. It’s only two minutes long.

“Dilma! Know that I’m not going to fight you with your weapons. I’m going to fight you with our truth. With our respect. And with our policies. We are going to keep the Bolsa Família. Do you know why? Because I was born in the Seringal Bagaço, and I know what it is to go hungry. All that my mother used to have for eight children was an egg and a bit of flour and salt, and some chopped onion. I remember looking at my father and mother and asking: Are you not going to eat? And my mother answered… my mother answered: We are not hungry. And a child believed that. But afterwards, I understood that for yet another day, they had nothing to eat. Someone who has lived through that will never end the Bolsa Familia. This is not a speech. It is a life.”

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