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Society

Pandemic to worsen Brazil’s troubling school dropout rates

Over 38 billion dollars: that is the estimated cost of school dropouts in Brazil in the year 2020 alone. Researchers from business and economics school Insper, in conjunction with the Roberto Marinho Foundation, concluded that some 575,000 young Brazilians will end this year having not completed basic education — a number that exceeds the total population of some of the country’s state capitals. 

In their study, entitled “Consequences of the Violation of the Right to Education,” the researchers estimated a lifetime loss of BRL 372,000 (USD 66,700) per student, accounting for factors such as lower employment prospects, decreased wage expectations, losses due to a reduced contribution to economic activity, decreased quality of life, and a higher probability of being involved in crime.[restricted]

Furthermore, the study did not even account for the knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning the number of dropouts and future losses could be even higher. 

Another study, carried out by the National Youth Council (Conjuve), found that 28 percent of students aged between 15 and 29 are considering not returning to school once pandemic-related restrictions are fully lifted. Half said they are unlikely to apply for next year’s National University Entrance Exam (Enem).

The Insper study assessed young people born in 2002 who would now be expected to complete high school education. According to their research, an average teenager who completes basic schooling should be expected to accumulate an income of BRL 427,600 throughout their lifetime — for those who do not complete high school, this average drops to just BRL 268,500.

Indeed, wealth was not the only factor assessed, with Insper researcher Laura Müller Machado pointing out that those who do not complete high school are expected to have a lower quality of life and poorer health conditions. Society as a whole also stands to lose.

“Young people who complete basic education tend to encourage more constructive environments wherever they go, they have a greater capacity to generate innovation, inspire, and transmit knowledge. Besides, young people who don’t finish basic education are more likely to be involved in episodes of violence, whether as victims or perpetrators, as they usually live in more vulnerable places and are more exposed to conflict. This has a considerable cost for society”, she explains.

School dropouts: a neglected population

According to the National Household Sample Survey (Pnad), carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 20.2 percent of the 50 million Brazilians aged between 14 and 29 have not finished a single stage of basic education. Among the reasons cited for this are disinterest in studying and a pressing need to leave school in order to work.

According to Roberto Rafael Dias da Silva, a Ph.D. in Education and professor at the School of Humanities at the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Unisinos), the data reflects a lack of investment — both in Brazil and Latin America as a whole — in diagnostic research and proposing viable alternatives for keeping kids in school.

“Cultural issues, the need to enter the labor market prematurely, and changes in the economy, for example, can explain the high rates of school dropouts. Most of the time, dropping out of school is not a matter of choice”, he says, adding that education systems, publishers, professional associations, and educational institutions themselves need to create permanent study centers on child and teenage education in Brazil.

Mr. da Silva also asserts that the outlook demands action from the government, such as a collective re-examination of educational purposes, programs for monitoring learning, and long-term policies. Meanwhile, Ms. Machado suggests that the government should be examining the good educational practices being deployed in Brazil — as the issue of school dropouts is not universal around the country. 

Congresswoman Tabata Amaral, a leading voice in the public discourse on education, claims that Brazil’s Education Ministry has been “adrift” for almost two years. “What do we as a society expect from Education Ministers? That they would take their place as the coordinators of national educational efforts, as supporters of the most vulnerable education networks. But the Ministry decided to fold its arms instead. Of course, there are good examples from some states and municipalities, many inspiring teachers, but we know it takes more than that”, she says.

Civil society’s role in change

While it has become clear that the government holds significant responsibility in solving the problem of school dropouts in Brazil, that does not mean that civil society initiatives are not welcome. One example of a successful program is the NGO Instituto Futebol de Rua (Street Football Institute), which since 2006 has used sport, education, and culture as tools for social development in the southern city of Curitiba and other urban centers.

Jurema Christen, one of the organization’s teachers, says one of the goals of the initiative is to dissuade its young participants from leaving school,

“We believe in transformative, effective, and integral education. This is only possible if we have a strong partnership with the families and schools where our youths study. In such a delicate moment as the Covid-19 pandemic, we must take a closer look at our students. We are in constant communication with families, to encourage these young people to continue studying, even in remote settings”, she says.

The institute also developed a completely free program for monitoring studies. Each week, families enrolled in the initiative receive phone calls from the NGO’s education professionals to assist students with any issues they may be having with schoolwork. “Our goal is to reduce school dropouts as much as possible,” says Ms. Christen.[/restricted]

Categories
Society

Brazil captured a notorious drug boss — then let him go

In September 2019, Brazilian police arrested 43-year-old André Oliveira Macedo — a drug kingpin best known as André do Rap — after being on the run for six years. As one of the top brass of the First Command of the Capital (PCC) — Brazil’s largest organized crime gang — André do Rap was hiding out in a luxury mansion in the Rio de Janeiro beach town of Angra dos Reis.

The investigation that led to his arrest was long and painstaking, involving the collaboration of law enforcement agents from Italy and the U.S., as a result of André do Rap’s involvement with transnational drug trafficking. When he was taken in, several of his luxury possessions were seized, including a helicopter, yacht, and a 4×4 Hyundai Tucson.

However, after just one year in custody, André do Rap was set free on a legal technicality. And before the Supreme Court could rectify this mistake, he was already at large, with authorities believing the drug boss has now fled the country.[restricted]

Slipped through their fingers

André do Rap was a key figure within the international expansion of the PCC and its consolidation as South America’s widest reaching drug cartel. His role was to oversee the trafficking of immense quantities of cocaine from the Port of Santos, in São Paulo state, over to Calabria in southwest Italy. From there, the product was picked up by the PCC’s notorious Italian allies ‘Ndrangheta and distributed Europe-wide. 

But despite a sentence of over 25 years in jail for international drug trafficking, André do Rap walked out of jail last Saturday, thanks to a court order by Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurélio Mello. His lawyers claimed that their client’s preventive detention had not been renewed within the legally stipulated time frame of 90 days — a new rule introduced by the so-called Anti-Crime Bill, ratified by President Jair Bolsonaro in January. Finding this to be true, Justice Marco Aurélio ordered his immediate release.

Indeed, the Supreme Court justice acted according to the law, later affirming in an interview to TV Globo that he made the decision as a member of the Supreme Court, “not as the citizen Marco Aurélio Mello.” “The law is there to be complied with and followed,” he added.

Unsurprisingly, the decision divided opinion among the Supreme Court, legal scholars, and politicians, once more exposing the complexity of Brazil’s penal system.


Shutting the barn door after the drug dealer has bolted

Justice Marco Aurélio Mello’s decision caused such an immediate stir that Chief Justice Luiz Fux moved to suspend his colleague’s decision the very same day, ordering André do Rap to return to preventive detention immediately. He also put the case on the Supreme Court’s docket for Wednesday afternoon, where a majority of justices are expected to vote against Justice Marco Aurélio Mello’s decision.

However, in the interim between the release order and Chief Justice Fux’s suspension, André do Rap had already walked out the front door of a São Paulo penitentiary, where he was driven off by a luxury car after informing authorities he would be staying at a house in the coastal São Paulo town of Guarujá. Once his re-arrest was ordered, police could not locate him in Guarujá, nor at the homes of his family and friends. The Federal Police believes he has fled to Paraguay or Bolivia, where the PCC has established operations.

Political backlash after drug

In Congress, a group of supporters of President Bolsonaro are maneuvering to submit bills to remove the mandatory review of preventive detentions from Brazil’s penal code. Figures close to the president say that Justice Marco Aurélio Mello made an error in his decision, claiming he should have assessed the case at hand and ruled that release was not an option, due to the significant danger posed by the prisoner.

Former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, by way of his press office, declared that he was against the inclusion of the mandatory 90-day review of preventive detentions in January’s new penal legislation. “The article was not in the original draft of the Anti-Crime Bill and I, as Justice Minister, was opposed to its insertion for fear of automatic releases of dangerous prisoners as a result of the mere passing of time.”

Domino effect

At least two individuals in prison for international drug trafficking have already made similar requests for release to the Supreme Court. One, arrested in 2016, is serving a 33-year sentence, while the other is facing 35 years.

As added intrigue to the existing fiasco, online magazine Crusoé revealed that the law firm providing André do Rap’s defense has a former aide to Justice Marco Aurélio Mello among its partners. Asked about this during a telephone interview to CNN Brasil on Tuesday, the justice criticized the question and hung up the phone. “That is defamation. This interview is over,” he said.

So far this year, Justice Marco Aurélio Mello has granted at least 79 release requests based on the provision of mandatory renewal of preventive detentions. The number could be even higher, as a single habeas corpus plea may benefit more than one individual.[/restricted]

Categories
Society

Numbers of the week: Oct. 10, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: PIX, the Central Bank’s new payment system, tourism companies disappearing, high death rates in Peru, Brazil hits 5 million cases, and indigenous candidates in Brazil’s North.

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25 million sign ups for new payment tool PIX

PIX, an instant payment platform [restricted]created by the Brazilian Central Bank, officially opened registrations at the beginning of the week. Until Friday, the number of ‘keys’ issued to Brazilians reached roughly 24 million. The new payment system, which will allow for instant cash transfers, begins its operation on November 16. Besides allowing near-instant transfers and payments outside of commercial working hours, the system is free to use in sending and receiving money. PIX users will only have to provide their unique key — usually their individual tax ID — in order to receive payments, seen as a revolutionary measure within Brazil’s financial system


50,000 fewer tourism companies

Nearly 50,000 companies in Brazil’s tourism industry — accounting for 17 percent of the sector’s employers — went out of business between March and August 2020. The data comes from the National Confederation of Commerce and Tourism (CNC). The worst-affected businesses were bars and restaurants, with 39,500 closing their doors permanently. As in many other sectors, the majority of the firms which suffered the most were small businesses. As a result, the tourism industry lost 13.8 percent of its workforce and, between March and September, revenues amounted to only one-quarter of their potential. Meanwhile, losses reached BRL 207 billion in the past six months.


26 percent of Covid-19 victims under 60 in Brazil

Among countries with high coronavirus numbers, there is a clear pattern of the majority of patients who die from Covid-19 being 60-plus years old. While that is also the case in Brazil, the majority is much slimmer: some 26 percent of fatal victims in the country were under 60. As a comparison, in Italy, less than 5 percent of all deaths were in patients below the age of 60. This can partly be explained by Brazil having a younger population, as senior citizens comprise one-third of Italian residents. But the numbers also suggest other factors in play, such as poorer nutrition conditions, less access to healthcare, and inferior living conditions. The findings are further corroboration to the idea that Brazil’s massive inequality levels have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus in the country.


1,000 deaths per capita in Peru

Despite being one of the first Latin American countries to impose a lockdown (even before European countries such as the United Kingdom), Peru became the first country in the world to top the mark of 1,000 deaths per million people, surpassing 33,000 Covid-19 deaths this Friday, October 10. As a comparison, Brazil — the country with the highest absolute numbers of cases (4.9 million) and deaths (147,817) in the region — currently has a rate of 700 deaths per million. Only the tiny republic of San Marino, with its 732 confirmed cases and 42 deaths, has a comparable rate. 

There are many factors to explain Peru’s coronavirus collapse, such as inequality, lack of information among poor classes, people ignoring isolation measures, and, most importantly, an economy in which more than 71 percent of the population has an informal job. 


16 governors caught the coronavirus

Brazil is one of the few Latin American countries to have a president testing positive for Covid-19. Besides Jair Bolsonaro, Bolivia’s interim leader Jeanine Áñez, Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernández, Guatemala’s Alejandro Giammattei, and the Dominican Republic’s Luis Abinader have also been infected. Brazil, however, sustains its position as the country with the most cases and deaths in the region.

And 16 out of its 27 state governors (some of them commanding states that are as large as countries) have also caught the virus. The 16th was Camilo Santana, governor of northeastern state Ceará, who announced the news on his Twitter account. So far, none of them have developed severe infections. 


5 million Covid-19 cases

And the state governors are not alone. More than 5 million Brazilians have also been infected by the coronavirus, with a total number of 148,957 deaths and 4.4 million recovered cases. Also, the country’s rolling average of new deaths from October 1 to October 7 remained at 631, 9 percent lower than the previous 14 days. 


148 indigenous candidates in Roraima

According to the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court, the northernmost state of Roraima has 148 self-declared indigenous people among its 1,858 candidates registered in the 2020 elections, the highest number of any electoral zones this year. However, the percentage of indigenous candidates represents only 7 percent of the total. The Roraima Indigenous Council reports that at least 50,000 indigenous people live in the state, spread out across 246 different communities. More than 250 indigenous candidates were elected in the 2016 regional elections, according to the National Indigenous School Education Forum (FNEEI).[/restricted]

Categories
Society

Numbers of the week: Oct. 3, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: Shady budget maneuvers by the government, football with fans, Google financing Latin American startups, the side effects of Covid-19, Brazilian unemployment.

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BRL 7.5 million taken from the Covid-19 budget

The Jair Bolsonaro [restricted]administration has misappropriated BRL 7.5 million (USD 1.3 million) earmarked for the purchase of Covid-19 rapid tests. According to newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, the money — which had been donated on March 23 by meat producer Marfrig — was used instead to fund the “Pátria Voluntária” program (Voluntary Motherland), led by First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro. The initiative aims at fostering volunteerism in Brazil — but has netted just around BRL 1 million (USD 176,800), when discounted its expenses with ads.

When the donation was made, the Brazilian government recommended that only severe cases of respiratory diseases should be tested for the coronavirus — due to the scarcity of inputs. Still, the government tried to justify its move by saying “the Health Ministry doesn’t need more tests.” 


300 fans in the stands

On October 1, the state government of Amapá, in Brazil’s North, allowed 300 people to attend the final of the state football championship — the first time Brazilian fans returned to stadiums since the beginning of the pandemic. Clécio Luís Vieira, mayor of Amapá’s capital Macapá, said he based his decision on the fact that cases and deaths are going down in the state.

The state federation said strict safety protocols would be enforced — such as imposing a 1.5-meter distance between fans. But, according to website SportBuzz, supporters acted as if the pandemic did not exist, gathering together in the stands and not wearing masks. Ypiranga defeated opponents Santana by two goals to nil, winning the state title.


Brain damage in 45.5 percent severe coronavirus patients

A study carried out by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, the D’Or Institute, and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) concluded that the coronavirus may infect neural cells and cause brain damage in more serious forms of the disease. The study examined brain tissue from a patient who died due to Covid-19. The study corroborates the results of another Brazilian research paper that found 45.5 percent of severe Covid-19 patients developed cerebral complications. Scientists around the world are grappling to understand the effects of Covid-19 on the nervous system, after reports of patients who have had strokes or developed psychosis after falling ill with Covid-19, reports scientific magazine Nature.


13.1 million out of a job

According to Brazil’s National Household Sample Survey (PNAD-COVID), the country’s official unemployment rate rose to 13.8 percent late in July — meaning 13.1 million Brazilians are currently out of work. Between May and July, it is estimated that at least 7.2 million jobs were cut. The official unemployment rate accounts only for those who are actively seeking jobs, but millions of people stopped looking for a new position during the pandemic out of health fears or believing no jobs would be available. Back in February, just before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, Brazil’s unemployment rate sat at 12.8 percent.


3 in 4 Brazilian women cannot afford Covid-19 tests

A study by website TrocandoFraldas shows that 74 percent of Brazilian women cannot afford Covid-19 tests, while half would like to take one in order to know if they have been infected. As of June, the price range for antibody tests in the country varied from BRL 240 to BRL 420 — the minimum wage in Brazil is just above BRL 1,000 — while the RT-PCR test, used to detect active infections, can cost up to BRL 480. 

However, 14 percent of Brazilian women were only able to afford the test if it cost up to BRL 50. Meanwhile, only 3 percent of women said they had taken an RT-PCR test, while 12 percent took “quick tests,” the reliability of which has been questioned by experts.


Up to 44ºC

Back in August, it snowed in several municipalities to the South of Brazil. Now, some of these same places are facing a heat wave — with thermometers registering up to 40ºC on Friday. In 12 states, temperatures topped the 40ºC mark, reaching 44ºC in Cuiabá — a city close to forest areas recently destroyed by massive wildfires.


USD 1 billion from Google

Google plans to give USD 1 billion to journalism companies around the world for the right to publish their news stories over the next three years. The new product, entitled ‘Google News Showcase,’ will first be launched in Germany and Brazil, where it has signed up outlets such as newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, news website UOL, and others. Besides Brazil, only Argentina will be reached by the action in Latin America. The European Publishers Council (EPC) — whose members include News UK, the Guardian, Pearson, New York Times, and Schibsted — criticized the project, saying Google “wil be able to dictate terms and conditions” while claiming to be funding journalism.[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus Society

Has Manaus reached herd immunity? Well, it’s complicated

Back in April, Manaus — the biggest city in the Amazon basin — became Brazil’s textbook coronavirus worst-case scenario. With insufficient measures to control the outbreak, infection curves exploded — leading the city’s fragile healthcare network to a full-scale collapse. At one point, morgues were simply unable to handle the sheer amount of bodies showing up at their door, literally left to pile up. Cemeteries ran out of coffins and space, with corpses buried in mass graves known as “trenches.”

Months later, things seem to have improved significantly in Manaus. New daily deaths dropped from 56 during the pandemic’s peak to 3.9 as of September 29. The few social distancing rules in place were lifted, and in-person classes returned at schools around the state of Amazonas. [restricted]

The spread of the virus slowed down so significantly that a group of researchers, led by scientists from the University of São Paulo, went as far as suggesting that Manaus might have reached a so-called “herd immunity,” which would have made it the first place in the world to obtain this desired mark.

By analyzing blood samples, the study claimed to have found coronavirus antibodies in as much as 66 percent of the population. This would suggest that, as more people gain immunity, it would become harder for the virus to infect new people and continue its spread.

“Though nonpharmaceutical interventions — as well as a change in population behavior — may have helped to limit SARS-CoV-2 transmission in Manaus, the unusually high infection rate suggests that herd immunity played a significant role in determining the size of the epidemic,” says the study — which has yet to be peer-reviewed.

And, indeed, controversy ensued once the paper was published. Jessem Orellana, a researcher from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Amazonas, challenged the findings during an interview with cable news channel GloboNews. He said Manaus has experienced a sustained increase in new cases of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) over the past four weeks — and recommended another lockdown as the best way to avoid a massive second wave of infections and deaths.

“There is no doubt we are seeing a second wave in Manaus. We are having a high number of hospitalizations for severe cases of acute respiratory distress syndrome. (…) This is totally incompatible with a herd immunity scenario,” Mr. Orellana claimed.

And, as we reported in our Covid-19 Live Blog, Manaus Mayor Artur Virgílio Neto followed his advice — suggesting a new lockdown be put in place.

Covid-19 in Manaus, in numbers

According to the data provided by the Amazonas Health Surveillance Department (FVS), since the beginning of September, Covid-19 cases have been increasing in the city of Manaus. The seven-day rolling average of new cases jumped from 228.9 on September 1 to 307 on September 28. Hospitalizations rose in the middle of the month, but are now back to late August levels. 

The moving seven-day average for new daily deaths, however, remains below August levels, at around 3.6. 

In an interview with The Brazilian Report, Daniel Vilela, who coordinates the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation’s Scientific Computation Program, says that it is too soon to say whether Manaus or Amazonas state is undergoing a second Covid-19 wave, or whether it has reached herd immunity.


infogripe manaus coronavirus
Source: InfoGripe

“The pandemic is not over and we need to keep monitoring it. This behavior [in Manaus] could be just an oscillation. We must keep monitoring it instead of saying there is a second wave going on,” he says. 

In his view, the recent uptick in cases is significantly smaller than the peaks we saw at the beginning of the pandemic and the causes are yet unclear. “The state has lifted social isolation rules in recent weeks. When the share of the population that has been confined at home starts to circulate again, this could cause an increase in cases,” he notes, adding that further socioeconomic studies would be required to know whether the virus is now circulating among wealthier or more vulnerable populations. 

Regarding the possibility of herd immunity, Mr. Vilela explains that this depends on how long individual immunity to SARS-CoV-2 lasts, which remains unclear.

Data on hospitalizations show that, from September 7 to 21, there was a reduction in the number of vacant Covid-19 intensive care beds per every 10,000 adults in Amazonas state. The state has the lowest ratio in Brazil, with only 0.5 ICU beds for every 10,000 adults. However, of the beds that are available, occupancy rates remain reasonably low at 55.4 percent.

Speaking to The Brazilian Report, PR representatives of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation said Mr. Orellana “does not speak for the institution” with regard to the epidemiological situation in Manaus. They added that the foundation will publish its findings “soon.” 

The Brazilian Report was unable to reach Mr. Orellana.

Government reactions to herd immunity claims

On September 10, the Amazonas Health Department (FVS) issued a statement claiming Mr. Orellana’s allegations are “groundless” and saying his attitude was disrespectful. However, the FVS did later confirm to The Brazilian Report that new case numbers increased by 12 percent between September 14 to September 25. It also says that if social isolation measures determined by the state government are not followed, “we may have a significant increase in the number of cases in the capital, which may cause a knock-on effect in other cities.” 

On Monday, however, Governor Wilson Lima posted a video on social media refuting the idea of a lockdown, even though his administration recently closed beaches, nightclubs and bars until October 26. 

“Our health department identified three deaths due to Covid-19 yesterday. It is a concerning situation but it’s not even close to the scenario we had in April and May. I don’t consider the chance of a lockdown at all,” said Governor Lima, adding that he would stick to plans of resuming classes in elementary schools on September 30.[/restricted]

Categories
Society

The endless list of scandals involving Brazil’s multinational church

That Evangelical churches have carved out a significant niche of influence in Brazilian public life is no secret. Neither is it news that many of these organizations are tied up in corruption schemes involving massive amounts of money. In Rio de Janeiro, prosecutors are investigating an alleged money laundering racket connected to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which is among the largest Evangelical charismatic institutions in the Americas.

Suspicions stemmed from a report from Brazil’s money laundering enforcement agency Coaf, which identified the “atypical” transfer of BRL 5.9 billion (USD 1.05 billion) between May 2018 and April 2019 in the church’s accounts. State prosecutors say there is sufficient evidence to affirm the organization is being used to launder large quantities of funds obtained from corruption in the Rio de Janeiro municipal government.[restricted]

Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella — who last week was made ineligible for public office after committing electoral crimes — is a licensed pastor of the Universal Church.

According to investigators, there is a “bribery headquarters” within the municipal administration, allegedly led by Mauro Macedo, who is Mr. Crivella’s political campaign coordinator and was implicated in plea-bargain testimony as part of Operation Car Wash. He is accused of tapping up business owners to take part in corruption schemed within Rio city hall, and is the cousin of Edir Macedo, who founded the Universal Church back in 1977. 

With 8 million followers in Brazil alone, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has 4,700 temples spread across 172 countries — making it even more of a multinational company than McDonald’s, which has restaurants in 118 countries. Edir Macedo is also well known for being a media magnate, despite Brazilian law forbidding churches from owning TV or radio networks. RecordTV, the second-largest free-to-air television channel in Brazil, is owned by Mr. Macedo. 

The self-proclaimed bishop also has his own political party — the Republicanos party, of which President Jair Bolsonaro’s sons Flávio and Carlos are members — as well as influence in Congress, the Executive, and the mayor’s office of Rio de Janeiro. And Edir Macedo is never far from power. All of Brazil’s presidents in recent decades have enjoyed his support and shaken hands with him at some point.


His political views appear to change according to convenience. He once associated ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with the devil, before campaigning alongside him once he was in power. His alliance with Lula’s center-left Workers’ Party was quickly scrapped as soon as ex-President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016. 

Despite having members of his church within Ms. Rousseff’s cabinet, he came out in support of the Michel Temer government the day after her impeachment, with another ally appointed to the cabinet. With the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, Edir Macedo and his church became even more powerful, allowing the organization to shield its most scandalous corruption schemes, which are numerous and certainly not restricted to Rio de Janeiro.

Convicted con man and charlatan

The rise of the Universal Church came at the end of the 1980s, culminating in the election of Fernando Collor de Mello as president in 1989, who Edir Macedo supported against “the devil” Lula. Three years later, the first scandal surfaced. The bishop spent 12 days in jail in May 1992 as part of an investigation into swindling and charlatanism. The principal accusation was that Mr. Macedo had amassed a large fortune thanks to his work at the head of the Universal Church.

Prosecutors evaluated Mr. Macedo’s net worth as BRL 100 million back in 1992. He was eventually let off the hook, with one court saying the fact he did not declare his assets on his income tax return was “not relevant.”

In other cases, Edir Macedo is accused of instigating violence against Afro-Brazilian religions, followers of which the bishop has called “devil lovers.” Members of the Universal Church were tied up in cases of executions, torture, and sexual assault, with the victims being followers of Afro-Brazilian faiths.

One such case involved the rape, torture, and murder of a 14-year-old boy in 2001, committed by pastors from the Universal Church. At the time, the organization washed its hands of any potential involvement in the crime, stating it was an individual act of the perpetrators.

Satanism in Zambia and bible-burning in Madagascar 

Controversy linked to the Universal Church has not been limited to Brazil. The organization began expanding to Africa in the 2000s, before it was targeted by a series of protests in Zambia for “practicing satanism.” The Zambian government even banned the church in 2005 and requested the extradition of two Brazilian pastors, but courts overturned this decision and the institution has operated normally ever since.  

That same year, courts in Madagascar also prohibited the Universal Church from working in that country, ordering the deportation of the institution’s pastors. This move was in connection to allegations that the church was involved in the burning of bibles and other religious objects. 

Deaths and forced sterilization in Angola 

Elsewhere in the southern portion of Africa, the Universal Church has had a presence in the Portuguese-speaking country of Angola since 1992. In 2003, its operations were suspended for 60 days due to an accident at an event hosted by the church inside the Estádio da Cidadela football stadium in the capital city Luanda, which resulted in the death of 16 people. An inquiry concluded that the event was oversold, which was blamed on the organization’s false advertising. Advertisement for the event urged spectators to “bring their whole families” in order to end “all of [their] problems in life.”

In November 2019, Angolan pastors from the Universal Church staged a rebellion. Occupying the organization’s 300 temples across the country, they protested against Edir Macedo’s Brazilian representatives in Angola, making numerous criminal allegations, including money smuggling, forced vasectomies, and racial discrimination.

Prosecutors in Luanda investigated claims that pastors and their wives were forbidden from pursuing academic, scientific and technical qualifications, and that minutes of Universal Church meetings had been doctored. Brazilian bishops fled from the country, while Edir Macedo lobbied President Bolsonaro and Congress to intervene in favor of the church in Angola.

In the same month, a popular uprising resulted in Universal Church temples being vandalized in the African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe. A São Toméan pastor was arrested in Côte d’Ivoire after leaking messages exposing the church’s abuse of its African employees. The organization called the claims “absurd lies.”[/restricted]

Categories
Society

Numbers of the week: Sep. 26, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: Argentina’s GDP, coronavirus figures, Bolsonaro’s approval rating. And more.

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19-percent GDP slump in Argentina

Argentina’s official statistics agency (Indec) [restricted]says the country’s GDP dropped 19.1 percent in Q2 2020 when compared to the same period in 2019. From Q1 2020, the quarterly contraction reached 16.2 percent — slightly better than most forecasts. The year-on-year change for Q2 2020 was even worse than the 2002 crisis, when Argentina faced one of its most dire economic moments in recent history, with five different presidents taking office in a matter of just two weeks. At that time, quarterly GDP shrank by 16.3 percent when compared to the previous year. 

The Argentinian crisis is mainly motivated by the country’s never-ending quarantine — which started back in March.


7 players infected

This week, Rio de Janeiro-based club Flamengo became the textbook example of the dangers of a rushed return to football amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Most South American countries remain unable to control the coronavirus spread — and yet, the region’s football confederation Conmebol has resumed the Copa Libertadores continental club tournament. The confederation said it had created a “mobile bubble” for teams, with charter flights and special hotel wings to isolate squads from contamination. Just a week after Libertadores action restarted, the weaknesses of the system were exposed.

Seven Flamengo players — including many in the starting lineup — tested positive for the coronavirus just prior to a match against Ecuadorian side Barcelona, in Guayaquil. But even that wasn’t enough for Conmebol to postpone the game. After Flamengo’s 2-1 win, the Barcelona squad was placed in quarantine to monitor possible contaminations.


40-percent approval

A new poll showed that 40 percent of Brazilian voters believe President Jair Bolsonaro is doing a “good or great” job — a bump of 11 percentage points when compared to his approval ratings at the end of last year. As we explained in our September 25 Daily Briefing, this rise is mainly linked to the government-issued coronavirus emergency salary — the monthly value of which has since been halved.


9 cases after Chief Justice inauguration ceremony

Supreme Court Justice Cármen Lúcia has tested positive for the coronavirus, making her the ninth infected person who attended the inauguration of Chief Justice Luiz Fux. But while the inauguration ceremony is being used as a timestamp for these infections, there were multiple occasions during which the spread might have occurred. One was a massive dinner party hosted by House Speaker Rodrigo Maia the day before.


BRL 1 billion in remote work savings

Public servants have been costing less to the federal government’s coffers: during the week, the Economy Ministry reported that the government saved about BRL 1.02 billion with public servants working remotely from April to August. Of those savings, BRL 859 million is related to cost expenses (such as water and electric bills and travel expenses) and other BRL 161 million to the servants’ personal aides. According to the Economy Ministry, the amount saved in those expenses can be used to “serve the population.” At least 360,000 servants (especially from public universities and federal institutes) are currently working from home, 62 percent of the federal government’s workforce.


From 15,000 to 5 million

Businessman Filipe Sabará, who intends on running for São Paulo Mayor this year, is facing heat after an eye-catching mistake in his income declaration to electoral authorities. On September 18, Mr. Sabará said he owned BRL 15,686 in assets (USD 2,830). Two days later, he changed his net worth to nearly BRL 5 million.

Mr. Sabará said the first statement was based on his tax returns, which consider the social capital of his company at BRL 11,111. The candidate claims to having later decided to change the figures to reflect the actual market value of his company — roughly BRL 7 million. He is also the heir of the Sabará Group — a company with a net worth of BRL 200 million.

His party, the libertarian group Partido Novo, suspended Mr. Sabará’s candidacy for undisclosed reasons. Besides the messy net worth statements, he was criticized for praising former São Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf. During the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Maluf became so associated with corruption that his name became a verb. “To Maluf” was to steal public money. In 2014, he was called “Mr. Kickback” by Transparency International.


10 states beat MMR coverage target

According to a report by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), called “Brazil in numbers,” in 2019, coverage of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) exceeded the Health Ministry’s goals in ten states, with Mato Grosso do Sul (101.23%), Alagoas (101.18%), Rondônia (100.5%), Paraíba (98.07%), and Ceará (97.75%) topping the list. 

However, when looking at the national levels, MMR coverage is still only at 88.33 percent, 6.67 points below the 95-percent target set by the Health Ministry. Last year, before the pandemic, measles became a pressing public health issue in Brazil: according to the 2020 Bulletin of Epidemiological Surveillance of Measles, the virus was actively circulating in ten states. In 2019, between September and November 23, 15 people died from measles infections. Confirmed cases exceeded 13,000.[/restricted]

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Society

Numbers of the week: Sep. 19, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: A new, reduced coronavirus emergency salary. Brazil back on the Hunger Map. Coronavirus infections in the Supreme Court? The pandemic’s impact on organ transplant numbers. The return of Copa Libertadores. And coronavirus trends in Brazil.

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BRL 300 emergency salary 

The coronavirus emergency salary has been halved to BRL 300 (USD 56), [restricted]as the government was unable to cope with the origina BRL 50-billion monthly price tag. As we explained in our September 17 Daily Briefing, the cuts will instantly reduce the purchasing power of Brazil’s poorest populations by 44 percent. According to recent estimates, the aid program has accounted for 97 percent of the income for the country’s poorest 10 percent.


10.2 million food-insecure Brazilians

New data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics shows that, in 2018, 4.6 percent of households face severe food insecurity. Economists say this number has probably increased during the pandemic. Moreover, access to food products has been reduced due to recent price hikes. Back in February, BRL 100 could buy 35 kilos of rice; now, it is only enough for 26 kilos.


-6.5-percent projection

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) improved their estimate for the Brazilian GDP in 2020, reducing the expected drop to 6.5 percent in its latest projections from a predicted 7.4-percent plunge in economic activity. The organization sees the local economy bouncing back in 2021, but, if confirmed, the 3.6-percent growth estimate is not enough to offset the long term impacts of Covid-19. The organization sees the local economy bouncing back in 2021, but, if confirmed, the 3.6-percent growth estimate is not enough to offset the long term impacts of Covid-19. 


5 high-profile officials catch the coronavirus

At least five high-profile officials tested positive for the coronavirus after attending Supreme Court Chief Justice Luiz Fux’s inauguration ceremony. That raised questions about whether all sanitary protocols were respected during the event. 

Alongside the chief justice himself, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, and two Supreme Court Justices were infected and the president of Brazil’s Superior Labor Court, Maria Cristina Peduzzi, caught the virus. The court issued a statement saying that “all safety measures were strictly followed during the ceremony.” Meanwhile, multiple justices leaked a story to the press that Mr. Maia held a dinner party with several authorities — suggesting that the spread happened during Mr. Maia’s event rather than at the Supreme Court building.


Organ transplants down 61 percent in Brazil

During the pandemic, transplant procedures were down 61 percent compared to 2019, while the deaths of patients registered in transplant waiting-lines skyrocketed 44.5 percent, according to the Brazilian Transplant Association (ABTO). The organization says that transplants have been compromised by a lack of donors.


5-0 pounding

Copa Libertadores — South America’s answer to the UEFA Champions League — is back after a six-month hiatus, despite the fact that the region’s countries are struggling to tame the coronavirus spread. Many teams have voiced concerns about traveling to areas where infection curves are up, as the tournament’s “mobile bubbles” seem very porous. The first batch of games included a shocking 5-0 thrashing of reigning champions Flamengo at the hands of Ecuador’s Independiente Del Valle. For the Rio de Janeiro-based team, there is only one attenuating factor for the embarrassing loss: the game was played at Quito’s 2,850-meter altitude.


15,000-plus fires

Until September 17, over 15,000 fires had been recorded in the Pantanal wetland region, a 210-percent increase from 2019 — and the highest ever recorded. The situation is so bad that the federal government has declared a state of emergency in the state of Mato Grosso. On Friday, a plane carrying President Jair Bolsonaro aborted its landing when approaching the Center-Western state, as fire smoke impaired visibility. Days before, Mr. Bolsonaro “congratulated” his administration’s environmental efforts.


34-percent growth in new daily coronavirus deaths

Brazil has confirmed 4.4 million coronavirus cases (the third-highest tally in the world) and 135,000 deaths (only behind the U.S.). States’ 7-day rolling average for new daily deaths went down in most states — but Pará, in the North, was a notable exception. It had a 34-percent growth in average daily deaths between September 1 and 18 — more than anywhere else. On the flip side, Brazil’s northernmost state Roraima dropped by almost 66 percent.

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Society

Numbers of the week: Sep. 12, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: food inflation; coronavirus transmission rates; GDP; corruption; aviation woes; São Paulo mayoral race.

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19.2-percent inflation

Brazil’s overall inflation rate sits at a mere [restricted]0.7 percent since the beginning of the year, on pace to finish 2020 far below the government’s 4-percent target. But Brazilians are beginning to feel the rise in food prices, which fuels the growing pessimism about the economy. Tomatoes are now 13 percent more expensive and milk prices have jumped by nearly 5 percent since the start of the pandemic. And rice prices are an astounding 19.2 percent higher than they were in January.

Food prices weigh disproportionately on the poor and could spark disgruntlement among a significant proportion of the electorate.


1.02 R number

New data from the Imperial College London suggests that the spread of the coronavirus hasn’t slowed down in Brazil. The country’s R number (representing the rate of the virus’s effective reproduction) has risen once again, landing exactly on 1.02. The rate has oscillated quite a bit recently. Last week, it sat at 0.94.

The overall death and infection curves are slowing down in Brazil, but that’s mainly because pandemic has spread unevenly across Brazil. While major centers show some stabilization in cases and deaths, regions in the interior of the country are seeing an uptake in infections.


-5.8-percent GDP growth

After encouraging economic data from Q2, Fitch Ratings changed its estimate for Brazil’s 2020 GDP growth rate from a 7-percent plunge to a 5.8-percent drop in the year. The credit rating agency sees a steady reopening of the economy despite the virus’s continuous spread. Among the data that supported Fitch’s decision was the rebound in retail, which suggests that “fiscal transfers to support the vulnerable population and the reopening of the economy have helped to support domestic demand.” 

However, they warn about the risks posed by an intensification in the virus’ spreading which could lead to another lockdown. Read more.


BRL 10.8 million from Odebrecht 

Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes was charged this week with corruption and money laundering. Prosecutors accuse him of pocketing BRL 10.8 million from construction group Odebrecht during his 2012 re-election campaign. Mr. Paes plans to run for City Hall again in November, and has dismissed the probe as an attempt to interfere with the upcoming municipal elections.


USD 2.45-billion loan

A U.S. bankruptcy judge denied a USD 2.45-billion bankruptcy loan to Chilean-Brazilian carrier Latam Airlines, Latin America’s biggest airline. The proposal consisted of a USD 1.3-billion loan from asset management firm Oaktree Capital and a USD 900-million convertible loan from key shareholders. The court found the convertible loan would amount to “improper” treatment of other shareholders. The denial is a major setback to Latam, which is carrying USD 18-billion debt and desperately needs short-term liquidity.


Polling at 16 percent

The São Paulo mayoral race still has no clear-cut favorite, according to consultancy Atlas Político. The first major poll of this electoral cycle shows incumbent Mayor Bruno Covas polling at 16 percent — with left candidate Guilherme Boulos and Congressman Celso Russomano tied in second place, with 12 percent each. Meanwhile, 13 percent of voters in Brazil’s largest city still don’t know who they will vote for in November. 

Only 16.6 percent of voters approve of the Bruno Covas administration — he took office last year, after then-Mayor João Doria resigned to run for governor. Meanwhile, 45 percent of São Paulo residents rate the administration as “bad” or “terrible.”

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Society

Numbers of the week: Sep. 5, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: the latest coronavirus figures, Brazilians looking forward to a vaccine, earthquakes in the Northeast, Rio Governor Wilson Witzel loses in court, the Q2 economic drop, a new chapter for the emergency salary 

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4 million coronavirus cases

Brazil became just the second country[restricted] in the world to hit the 4-million-case mark on Thursday evening. Still, there is some room for optimism, as data suggests that the spread could be slowing down. It took Brazil 25 days to go from 3 to 4 million cases — two days longer than its transition from 2 to 3 million. Moreover, new deaths and infections saw a slight drop in August. While experts celebrate the positive numbers, they warn that the curves are still plateauing at a high level.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro continued his campaign of gaslighting the Brazilian population. He patted himself on the back once more, saying his response to the pandemic was “unparalleled.” Moreover, he declared that “no-one can force anyone to take a Covid-19 vaccine,” raising fears of a potential anti-vax wave in the country. But as it turns out, coercing patients is unlikely to be necessary. An Ipsos-Mori poll in 27 countries ranked Brazilians as the second-most eager population to receive a coronavirus vaccine once it is available, with 88 percent saying they would take it.


Coronavirus emergency salary

President Jair Bolsonaro confirmed the extension of the emergency salary program until the end of the year — but the benefit will be halved to BRL 300 (USD 55) due to budgetary constraints. But the move already faces some opposition in Congress. Since the pandemic started, Mr. Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for his Covid-19 denialism. However, as The Brazilian Report showed, the financial aid improved the lives of millions of people — and boosted the president’s approval ratings among lower classes.


14 tremors in Bahia

A 4.6-magnitude earthquake was felt in several regions of the northeastern state of Bahia, including cities in the Recôncavo Baiano region and state capital Salvador. No-one was injured but several homes were damaged. From August 30 to September 1, Bahia recorded 14 tremors, all of them in the city of Amargosa, according to the Brazilian Seismographic Network (RSBR). Experts say these zones are seismogenic, which increases the propensity of the phenomenon. Though these regions — and Brazil as a whole — do not suffer from violent earthquakes like other countries, this recent small “clusters” of tremors are quite common.


-9.7 percent in Q2 2020

The Brazilian economy shrank 9.7 percent during Q2 2020 — during which social isolation was more strictly enforced in Brazil. This was the second-straight quarter of negative growth, putting the country in a technical recession

Q2 2020 data was the biggest quarterly drop on record. Still, the drop was already priced into Brazilian market performance. Brazil’s benchmark stock index Ibovespa rose 2.2 percent after the GDP announcement. Moreover, economists say the data is a look into the rearview mirror, showing what they believe was rock bottom for the country during the coronavirus crisis — and many expect a “Nike swoosh-shaped recovery,” implying the sharp fall followed by a slower, steady recuperation. However, this is conditioned to the approval of structural reforms, as the latest episode of the Explaining Brazil podcast informed.


15-1 loss for Witzel

A panel of 15 members of the Superior Court of Justice, Brazil’s second-highest judicial body, confirmed Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel’s 180-day suspension from office. He is suspected of leading a corruption ring to embezzle state funds originally earmarked for the coronavirus fight. Interim Governor Cláudio Castro is planning a cabinet overhaul — using that reshuffling as an olive branch to State Congress, which is set to vote on Mr. Witzel’s impeachment. Go deeper.


125 years (yes, years) for a verdict

The Brazilian Supreme Court has finally closed a case that had been going on for 125 years. It concerned the possession of the Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro, a neoclassical residence built in the 1850s and subject to a tiff between Brazil’s old royal family and the federal government. The case in question, a possessory action, was actually filed by Princess Isabel herself, daughter of Emperor Pedro II and one of the most important figures in Brazil’s history, being responsible for signing the so-called Golden Law in 1888 which abolished slavery in the country.

Almost a century after the original plaintiff had died, the Supreme Court dismissed the case and ruled in favor of the government.[/restricted]

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Society

“We are being forgotten about, abandoned”

September 5 is Amazon Day, commemorated around Brazil to mark the emancipation of the Province of Amazonas in 1850, a region that now encompasses the states of Amazonas and Roraima. These days, the date is largely observed by environmentalist NGOs and activist groups, concerned with the progressive destruction of Brazil’s largest biome. This Amazon Day, however, comes with an added taste of melancholy, as it marks the one-month anniversary of the death of indigenous chief Aritana Yawalapíti. A prominent leader for Brazil’s native peoples, he died from Covid-19, aged 71.

Aritana battled the symptoms of his disease for two weeks, but was unable to recover. And he became one of many indigenous victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has rocked the country’s traditional communities. One of Aritana’s 11 children, Tapi Yawalapíti lost his father, uncle, cousin, and grandmother within the space of less than a month.

Speaking to The Brazilian Report, he says that his mission now is to “uphold [his] father’s legacy of defending indigenous lands and the demands of indigenous peoples in Xingu and Brazil.” Aritana represented the interests of 16 indigenous communities in the Alto Xingu region: namely the Kuikuro, Kalapalo, Matipu, Nafukuá, Kamaiurá, Waurá, Aweti, Mehinako, Yawalapíti, Trumai, Ikpeng, Kawaiwete, Judja, Suyá, Naruvutu, and Payuna peoples.

Data from the Health Ministry states that, as of Friday, 23,932 indigenous people have tested positive for Covid-19, with 398 deaths. However, one of the population’s leading representative associations, the Indigenous People’s Articulation (Apib), does not recognize the official counts. Claiming that the Health Ministry has not contemplated indigenous people living in urban regions, Apib’s figures suggest 29,824 cases and 785 deaths.[restricted]

In a statement sent to The Brazilian Report, the Health Ministry says it “does not comment on unofficial surveys,” but declared that it “records all cases and deaths by Covid-19 among people living in indigenous villages.”

Officially, Brazil has around 750,000 indigenous people belonging to 305 different ethnicities, living in approximately 5,800 villages. Organizations such as Apib have shown particular concern about isolated or recently contacted indigenous communities, highlighting that the coronavirus pandemic could decimate these villages.

Amid criticism of the Jair Bolsonaro government and the treatment it has given the indigenous population, Tapi Yawalapíti denounces the difficulty in accessing any form of medical care. According to Aritana’s son, the government has not set up any field hospitals in the Alto Xingu region and the closest health clinic is located in the Yawapiti village — with just one doctor — 10 kilometers away. “We are being forgotten about, abandoned, uncared for. It makes me sad to see my people dying without care, without medicine. One doctor to treat almost 3,000 indigenous people here in the Alto Xingu region. There is no land transport. This is the biggest difficulty we have,” he stated.

In accordance with the Health Ministry, 208 primary care units were set up within indigenous villages to provide first aid and identify early symptoms. The department also states that the health district of Xingu received 12 of these basic clinics.

Read the main excerpts of The Brazilian Report‘s interview with Tapi Yawalapíti below:

The arrival of Covid-19 and losses among the community

The first infection happened in July. My whole community was infected and there were five deaths. I lost my cousin, my uncle, my grandmother, and my father. There is only one doctor here, there are no hospitals to admit patients. Xingu is very isolated from the city and there is only one very small health clinic where patients are admitted.

Other communities lost their families, their chiefs. They always say they are sad and recovering from the virus, feeling the loss of the whole family. Some lost fathers, mothers, siblings, aunts and uncles.

Fighting the coronavirus

Here in Xingu, there are no field hospitals, nothing. The government hasn’t done anything. We are really being forgotten here in the forest, no-one gave us support, nothing.

We’re protecting ourselves and taking care of ourselves. We have a raizeiro [a traditional healer using remedies made from foraged roots] here who is working to treat the patients. The doctor assesses the patient and, once he is done, the raizeiro takes over. Raizeiros are traditional doctors, they understand everything about roots to treat any symptom of flu, diarrhea, headache.

At the moment, my community is recuperating, but the virus is passing and the doctor is still monitoring my people, after almost 60 days with the virus in the community. We hope it leaves soon so we can bring the village back to normal.

Impact of Covid-19 on indigenous culture

The worst thing the virus is doing is taking all of our elders. For us, elders are like an archive, a book in which we can research culture and history. It’s so sad to see these older people losing their lives. We have lost books, we have lost wisdom, people that can speak of our culture and traditional education.

In my village our culture is well preserved. We still do traditional paintings, sing traditional songs, play instruments like the flute, and use arrows and other traditional crafts. But we have to make our children and young people aware and encourage them to engage in the culture so it is not left abandoned. Our language has to be practiced, as it is part of the culture. If we do not speak our mother tongue we are losing something. This happens with other indigenous peoples who only speak Portuguese. I always tell my people that we need to keep our culture alive. 

Defending his father’s legacy

My father left a legacy for me and it is a great responsibility. He represented 16 indigenous peoples in Xingu, so today I have a lot of responsibility. I have to continue his struggle, speaking and meeting with people like my father would do. He was a spokesperson for the indigenous peoples in Xingu. 

Helping the indigenous population

Speaking of the current government, we are being forgotten about, abandoned, uncared for. It makes me sad to see my people dying without care, without medicine. One doctor to treat almost 3,000 indigenous people here in the Alto Xingu region. There is no land transport. This is the biggest difficulty we have.

I am not satisfied with what is happening in Xingu, with the entire Brazilian indigenous population. We are asking for help, I am not happy with the government’s actions to help indigenous people.

Sesai was set up to meet the demands of Brazil’s indigenous people, but so far we haven’t seen Sesai taking a stance and setting up field hospitals in indigenous villages.

Bolsonaro, indigenous people, and the right to land

We know that the current government has always attacked us with its words, threatening indigenous lands with a view to authorizing mining operations, and exploiting the wealth of these territories. So we do not expect the government to help us. On the contrary, the government wants to destroy the indigenous population. That’s how I see it. It’s a lack of respect, we are Brazilian citizens, the first inhabitants of the country. Indigenous people are the true Brazilians and we own this land. Since the year 1500 we have been threatened.[/restricted]

Categories
Society

Famous Brazilian priest dips his hand into a millionaire collection plate

In the world’s largest Catholic country, with around 125 million adherents, Brazil is home to the bizarre phenomenon of the “celebrity priest.” With millions of followers on social media, these famous fathers fill out churches for services that are broadcast live over a wide range of platforms, selling millions of CDs and books, and being featured on primetime television. They also enjoy significant political prestige in a nation where the Catholic Church has always had broad influence over all sectors of society, to the point that their words can be decisive in debates such as the legalization of abortion — still a taboo in the country. 

But, as has been the case in several parts of the world, members of the Catholic Church in Brazil have often been caught up in scandal — and these pop priests are no different. One such notable man of the cloth is suspected of leading a criminal organization accused of dipping its hand in the collection plate and embezzling donations put toward the construction of a mega-church in Central-Western Brazil.[restricted]

The hyper-temple in question is located in Trindade, in the interior of Goiás state — a region based largely on its agribusiness economy. The money that was meant to be used on building the church ended up enriching local business owners and politicians, as well as the priest himself, say investigators.

The alleged leader of this gang is the 46-year-old Father Robson Oliveira. Born and bred in Trindade, he spent some time in Ireland and completed a master’s degree in Moral Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Upon returning to Brazil in 2003, he took over the parish of the Sanctuary of the Eternal Holy Father in his hometown. One of his first actions in charge was to file a request with the Pope to award the church basilica status. Indeed, the temple is one of the largest in the country, housing up to 2,500 people and attracting millions of pilgrims.

Recognition duly came in 2006, when Pope Benedict XVI granted the church the title of ‘minor basilica,’ making it the only one in the world dedicated to the Eternal Holy Father. With his mass broadcast live on the Rede Vida TV station, the work of Father Robson began being noticed nationwide and even abroad. 

Four years later, with his celebrity status established, Father Robson began an intense campaign to build a new, much larger basilica, with a capacity of 6,000 people. He created the Association of the Sons of the Eternal Holy Father (Afipe) to receive and manage donations for the ambitious construction project. The idea is to build a temple that is 94 meters tall, on an area of 120,000 square meters, with the largest suspended bell in the world, made especially in Krakow, Poland. At four meters high, 4.5 meters in diameter and weighing 55 tons, the bell is 78 percent copper and 22 percent tin, and is decorated with images depicting the history of the parish.

Budgeted at a total of BRL 100 million (USD 18 million), the construction job was slated to be finished in 2022, said Father Robson. However, it is still in its foundation stage and will be delayed until 2026, despite having raised the equivalent of 20 times its original cost. Public prosecutors have found that Afipe has transferred around BRL 2 billion, which the priest himself confirms. The problem is, according to the investigators, that the money has been used for purposes that have nothing to do with the construction job or religion as a whole. 


A farm, a beach house, and a plane

Prosecutors suspect that at least BRL 120 million donated by Father Robson’s congregation were embezzled for the purchase of luxury assets, such as a BRL 6 million farm in Goiás and a beach house in the north-eastern state of Bahia, which cost BRL 3 million and is where Father Robson likes to spend his weekends. These R&R trips are often made on a private plane worth BRL 2 million, also bought with the donations of his parishioners.

Besides this, a country house with glass walls overlooking a garden, a heated pool, and a hot tub were also allegedly purchased using offerings from the congregation. It was here that Father Robson was relaxing when the police and public prosecutors launched an operation last week to lift the lid on the embezzlement scandal.

According to the Public Prosecution Service, Afipe had become “a large company.” Police and prosecutors noted that Father Robson had created “various associations with similar corporate names, with the same purpose and address.” Some of these companies had the same shareholders and headquarters. 

Extortion case sparks investigation

The probe into embezzlement involving Afipe began two years ago, as a result of another investigation, of which Father Robson was the injured party. The priest had been blackmailed between March and April 2017, and “unduly used funds from the accounts of the association he presides,” according to the prosecution service. A man was arrested and convicted for demanding BRL 2 million from Father Robson in exchange for not leaking details of an alleged romantic affair involving the priest. However, the police found that the messages used to extort Father Robson were in fact false.

According to investigations, the money was moved through bank transfers and deliveries in cash, paid in quantities between BRL 50,000 and 700,000. In some cases, the money was left in a vehicle outside apartment complexes or shopping centers in the city of Goiânia. One of these ‘drop-offs’ was supervised by the Civil Police, in a bid to identify all of the criminals involved.

Aerial view of the Basilic
Aerial view of the basilica

At the time, Afipe said that it “suffered no financial losses and the entire amount was returned to the institution.” However, last week’s court order that authorized Father Robson’s arrest warrant highlighted that of the BRL 2.9 million withdrawn from Afipe’s accounts to make the payment, almost half — BRL 1.2 million — was not recovered. These payments allowed investigators to uncover a “much larger network of persons involved, with misappropriation and negotiations involving the association’s assets.”

This ensued almost two years of investigations to track and inspect over 1,200 real estate transactions, as well as transfers, deposits, and withdrawals, involving millionaire amounts. Prosecutors say that the amounts transferred — not just by Afipe but by everyone involved in the probe — could exceed BRL 2 billion.

Two emissaries from the Vatican visited Trindade in September 2019 to investigate Afipe, as there was some concern about the quantities of funds being raised by the basilica. “Two police chiefs spoke with them. At the meeting, they told us about the Vatican’s worries about the amount of money circulating around the church in Trindade, for the construction of the basilica, which has yet to see any progress. The suspicion was about the origin of these funds and their misapplication,” explains Rodney Miranda, the public security secretary of the state of Goiás.

Deputy mayor among the suspects

The prosecution service’s report on the operation mentions business owners and politicians who signed voluminous contracts with Afipe. Among them is the Deputy Mayor of Trindade, Gleysson Cabriny, who prosecutors say carried out “countless” transactions with the associations controlled by Father Robson. According to the prosecution service, he was a partner of companies that conducted several real estate deals between legal entities and the association, causing losses to Afipe.

The report states that “the evidence is reinforced due to the incompatibility of the nature of the transactions with the purposes of the religious association, the links between the many companies and the suspects.” Prosecutors noted that one PR company received a sum of BRL 18 million from Afipe between June and November 2018 — during that same period, the company transferred BRL 17.5 million to a chain of gas stations.

Priest on probation

This past Sunday, the archdiocese of Goiânia suspended Father Robson’s right to give mass, including “participating, holding, and starring in programs on television, radio or the internet.” According to the decision, he will be unable to carry out his role as a priest until January 2022.

In a press statement issued by Father Robson’s press office, he said he “humbly receives” his suspension, saying that it is standard procedure in canonical law and he is keen to clear up the scandal.[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus Society

Parts of Brazil may be close to reaching herd immunity

“Herd immunity” has been one of these terms that the pandemic brought into our daily lives. In broad terms, it is achieved when the number of survivors with immunity against a given disease increases to a certain level, slowing down — and eventually stopping — the spread of the virus in question. It was believed that this stage would be reached for Covid-19 if 60 percent of a given population developed antibodies.

Some governments have tried to apply the herd immunity strategy, such as in Sweden or a famously short-lived attempt in the United Kingdom. But these moves, highly controversial as they are, have not proven successful. 

A paper published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine states that Sweden’s higher rates of viral infection, hospitalization, and mortality compared with neighboring countries may have serious implications for Scandinavia and beyond. And in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson eventually U-turned from his initial coronavirus approach toward herd immunity.


Now, mathematical models suggest that coronavirus herd immunity could be reached after just 10 to 20 percent of people develop antibodies, depending on the specific characteristics of a place and its population. But that doesn’t mean herd immunity should be a goal public authorities should seek. At a news briefing last week, World Health Organization officials called pursuing such a strategy “very dangerous.”

Rodrigo Corder, an infectious disease modeling researcher, explained the fundamental principles of his studies to The Brazilian Report. As a Ph.D. candidate at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, he is part of a group of bio-mathematicians and health researchers trying to break down and understand the Covid-19 spread and establish the herd-immunity threshold for different areas.[restricted]

Why do you believe that the threshold for “herd immunity,” or collective immunity, may be lower than initially considered?

Mathematical models usually consider populations to be homogeneous. We assume that the populations are heterogeneous, contain different susceptibilities and different exposures to the coronavirus. Some have a higher risk, and others have a lower risk of becoming infected. At the beginning of the infection, those with the highest risk are expected to get infected first, leaving only those at low risk for subsequent infections. With those at higher risk already infected, the virus would find it more difficult to circulate, moving towards a threshold of collective immunity.

Reaching the threshold of collective immunity does not mean the end of transmission or the end of the pandemic. It just means that the virus will not have the same strength to spread and that the number of cases tends to drop even after the relaxation of the control measures.

The homogeneous models described the beginning of the transmission well, but as they consider all people to have the same risk, they began to have difficulties after a particular moment. Considering this risk distribution, our models continued to describe the incidence data even after the number of cases began to drop considerably.

What defines vulnerability?

There are two characteristics: susceptibility and exposure. Susceptibility is related to immunological factors, contact with other viruses in the past — which may give some partial immunity — or genetic factors.

Exposure is related to connectivity. A person with many friends is more likely to infect and be infected than someone who has contact with fewer people. Exposure also helps to explain why different locations have different thresholds of collective immunity. There are cultural factors, people that get closer physically, the infrastructure of cities, transportation. In Brazil, in Latin America, there is a culture of getting closer or touching, more than in the countries of northern Europe, for example.

What is known about the immunity threshold?

We know from other diseases that this threshold varies within a certain range. For the coronavirus, we reach between 10 and 20 percent of the population — depending on each population’s particularities. With the development of the pandemic, we were able to verify, with a certain standard of accuracy and based on serological studies, this threshold for four countries. Belgium was 9.6%, England 20%, Spain 12% and Portugal 7.6%.

But it is important to remember that mathematical models are approximations of a given event and can never be interpreted as an exact truth. These are values ​​to be compared with other estimates — the homogeneous models estimated between 50 and 60 percent. It is possible to find places outside of the range. Setting an exact value would be irresponsible for people working in modeling because authorities could use it to relax isolation before collective immunity is achieved.

What is the threshold for Brazil?

We do not have the final numbers for Brazil yet, but they will not be far from other countries, between 10 and 20 percent. But Brazil has different dynamics. You can’t think of Brazil as something unique like we did for Belgium.

There is also the fact that the states had autonomy in managing the pandemic, in distancing measures. It would be much more consistent to analyze each state. And even within states, there are different dynamics. We know that Covid-19 arrived mainly in the state capitals, mostly in those with connections with abroad, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, and Fortaleza.

Transmission starts in the capital and only then migrates to smaller cities, so today we see capitals decreasing, and the interior does not — the curve seems stable. It is expected that exposure will be different between big cities and the interior [of states], there is not much public transport there, the threshold tends to be lower. But we are still analyzing the data.

What is the current stage of the pandemic in Brazil?

It is hard to say that the worst is behind us when around 1,000 people still die every day. But it is expected that the number of deaths will not increase compared to what we have already seen. The moment is still extremely critical; control measures remain necessary. But, as I said, there are several different stages.

The isolation level in Rio de Janeiro today is low and even so, the number of cases has not increased exponentially as the homogeneous models predicted. This may be evidence that collective immunity is close to being achieved.

On the other hand, in Brazil’s interior, the Center-West region took longer to have problems with the disease. So it appears to be at an earlier stage of the pandemic.

Is Brazil close to collective immunity?

The number of people infected by each infected person in Brazil is below 1 for the first time. But this is the general number; there are locations where this number is much smaller than 1 and others where it is much larger and the curve is still growing. It is positive news, but it needs to be looked at carefully.

A second wave is unlikely in communities where collective immunity has been achieved. But there are different realities, even within the same city. Studies are showing that São Paulo, for example, already has an estimated 18 percent of its adults infected. Still, peripheral neighborhoods have a higher prevalence of antibodies precisely because they were most affected at the beginning of the pandemic. A second wave is possible in places where the incidence of Covid-19 was lowest.

Is the reduction of Brazil’s cases the result of public policy or just the natural behavior of the disease?

Generalizing is a little unfair, as there were a few politicians committed to control. But in general, we have seen complete neglect, a failure to manage the pandemic.

In a few places, managers were close to scientists and listening to implement what was needed. But in a continental country, it is difficult for one locale, alone, to succeed surrounded by other locations that have not taken action. Municipalities or states are not islands. If this had happened — with the federal government and the Health Ministry’s support — we would undoubtedly have had better management.

President Jair Bolsonaro said Covid-19 is like rain, that everyone will get wet. Is relying on herd immunity as public policy a justifiable solution?

Collective immunity is not public policy; relying on it is a catastrophic error. Communities that begin to ease control measures before reaching the threshold will have a higher number of cases. That’s what’s called the final epidemic size.

Roughly speaking, it can be said that the final value in places where there is little intervention in the pandemic will be about twice the threshold of collective immunity. If the collective immunity threshold is around 20 percent, about 40 percent of the population will likely be infected at the end of the epidemic when no control measures are taken. Taking the necessary actions — with a slow and gradual easing, observing the numbers — the epidemic’s final value should be very close to the threshold of collective immunity.

When immunity is adopted as a goal, many more people will become infected; consequently, more people will die. And it is possible to avoid this with control measures.[/restricted]

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Society

Numbers of the week: Aug. 29, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: Covid-19 in Latin America; Amazon opinions; Ronaldinho walks free; Twitter v. Bolsonaro; São Paulo asks for extra vaccine funds; and racism shows in Brazil’s murder rates.

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6 months of coronavirus in Latin America

It has been six months since a 61-year-old man in São Paulo became[restricted] the first confirmed Covid-19 infection in Latin America. The region quickly became the epicenter of the pandemic, registering more deaths than any other place in the world — despite a lack of testing in most countries. Deep economic inequality, coupled with a sky-high rate of informal workers — as well as failed leadership — were the main reasons for such a debacle. The Brazilian Report recapped how the pandemic evolved in some of the top economies in Latin America.


24 percent of Brazilians “sad” about the Amazon

A survey by the Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban) asked 1,200 people across Brazil about the importance of the Amazon — 24 percent said they feel “sad” when talking about the rainforest. Another 13 percent said they feel “shame” and “indignation,” while 11 percent cited “fear” as their sentiment about the issue. For the past 14 months, deforestation rates have increased in the Amazon when compared to the previous year — which is sparking backlash from international investors. On Friday evening, the Environment Ministry announced all anti-deforestation efforts in the region would be cancelled due to budget cuts, which was later denied by Vice President Hamilton Mourão.


5 months later, Paraguay frees Ronaldinho

A Paraguayan judge decided to free former footballer Ronaldinho and his brother from house arrest. The pair returned to Brazil for the first time in five months, having been arrested in Asunción in March with fake Paraguayan passports. They will also have to pay around USD 200,000 and establish a residence in Rio de Janeiro, where he and his brother must contact the Justice system every four months. 

Understand the case


1 million-plus tweets in 24 hours

Last weekend, a reporter asked President Jair Bolsonaro about suspect money transfers between Fabrício Queiroz — a long-time friend of the president’s and a suspect in a money-laundering investigation — to First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro. Mr. Bolsonaro said he wanted to “smash [the reporter’s] face in.” The president’s tantrum sparked droves of tweets asking him the same question: “Why did First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro receive BRL 89,000 in multiple checks from Fabrício Queiroz?” In the first 24 hours, over 1 million tweets were published — an average of 700 per minute.


Extra BRL 1.9 billion for vaccine production

Produced by the São Paulo-based Butantan Biological Institute in partnership with Chinese firm Sinovac, the Coronavac vaccine is one of the many prospective inoculations against the coronavirus being tested in Brazil. The initial agreement with Sinovac was to produce 60 million doses by the end of the first quarter of 2021, but the São Paulo state government has requested BRL 1.9 billion (USD 340 million) in funding from the Health Ministry to double this planned output by the end of next year.


One in five NGOs out of funds due to the pandemic

New research by the Brazilian Fundraisers’ Association (ABCR) shows that three out of four civil society organizations in Brazil were weakened due to the Covid-19 pandemic, facing severe budget constraints. One-fifth of the 1,760 institutions consulted by the study no longer have the funds to continue operations. To make matters worse, 65 percent of the institutions expect a reduction in fundraising in 2020, a stark contrast to the increase in donations seen in the country. Per ABCR’s Covid-19 donations monitor, over BRL 6 billion were raised so far to fight off the pandemic. Read more.


25,000 new daily tests 

Brazil has recorded over 3.7 million coronavirus cases — second only to the U.S. — and yet has tested 66,474 people per million inhabitants, less than fellow South American nations Chile and Peru. Furthermore, only 42 percent of these examinations are RT-PCR tests, seen as the most reliable. Now, the biological research organization Fiocruz has opened a new testing facility in Rio de Janeiro, capable of processing 15,000 RT-PCR tests per day, along with another lab in Fortaleza, equipped to go through 10,000 daily tests.


11.5 percent more murders of black people

The latest Violence Atlas showed that homicide rates skyrocketed among black people, up 11.5 percent between 2008 and 2018. Meanwhile, murders against non-blacks went down 12.9 percent during the same period. The report shows that for every non-black person, at least 2.7 black individuals are killed. In 2018, the country’s black and multiracial population were the victims of 75 percent of all homicides recorded in the country.[/restricted]

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Society

Brazil lowers murder rate, but racial disparity remains massive

Almost 60,000 people were murdered in Brazil in 2018, according to the latest Violence Atlas study released this week, one of the broadest and most reputable public security surveys in the country. While a shocking absolute total, this points to a 12 percent fall in homicides between 2017 and 2018 — the sharpest drop in at least ten years. Once again, however, the study exposed the huge racial bias in Brazilian violence: 628,595 people have been murdered in the country between 2008 and 2018 — the vast majority of murder victims were black or multiracial.[restricted]

In 2018, for instance, three out of four Brazilians killed were black or multiracial, a rate that was lower in 2008. These populations are now more likely to be murdered than they were 12 years ago, with the opposite trend seen for the rest of society.

“This reduction [in murders] is related to three factors: demographic changes and an aging population help reduce the homicide rate, the disarmament statute, and the dissemination of public security policies in the states”, said Daniel Cerqueira, one of the Violence Atlas researchers.

Mr. Cerqueira mentions the north-eastern state of Paraíba as a positive example, having seen falling murder rates for nine consecutive years. Meanwhile, he showed concerns about border states Roraima and Amapá, and is skeptical about the very low numbers declared by the state of São Paulo.

Murder rate divided by racial lines

As explained above, black and multiracial Brazilians are far more likely to be murdered than the rest of the population — 2.7 times more likely, in fact. However, in some violence hotspots, this risk grows much higher. In the state of Alagoas, homicide victims are 17 times more likely to be black or multiracial. 

“The numbers are a good reflection of Brazil’s everyday racism. We also notice that violence prevention policies have only managed to reduce the death of non-black people. When segmented between black and non-black people, the data is as if they are from different countries, such is the disparity,” says researcher Samira Bueno.

Gun policies shoulder blame

According to the Violence Atlas, the most common age for murder victims is 21, with over half of homicides involving people between 15 and 29 years old. Most deaths occur between 6pm and midnight, while 71 percent of murders are caused by firearms. 

The latter is of particular concern for researchers from the Brazilian Public Security Forum and Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea), the institutions that collaborate to produce the Violence Atlas. The tendency is that Brazil’s firearm legislation will be loosened further under President Jair Bolsonaro, who has eased rules for obtaining permits and purchasing ammunition.

“The federal government’s arms policy will cost many lives. Throughout academia, there is practically a consensus that more guns mean more crime. Since 2019, there has been an incentive to increase firearms and ammunition, which will have a very negative impact on homicide rates,” says Mr. Cerqueira.[/restricted]

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Coronavirus Society

Six months on: Brazil’s coronavirus situation, in charts

In mid-August, Brazil got a rare uplifting piece of news: Imperial College London reported that the country’s coronavirus contagion rate had dropped below 1 for the first time since the virus began spreading in the country. In practical terms, Brazil’s R number of 0.98 meant that every 100 infected individuals would be expected to infect 98 others, who would then in turn infect 96, and so on. At the time, however, The Brazilian Report warned that this was not yet reason for celebration, as these figures would have to be sustained for several weeks in order to truly declare the deceleration of Brazil’s epidemic — a sage piece of advice after the contagion rate rose back to 1 a week later.

Still, there are limitations to Imperial College London’s findings. The first is that the contagion rate calculations are based on official data — which has been unreliable due to a lack of testing and the inconsistency of data treatment between states. Moreover, the rate is a nationwide number — but the pandemic has progressed unevenly in a country that is as large and unequal as Brazil. Climate, cultural, and socioeconomic conditions play a big role in how the pandemic has evolved in different regions.


The result is a heterogeneous scenario described by The Brazilian Report in the following curves using figures from data portal Brasil.io and Google.[restricted]

How coronavirus infections and deaths are progressing in each state

Brazil’s national curve for coronavirus cases appears to be stable, but a closer look at state-specific data shows that the 7-day rolling average of new daily cases is going down in places such as Sergipe and Roraima, while it is rising in Mato Grosso do Sul and Tocantins. Paraphrasing Tolstoy, every state ravaged by the pandemic is ravaged by the pandemic in a different way.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s three most-populated states have yet to show any significant drop to their respective infection curves. In São Paulo, new cases are below the level of recent weeks, but still high when compared to June. In Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, infections are still on the rise.

The difference in death curves, meanwhile, is easier to spot. The states of Amazonas, Pará, and Ceará were plunged into Covid-19 chaos early on, but now they have been able to flatten the curve. On the other hand, Goiás, Tocantins, and Mato Grosso are seeing their deaths spike.

Social isolation, we hardly knew ye

Though contagion and death are still on the rise in some parts of Brazil, life is largely returning to normal nationwide. The country’s half-hearted attempt at social isolation was a non-starter, and Google’s circulation index shows that the number of Brazilians commuting to their workplace is now just 12 percent below the country’s pre-pandemic normal. 

Meanwhile, in northern states Roraima and Rondonia — states which saw infection peaks in June and July — circulation is actually above baseline levels, meaning more people are now commuting to work than they were before Covid-19.

Capital city Brasília has seen the country’s highest social isolation rates — with several public institutions (the backbone of the capital’s economy) still working remotely. Infections in the capital are going down at a painfully slow pace, while new deaths are still rising.

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Society

Numbers of the week: Aug. 22, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: mortality of respiratory distress patients, a macabre death in a supermarket, a clash over abortion rights, Operation Car Wash continues, more vaccine tests, Brazil’s economic downturn.

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113,358 Covid-19 deaths and 3,532,330 cases

Despite coronavirus numbers continuing to grow in Brazil, [restricted]President Jair Bolsonaro said he hasn’t seen “anywhere else in the world give a better response to the pandemic.” However, only the U.S. has recorded more cases and deaths than Brazil. But despite the utter mismanagement of the health crisis, the president feels emboldened by rising popularity levels — and the fact that 15 of Brazil’s 27 states are showing a downward trend in new daily deaths.


35 percent of ARDS patients die

According to data from the Health Ministry, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, over 35 percent of the patients admitted to hospital in Brazil with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) have died. Until August 16, 295,950 people have been taken to hospital with ARDS symptoms, and 104,065 died. Such severe respiratory distress can be a symptom of Covid-19, but it may also be caused by bacteria or the H1N1 influenza virus. The data shows that in 72.6 percent of these deaths, the victim is a multiracial male, aged 60 or over, with prior health conditions. Read more.


3 hours with a corpse

A supermarket worker died on the job in the city of Recife, the capital of the Pernambuco state. People in the store covered his dead body with beach umbrellas and boxes, while the market remained open. The corpse was left there for more than 3 hours until authorities came. The startling case raised a discussion about the value of human life in Brazil’s labor relations.


10-year-old rape victim reignites abortion debate

Last weekend, a “pro-life” ultrareligious group protested in front of a hospital in Pernambuco, decrying an abortion procedure being performed on a 10-year-old girl, who was the victim of sustained sexual abuse from one of her family members. Protesters tried to stop doctors and nurses from entering the medical facility, saying the girl should be forced to deliver the baby, despite Brazil’s restrictive reproductive rights guaranteeing legal abortions in rape cases. The procedure ended up being successful, and the debate over reproductive rights was reignited nationwide. 


Operation Car Wash, part 72

The Brazilian Federal Police launched Operation “Sailing is Necessary,” the 72nd offshoot of the vast Operation Car Wash. This latest probe investigates bid-rigging in Transpetro, responsible for the transport of fuel for state-owned oil firm Petrobras, as well as its imports and exports of oil. Authorities have issued two arrest warrants against businessmen brothers Germán and José Efromovich, owners of the EISA Shipyard and shareholders of Avianca Holdings. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, courts ordered that they should be placed on house arrest. 

Despite all these recent developments, some believe Operation Car Wash is close to an end.


4th Latin American country testing a Covid-19 vaccine

The Cuban government announced that it will begin running human tests for its “Soberana 01” Covid-19 vaccine. According to the head of epidemiology at Cuba’s public Health Ministry Francisco Duran, “finding an efficient vaccine to fight the virus is the top priority for our science and innovation system.” The medicine is expected to be made available in February 2021. The island joins Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico in the vaccine race in Latin America. Read more.


Brazil’s 4th vaccine study

The Brazilian Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) has given Johnson & Johnson the go-ahead to proceed with phase three trials of a potential Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil. The study for the so-called Ad26.COV2.S vaccine will require around 60,000 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 60 — roughly 7,000 will be from Brazil. Besides Johnson & Johnson, British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca (in partnership with the University of Oxford), U.S. giant Pfizer, and Chinese biotech company Sinovac are also holding trials in the country. Read more


-10.9 percent in Q2 2020

The Brazilian economy shrunk 10.94 percent in the Q2 2020, feeling the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Economic Activity Index (IBC-Br) published by the Central Bank. But the data released by the monetary authority also shows signs of economic recovery. In June, the economy registered 4.89-percent growth when compared to May. The previous month had already seen positive figures, after sharp falls in March and April. Currently, the government projects a 4.7-percent fall in Brazilian GDP for 2020. Read more.[/restricted]

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Society

10-year-old rape victim reignites abortion debate in Brazil

Abortion is only legal in Brazil in very specific circumstances. Women can only legally terminate a pregnancy in four cases: rape, incest, when the mother’s life is in danger, or — since 2012 — in cases of anencephaly, a fatal condition in which infants are born without parts of the brain or skull. Despite those restrictions, an estimated 500,000 abortions happen every year in the country, according to a 2019 estimate. And one case of legal abortion is sparking a heated debate among pro-choice and anti-abortion groups.[restricted]

A 10-year-old girl from Vitória — the capital city of the southeastern state of Espírito Santo — had to go to court to be given the right to terminate a pregnancy that was the result of sexual abuse by her 33-year-old uncle. Despite obtaining legal approval, the medical staff at her Vitória hospital refused to carry out the surgery, claiming that current legislation does not permit second-trimester abortions. The 10-year-old was approximately 22 weeks pregnant.

A seemingly unambiguous case then became a nasty and public judicial struggle. 

The child’s family had to take her to Recife — a city 1,800 kilometres from her home — in order to perform the procedure on Monday. As the legal comings and goings had already made it to the national media, far-right religious groups gathered outside the abortion clinic, calling the 10-year-old child a “murderer,” in the hopes of changing her mind.

The case

Upon becoming aware of the case, Human Rights Minister Damares Alves — an Evangelical preacher who is uncompromisingly against the right to legal abortion — sperheaded an opinion campaign to dissuade the girl from terminating her pregnancy. On social media, she gave publicity to the case, lamenting the judicial decision. “An abortion at this point may jeopardize the mother’s life or leave her with permanent damage, such as a perforated uterus,” wrote Ms. Alves, contradicting Health Ministry regulations.

Meanwhile, far-right religious extremist groups rallied to protest the abortion, led by activist Sara Giromini, best known by her nom de guerre Sara Winter. On social media, Ms. Winter — who was previously employed by Damares Alves’ Human Rights Ministry — revealed the location of the hospital where the procedure was to take place, as well as the identity of the 10-year-old girl in question. She urged her followers to gather outside the medical facility, forming a human barricade to block doctors’ entry. 

On Monday afternoon, a court in Espirito Santo ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Google to remove Ms. Winter’s social media posts that exposed the child’s identity.

Ms. Winter spent time in jail in June for taking her role in organizing anti-democratic protests in Brasilia that called for the closure of the Supreme Court and Congress.

Legal abortion remains a hot-button issue in Latin America

A 2019 study published by medical journal The Lancet shows that Latin America “has the most punitive laws for illegal abortion and yet the highest estimated frequency of abortions in the world: 44 per 1,000 women compared with lowest frequency of 17 per 1,000 women in the U.S. and Canada.” And, according to a a report by the Guttmacher Institute, 95 percent of abortions in Latin America are unsafe — leading to nearly 1 million hospitalizations each year, and some of the highest death rates in world.

Except for Cuba, Uruguay, and Puerto Rico — where abortions are allowed in all cases within a gestational limit — most Latin American countries only permit women to interrupt pregnancies in restricted scenarios, usually rape and to preserve the mother’s health.

But having the right to a legal abortion does not necessarily mean being able to have one. Last year, a case in the Argentinian province of Jujuy shocked the country — after a 12-year-old girl spent weeks trying to terminate a pregnancy after being raped by a 65-year-old neighbor. After an intense legal battle, courts ordered termination via C-section. “It was not a legal termination of the pregnancy, it was torture,” said the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion in Jujuy.

And just a day after the Brazilian case, a similar episode came to light in Peru. According to news website Wakya Peru, on May 27, a 12-year-old girl was raped in the Añaycancha region and became pregnant as a result. While Peru allows abortion in these cases — especially when the victim is a minor — the girl’s family was denied the request for the procedure. The girl eventually suffered a miscarriage. 

A 19-year-old man accused of the rape said the girl was his partner. Despite being contradicted by the victim’s medical examinations and testimony, the judge accepted the accused’s version of events and denied the right to abort the pregnancy. 

Brazil: debates in Congress and the Supreme Court

According to the Brazilian Public Security Annual Report, there are on average 180 rapes a day in Brazil. Four girls aged no more than 13 are abused every hour in the country — mostly by family members or people they already know. 

Still, Evangelical groups in Congress are trying to toughen up abortion laws in the country, hoping to outlaw abortions even in cases of rape. A bill to this effect passed a special congressional committee after an 18-1 vote, with the sole objection coming from the only female member of the panel. 

The proposal had been shelved in the previous legislature, but was resumed at the request of Senator Eduardo Girão, from the northeastern state of Ceará. “Allowing abortions is a crime. […] We can’t allow such an atrocity to happen,” he said on Twitter. 

Another proposal, authored by Senator Flávio Arns, would outlaw abortions in cases of anencephaly, a right approved by the Supreme Court as recently as 2012.[/restricted]

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Society

Numbers of the week: Aug. 15, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week’s topics: Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll, the Covid-19 vaccine in Russia, a powerful antibody against the virus, Brazilian overcrowded prisons struggle with the virus, an old-fashioned measure against communism, another state governor with Covid-19 (and infected football players allowed to play), Flavio Bolsonaro’s apparent amnesia. 

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1st vaccine?

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday the registration of the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, called “Sputnik V.” According to Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Federation Sovereign Fund, two large Brazilian companies — as well as Brazil’s federal government — are already in talks with Moscow to produce the potential vaccine. Mr. Dmitriev said that at least 20 countries have already started bidding for the purchase of 1 billion doses. 

Expectations are that, with partnerships around the world, 500 million doses can be produced per year in five countries. Besides Brazil, Cuba could also be a pole of production in Latin America. Russia, however, has offered no proof to back up claims of the vaccine’s safety or effectiveness.


11 governors with Covid-19

São Paulo Governor João Doria announced during the week that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, saying he was asymptomatic and “feeling well.” Mr. Doria is the 11th Brazilian state governor to get infected, while President Jair Bolsonaro also contracted the disease early in July. Mr. Doria is one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s enemies during the Covid-19 war, being blamed by many government supporters for imposing a quarantine in the state. 

But though the governor’s efforts to ease the coronavirus spread was precisely an attempt to reduce the impacts of Mr. Bolsonaro’s denialism, the president is now blaming Mr. Doria for all the Covid-19 problems in São Paulo. 


4 players with Covid-19 

During the week, football club Atlético Goianiense appealed to the Brazilian football confederation (CBF) for the right to field four of their players in a match against champions Flamengo on Wednesday, despite the fact the quartet had all tested positive for Covid-19. According to the head of the CBF’s medical committee Jorge Pagura, “there is no risk” in having the four players take part in the match, even with positive Covid-19 tests. Listen to our weekly podcast to learn more about Brazil’s premature return to the pitch.  


50 times stronger against Covid-19

Brazilian scientists announced a potential breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19 at the National Academy of Medicine. Horses injected with the Sars CoV-2 protein, responsible for the infection of human cells, developed neutralizing antibodies that were 20 to 50 times more potent against the coronavirus. The next step will be the approval of clinical studies and tests on humans, in order to ascertain the safety of this potential treatment for Covid-19. 


47 percent of inmates infected with the coronavirus

The overcrowded Provisory Detention Center II in São Paulo houses at least 1,600 inmates. Official numbers say that 3,986 prisoners out of 221,060 have tested positive for Covid-19 in São Paulo’s penitentiaries since February and at least 20 prisoners have died from the virus.


Back to 1991

The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, but allies of President Jair Bolsonaro are still spreading “red scares.” Lawmaker Carla Zambelli submitted a bill to Congress which would ‘outlaw communism’ — and equate it with Nazism. She proposes that those who propagate, sell, distribute, or bear Nazi and communist symbols should be incarcerated for two years. And while the bill is unlikely to pass on Congress, it shows how cultural wars will play a role in the 2020 municipal elections. Ms. Zambelli got her inspiration by a similar law passed in Ukraine years ago. 


BRL 638,000? Me?

Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, President Jair Bolsonaro’s eldest son, said in a statement that he “doesn’t remember” whether he paid BRL 638,000 in cash for two apartments, in which the Rio de Janeiro Prosecution Office believe is part of a corruption scandal when Mr. Flavio was a state lawmaker. In our daily newsletter, we explained how the senator is suspected of using real estate operations and a chocolate store as fronts to launder money.[/restricted]