Chloroquine has become a cultural icon in Brazil

There is no evidence that antimalarial drug chloroquine can help patients beat the coronavirus. Yet, President Jair Bolsonaro touts it as a “possible cure” for Covid-19 — and helped make the medicine became extremely popular in Brazil. Now, even street hawkers are selling it inside trains and public squares. In the Rio de Janeiro subway, a chloroquine tablet could be found for BRL 10 (less than USD 2).

As a comparison, drugstore prices for a box with 30 pills rose 50 percent since the coronavirus arrived in Brazil, according to the Brazilian Association of Lupus and Other Rheumatic Diseases. Mr. Bolsonaro’s favorite medicine is no longer easily found in drugstores — due to heated demand and higher prices — although Brazil’s Defense Ministry reported 1.8 million chloroquine tablets in stock at the Army Laboratory. 

That could serve as a reserve for 18 years, considering the country’s average demand.

Chloroquine trinkets

Besides using the antimalarial drug to beat a virus that still has no cure, people can also gift their relatives with some thematic items, such as a pillow with the same print as a medicine box — or even a mug with a satirical figure of President Bolsonaro. 

The drug will also be on electoral ballots, with joke candidates such as “Captain Chloroquine.” The moniker was adopted by lawyer Regina Célia Sequeira, who runs for city councilor in Rio de Janeiro. Despite being a Bolsonaro supporter, Ms. Sequeira would only take the drug as a “last resort.”

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How the U.S. culture wars were exported to Brazil

During the first days of The Brazilian Report’s existence, reporter Ciara Long pointed out how the arguments of Brazil’s gun rights activists were a copied-and-pasted version of the U.S. National Rifle Association’s playbook. “It’s not just an imported logic, but even the posts, the memes,” Ivan Marques, director of NGO Instituto Sou da Paz, said at the time. But if you pay more attention to it, you will see that this phenomenon is not exclusive to the pro-gun movement. Brazil’s left and right are increasingly importing American culture wars — transplanting discussions without much adaptation to a totally different context.

Just last week, President Jair Bolsonaro tried to spark an anti-vaxxer movement, saying “no-one can force anyone to take a Covid-19 vaccine.” The argument that strict vaccination policies are a violation of people’s personal liberties seems to come straight from the U.S. anti-vaccine discussion. It is, as well, completely out of touch with the Brazilian reality — where 88 percent of citizens would take a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it becomes available, according to a recent Ipsos-Mori poll.[restricted]

Anti-vaxxers in the U.S. have become associated with supporters of President Donald Trump, and vaccination policies have become one of the uncountable battlegrounds for culture wars. While Brazil has its own complicated history of resistance to vaccination evidenced in the famous 1904 vaccine revolt in Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Bolsonaro’s words are more evidence of this major ongoing cultural shift in Brazil.

The shameless adoption of U.S. culture wars has become a calling card for the Jair Bolsonaro brand. A few weeks ago, his third-eldest son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, posted a picture of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old shooter who gunned down Black Lives Matter protesters in Wisconsin. Mr. Bolsonaro said the shooter was defending his property from “terrorists,” and offered his “total support for young Kyle.”

The youngest Bolsonaro politician son is known for his unchecked love of all things alt-right and Trump (he frequently wears MAGA hats). One time, he praised fast-food chain Popeye’s Chicken (where he briefly worked) — which has gotten many accusations of labor rights violations — for stimulating work ethic in him, a value compromised, in his words, by Brazil’s culture of “samba, caipirinha, and carnival.”

However, the unfiltered import of U.S. culture wars is not exclusive to the Brazilian right. In recent years, many on the left have too become active participants in U.S. culture wars.

A history of U.S. cultural influence in Brazil

Brazil and the U.S. go way back, with the Americans being the first nation to recognize the Brazilian independence. And as foreign policy professor Carlos Gustavo Poggio told the Explaining Brazil Podcast, relations between the Americas’ two largest nations have been traditionally tepid — never too close, but never too distant.

Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. has frequently sought to interfere with Brazil’s internal politics, playing an important role in funding and supporting the 1964 military coup that toppled the left-leaning João Goulart — perceived as hostile to U.S. interests. 

In the post-war world, as Brazilian elites and intellectuals shifted from a francophile sentiment toward a more U.S.-centric perspective, cultural influence from North America is everywhere to be found, from Disney’s Three Caballeros and its iconic malandro parrot Zé Carioca, to Tupac’s influence on São Paulo’s rap scene.

That cultural influence started to intensify already in the 1930s, as both the U.S. and Brazilian governments sought to promote cultural exchanges between both countries. In 1936, then-U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled to Rio de Janeiro to promote his “Good Neighbor” policy of non-interventionism and economic alliances in Latin America’s largest country. He remarked to those assembled — including then-Brazilian leader Getulio Vargas: 

“You have done much to help us in the United States in many ways in the past. We, I think, have done a little to help you, and may I suggest that you, with this great domain of many millions of square miles, of which such a large proportion is still open to human occupation, can learn much from the mistakes we have made in the United States.”

Years later, Brazil was the sole Latin American nation to send troops to Europe during World War II. According to historian Andre Pagliarini, a lecturer at Dartmouth University who studies the U.S.-Brazil relationship, “World War II gave Brazilians a definitive sense of their importance in the world, not unlike the feeling after the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics.” 

Many middle-class Brazilians in the 1950s became convinced that U.S. culture was a sign of progress and should be emulated in Brazil, as opposed to Brazilian culture — associated with backwardness, but this met with significant resistance. 

Anti-Americanism or hostility to U.S. cultural and political imperialism is another age-old Brazilian tradition: from Army lieutenant revolts in the 1930s to fiery left nationalists like former Rio de Janeiro Governor Leonel Brizola. Hostility to U.S. cultural influence in Brazil was more or less a foundational value of the Brazilian left, despite the quest for steady bonds with the U.S. becoming a near-permanent feature of Brazilian foreign policy.

Historically, the Americanization of Brazil did not happen passively, as historian Antonio Pedro Tota argues in his book “The Seduction of Brazil.” 

“There was an interaction between U.S. and Brazilian culture. The ‘culture shock’ created by the strong presence of the U.S. communications media did not destroy Brazil’s culture, but most certainly it produced new cultural manifestations. It is useful, but not enough, to draw on the notion of cultural resistance to understand this process.”

For the leftist student movements of the 1960s, U.S. cultural influence was a form of imperialism. Singer Caetano Veloso, for instance, was famously pelted with eggs, fruits, and vegetables during a music festival by radical students hostile to his American-influenced reimagining of Brazilian culture through rock music.

These days, it would be hard to imagine radical students attacking musicians and culture figures for selling out Brazilian culture to the Americans. Last month, Columbia University historian Lilia Schwarz found herself under widespread attack for penning a critique of Beyoncé’s latest album “Black is King” in newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

The recent shift

As The Brazilian Report has covered, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva sought to fashion out a new foreign policy agenda that would see Brazil focus on creating its own set of relationships and networks outside the U.S. 

Brazil sought to become a world power on its own terms, building on alliances with other Latin American countries — along with other developing nations. While Lula’s agenda was hardly unprecedented in Brazilian history (even Brazil’s military dictatorship sought to craft a foreign policy agenda beyond the U.S., even establishing diplomatic ties with Communist China and being the first country to recognize Mozambique and Angola’s independence), it met significant resistance from middle classes.

Mr. Pagliarini told The Brazilian Report: “For many Brazilians, the Workers’ Party administrations forced a decision on the county: ‘Are we going to be more like the U.S. or less like the U.S.?’ More Washington-like in how we allocate resources or more like Moscow or Venezuela or Beijing. I know this borders on caricature, but I do think a whole lot of people believe in this dilemma. Like, ‘what is so wrong with the U.S.? Why did the Workers’ Party’s foreign policy seemingly go out of its way to thumb its nose at Washington?’ Things are obviously more complex than that but I think this distilled a sense of frustrated potential among millions of Brazilians. We might not actually be the U.S., but we could be much closer.”

But what does it mean to be more like the U.S.?

For the historian, many Brazilians imagine being more like the U.S. as “valuing hard work and not expecting handouts, no government-provided basic services nor free college for rich private school kids.” This was evident in Mr. Bolsonaro’s 2018 election campaign, which attacked public services with the Reaganite rhetoric that the state is the problem, rather than a means to a solution. 

The idea of Brazilian meritocracy is deeply tied to ideas of what a normal advanced country should be like, and people turn for inspiration to the U.S. — a country with no labor protections, paid holidays, and the weakest welfare state in the developed world. 

Mr. Bolsonaro’s guru Olavo de Carvalho resides in rural Virginia and frequently makes reference to the U.S.’s “unique political values” as superior, or to “Brazilian stupidity and cultural backwardness.” As I have previously argued in The Brazilian Report, the new Brazilian right seeks credibility through fanboy-like association with leading conservative figures in the U.S. like former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.

“In practice, the result is that many Brazilians across the political spectrum see a strict kind of caste system in Brazil which, for opposing reasons, they want to see loosened. They see the U.S. free market as a source of dynamism — or social media discourse and activism as a source of dynamism. France is frowned upon as being just as sclerotic as Brazil — at least in the minds of Brazilian conservatives. That’s no model for the kind of change they want to see,” Mr. Pagliarini says.

U.S. dominance has brought about a remarkable shift among Brazilian intellectuals, who no longer look to Paris for inspiration, but to North America.

This is in part a reflection of the sheer financial dominance of U.S. higher education through soft power programs that lures high-potential students (evaluated for their leadership capacity) to American universities, where their perception of America and its policies will be shaped. Notable Fulbright Scholarship program alumni include Brazil’s former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and the country’s first female Supreme Court justice, Ellen Gracie. U.S. influence is evident across Latin America, leaders like Chile’s Sebastián Piñera or Colombian former President Juan Manuel Santos also stand out.

But the fact is that many of these ideas about the U.S. don’t hold up to scrutiny but it’s what many Brazilians think the U.S. is. So those on the right and to an extent on the left who look to US for models are in a way chasing a product that has decades of marketing behind it but isn’t actually what they think it is. The U.S. is in many ways all-too-similar to Brazil, in that it is defined by racial strife, inequality, lack of state capacity and a demagogic and corrupt political class.

The new Americanization of Brazil

What is happening now is different to previous iterations of the Americanization of Brazil. Rather than receiving cultural movements such as funk or rock and then refashioning in a distinctively Brazilian way, Brazilians seek to participate directly in U.S. culture wars and pop culture as a form of self-identification. 

The result is that Brazilians are fighting U.S. fights against other Brazilians. 

Brazilians seek to craft an identity as more American than their fellow countryman as a way of signaling their own social status or cultural capital from slang to fashion sense to consumption, for instance, one of the markers of being middle class in Brazil became an obligatory trip to Disneyland in Florida or closer-to-home dining out at an Outback steak house or enjoying a Jack Daniels while wearing a Metallica t-shirt.

As Mr. Pagliarini puts it, “the Americanization we see happening today is in some ways more sophisticated because it’s not just average Brazilians seeing ads for Coca-Cola and aspiring to be that, but it is also more shallow in a lot of ways. There isn’t a broad reordering of Brazilian society imbued in how the Bolsonaro children see the U.S., I think. It’s more about finding validation for reactionary Brazilian common sense in an idea of the U.S.” 

Social media is key to this shift. 

You are now able to engage, follow and interact in real time with cultural movements and figures anywhere in the world regardless of where you are geographically located. You can stream Beyonce’s new album simultaneously with millions of Americans fans for instance or consume Fox News as much as any ageing provincial bigot in the exurbs of a medium-sized U.S. city.

There has never been a more pro-U.S. president than Jair Bolsonaro, he has tied his political fortunes to the U.S. in an unprecedented fashion, putting U.S. foreign interests above those of Brazil. He even went as far as prostrating himself in front of Mr. Trump to say “I love you.” To which Mr. Trump reportedly answered: “Nice seeing you.”

Shopping mall tycoon Luciano Hang, who is accused of illegally funding Mr. Bolsonaro’s disinformation network, has made his mall brand distinctive through the almost indescribably tacky plastic Statue of Liberty replica that visually pollutes the scenery in front of his shopping centers.

For those on the left seeking inspiration after a series of historic defeats, the Black Live Matter Movement seems an obvious source, given that it is tackling racist policing in a country where law enforcement seems to be even more racist and brutal than in the U.S. 

However, only a relatively small layer of Brazilians can truly learn and interpret the signs, symbols and language of U.S. cultural politics, which then in turn becomes a market of social status and political insight in Brazil. 

The truth is as I remarked earlier is that in many ways U.S. society is as broken and unequal as Brazil, social mobility is a thing of the past and nobody seems to be offering a real way out of its mess. Perhaps the real lesson for Brazil is that the U.S. is almost as dysfunctional and doesn’t offer too much hope in terms of possible solutions to Brazil’s crisis — given the fact that only the U.S. has recorded more deaths from Covid-19 than Brazil.[/restricted]


New law cuts open the Brazilian cheese market

Brazil isn’t typically seen as a go-to destination for cheese nuts. Unlike France, the British Isles, or Italy, with their centuries-old traditions, cheese in the vast majority of Brazil is an afterthought. Supermarkets typically stock plasticky, pasteurized mozzarella, the mild and uninteresting queijo prato, or sachets of grated imitation parmesan. Imported European cheese is ignored or prohibitively expensive.

The saving grace of Brazil’s cheese culture, however, comes from the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais, particularly in the regions of Serro and the Serra da Canastra, where countless cheeses are produced that can rival much of the production of the European heavyweights. Canastra and Serro cheeses, for example, are protected by the Brazilian Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan).[restricted]

However, the problem is that the vast majority of Minas Gerais cheese producers were hamstrung by sanitary legislation for decades, being literally illegal to sell their cheese over state lines. The law stated that any product made using raw milk could not be traded outside of its state of origin — meaning that the only cheese that made it out of Minas legally was pasteurized, paling in comparison to the taste and quality of the real thing, which was often sold clandestinely.

This changed in June 2018, with the entry into force of a law loosening rules on the inspection of cheeses, charcuterie and lunch meat. In short, oversight on these products was transferred to state authorities, and a special “Art” seal was created to regulate artisanal products.

Even so, these independent cheese producers complained that the legislation did nothing to help their small businesses and they were forced to continue to sell their products on the fringes of the law. This should change, after new rules implanted on August 19. The novel regulations will now benefit approximately 30,000 producers in 600 municipalities in Minas Gerais, who will now be able to sell their cheese to other Brazilian states.

One of the major faults of previous legislation was that only one variety of cheese from Minas Gerais was properly regulated and permitted for production and sale — now, a multitude of traditional types, made with different kinds of milk, will be given the green light.

The legislation will also allow for the use of different production and maturation techniques which were previously heavily restricted. The Minas Gerais Agricultural Research Company (Epamig) is already carrying out several experiments in the state to improve the quality of production and maturation of traditional Minas cheese, analyzing tests with different ingredients and control of maturation conditions.

International fame

While you may not yet have tasted or even heard of cheese produced in Minas Gerais, rest assured that the global cheese opinion leaders are full of praise for some of the stunning varieties made in Brazil’s Southeast. In the 2019 Mondial du Fromage competition held in Tours, France, 59 Brazilian kinds of cheese won medals — 50 of them came from Minas Gerais, of which three were awarded in the top 40 ‘Super Gold’ category.[/restricted]


Rio to replace New Year’s Eve party with online broadcasts and light shows

The Rio de Janeiro City Hall announced its plans today for a virtual New Year’s Eve celebration, with an online broadcast of artists performing remotely all over town, and a light show that will be seen across the city’s skyline.  

The traditional fireworks show at Copacabana beach will not go ahead, due to concerns about spreading Covid-19 among a large crowd. As one of the most sought-after New Year’s destinations in the world, the Copacabana fireworks display attracted around three million people from all over the world last year.

This time, however, the idea will be to have Rio de Janeiro citizens following the online celebrations from their own homes. Artists will perform from remote locations inaccessible to large crowds, such as the top of the Corcovado mountain — alongside the Christ the Redeemer statue — and Parque Madureira. There will also be a light show at midnight, which will be slightly shorter than the traditional fireworks display.

Rio de Janeiro City Mayor Marcelo Crivella also plans to hold a moment of silence in honor of Covid-19 victims worldwide before the virtual party commences.

As previously covered by The Brazilian Report on July 17, the São Paulo City administration decided to cancel their New Year’s party on Paulista Avenue — the country’s second-largest New Year’s Eve celebration, with over 2 million participants in 2019 — as it would pose too great of a risk to the population.

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São Paulo’s New Year party canceled due to Covid-19

São Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas announced the city will not host its traditional New Year’s Eve ceremony on Avenida Paulista as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The administration claims holding the event this year would be too reckless, and the celebrations require months of advance planning. 

The party gathered 2 million people in 2019, generating BRL 648.2 million in revenue. Alongside the LGBTQ pride parade and the F1 Grand Prix, the New Year Eve’s ceremony is among the most important events on the city’s tourism calendar. Other events, such as the 24-hour cultural marathon Virada Cultural, will be held online. The LGBTQ pride parade for 2020 took place online in June.

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Will Covid-19 prevent Brazil from celebrating Carnival in 2021?

The first Covid-19 case in Brazil was confirmed on February 26, falling on the very last day of the country’s famous Carnival celebrations. At the time, Brazilians could take some comfort in the fact that the arrival of the pandemic had spared the country’s largest popular festival. However, the prolongation of the coronavirus crisis in Brazil means the 2021 Carnival may be affected by the pandemic, potentially being canceled altogether.

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador — two of Brazil’s main Carnival destinations — have said they would consider postponing or canceling Carnival 2021. For both cities, the street festivities scheduled for February 12-16 would only be feasible if a coronavirus vaccine were to be available by November of this year.

Salvador Mayor Antonio Carlos Magalhães Neto said “City Hall might not have enough elements to keep Carnival safe in 2021.” Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, five of the city’s top 12 samba schools — which organize the world-famous parades of floats and feathery costumes — threaten to halt all activities if a vaccine is not available by the beginning of festivities. The samba league has suggested pushing the parades back to April or June, but this is also conditioned to the release of a vaccine.

Missing the party isn’t the only concern — Carnival is a huge moneymaker. In Rio de Janeiro alone, the holiday attracted 2.1 million tourists this year and raised BRL 4 billion (USD 748 million). Hotel occupancy rates topped 93 percent for weeks — something unthinkable amid a pandemic.

One thing is certain: if the “new normal” means no Carnival, we don’t want any part of it.

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Brazilian studios get ready to resume productions

Brazilian audiovisual studios have come up with a safety protocol in order to resume activities, including casting family members to act together and reducing contact between actors as much as possible. 

The document, seen by newspaper O Globo, foresees a three-phase plan to resume activities. Among the shows that have already been resumed is culinary reality show MasterChef, which now has a trolley to bring food to the judges and puts competitors at least 1.5 meters apart from each other.

Since March, all TV filming has been interrupted in Brazil, including the country’s main telenovelas — which had never happened before. The resumption, after three months, comes despite Brazil’s coronavirus infection and death curve continuing to rise. But sector leaders say they are facing a hard time to find funding and government support, not to mention the lack of new content in TV programming.

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Latin America Covid-19 News Roundup: Jun. 23, 2020

?? Argentina 1. Victoria Alcaraz, director of Buenos Aires’ famous Colón Theater, tests positive for Covid-19. (Prensa Latina, in Spanish)

?? Argentina 2. A man tried to drive into the Chinese embassy in Buenos Aires yelling that “the CIA is behind the pandemic” — and asking for China’s help. (Prensa, in Spanish)

?? Venezuela. Despite the quarantine imposed by President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuelans gather for San Juan celebrations. (Efecto Cocuyo, in Spanish) 

?? Chile. President Sebastián Piñera is accused by the opposition of violating quarantine protocols to attend the funeral of his uncle, priest Bernardino Piñera. (El País, in Portuguese)

?? Colombia. Government projects 41,000 coronavirus deaths by year-end. (Colombia Reports)

?? Honduras. Authorities investigate alleged illegal contracts for building field hospitals during the pandemic. (Notiamerica, in Spanish)


Special: How the King of Football got his crown

Edson Arantes do Nascimento is one of the most famous individuals in the world, but he’s not known for the name on his birth certificate. People from all corners of the Earth — even if they don’t follow football or know nothing about Brazil — will instantly recognize the name Pelé. He’s the greatest player in the history of football, and the 1970 World Cup in Mexico is seen as his finest hour, when he led Brazil to its third world title.

However, what the tributes to the 1970 World Cup often overlook is the fact that just months before the tournament began, Brazilians were debating whether Pelé was even good enough to play for the national team. And Pelé himself had vowed never to play at another World Cup, believing that the tournament itself was cursed.

In today’s second part of a three-part special Explaining Brazil series on the 1970 World Cup, we’re going to look at just how the King of Football got his crown, from early retirement to undisputed soccer legend.

Listen to episode 1

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:

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On this episode:

  • Tim Vickery is a freelance English football journalist, who has lived in Brazil since 1994. He is the South American football correspondent for BBC Sport, contributing to the corporation’s output online, on TV and radio. Vickery frequently writes for World Soccer, ESPN and Sports Illustrated and he is also an analyst on SporTV’s main morning program, Redação SporTV.
  • Andrew Downie is a Scottish journalist and the author of “Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend.” His latest work, an oral history of the 1970 World Cup entitled “The Greatest Show on Earth,” is available for pre-order now. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, GQ, Reuters, and Esquire, among others.

This special series is made by

  • Euan Marshall, script and interviews. Euan is a journalist and translator who has lived in São Paulo, Brazil since 2011. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, his work has been published in The Telegraph, Al Jazeera, The Independent, among others.
  • Gustavo Ribeiro, sound engineering. Gustavo is editor in chief of The Brazilian Report. He has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets, including Veja, Época, Folha de S.Paulo, Médiapart, and Radio France Internationale.

Do you have a suggestion for our next Explaining Brazil podcast? Drop us a line at

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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How Brazil became the Land of Football

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1970, the greatest national football team of all time won the World Cup in Mexico. Far from being merely an impressive win on the soccer pitch, Brazil’s victory in 1970 changed how we think about and watch football, and it changed Brazil. The country came into the tournament as a talented developing nation, with two World Cups under its belt already, but by the end of 1970, Brazil was known around the world as the Land of Football.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:

Spotify | Apple Podcasts | YouTube | Google Podcasts | Deezer

On this episode:

  • Tim Vickery is a freelance English football journalist, who has lived in Brazil since 1994. He is the South American football correspondent for BBC Sport, contributing to the corporation’s output online, on TV and radio. Vickery frequently writes for World Soccer, ESPN and Sports Illustrated and he is also an analyst on SporTV’s main morning programme, Redação SporTV.
  • Andrew Downie is a Scottish journalist and the author of “Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend.” His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, GQ, Reuters, and Esquire, among others.

This special series is made by

  • Euan Marshall, script and interviews. Euan is a journalist and translator who has lived in São Paulo, Brazil since 2011. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics, and the connection between the two, his work has been published in The Telegraph, Al Jazeera, The Independent, among others.
  • Gustavo Ribeiro, sound engineering. Gustavo is editor in chief of The Brazilian Report. He has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets, including Veja, Época, Folha de S.Paulo, Médiapart, and Radio France Internationale.

Do you have a suggestion for our next Explaining Brazil podcast? Drop us a line at

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Support this coverage →Support this podcast →

From the stage to the living room: Brazilians go mad for live YouTube concerts

“The one I want, doesn’t want me / The one who wants me, I don’t want / No-one will suffer alone / Everyone is going to suffer.” On a Wednesday evening in April — with Brazil’s pubs, nightclubs, and karaoke bars closed due to Covid-19 social isolation measures — millions logged on to YouTube to watch Brazilian country singer Marília Mendonça belt out her hit for jilted lovers everywhere “Todo Mundo Vai Sofrer” (Everyone Is Going To Suffer), among dozens of other ballads, live from her own living room.

With an unprecedented peak audience of 3.31 million users, Marília Mendonça’s home concert is the most viewed YouTube live music broadcast in history. Since airing, the video has received a stunning 54 million total views. Another of her live performances, from the beginning of May, peaked at 2.21 million concurrent viewers and a total of 20 million watches since.[restricted]

In comparison to the typical production values of Marília Mendonça’s live shows, her record-breaking YouTube broadcast is something completely different entirely. Filmed inside her living room, the superstar singer with a thick contralto voice spends the vast majority of the three-and-a-half-hour concert sat on an armchair, in flip-flops, yet somehow belting out her array of hits on romance and betrayal, never missing a note.

In fact, it is the simplicity and intimacy of the spectacle, along with the cathartic lyrics — mostly related to kicking out a cheating boyfriend, fiancé, or husband — are perhaps what drove the equivalent of the entire population of Uruguay to sit down and tune in live on their televisions, laptops, and smartphones.

Brazilian domination

Of course, Marília Mendonça is not the only artist in Brazil or abroad to make use of the coronavirus quarantines to broadcast live shows on YouTube. In April, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Paul McCartney, and others got together virtually to hold the “One World: Together at Home” benefit concert, but even that show didn’t come close to Marília Mendonça’s numbers.

In fact, in the ranking of YouTube’s top ten live music broadcasts in history, all of the entries come from the last two months and seven are from Brazilian artists. The highest-placed non-Brazilian was Italian singer Andrea Bocelli, who broadcast a live concert from an empty Duomo in Milan on April 12. But his mark of 2.86 million concurrent viewers saw him pipped by Marília Mendonça and fellow Brazilian country act Jorge e Mateus, ranked in second.

K-pop megastars BTS have two entries on the list, but are languishing down in seventh and tenth position.

Speaking to newspaper O Globo, YouTube’s Latin American music partnerships director Sandra Jimenez said the company has “no answer” to why Brazilian audiences have taken to live broadcasts in such a big way. But besides the spontaneous and informal manner of the concerts and the artists’ huge existing pull in the country, she suggests that timing may be a factor. “These lives usually take place outside working hours or on the weekend, which boosts [the chance of setting] records. These live broadcasts are the new prime time for Brazilians.”

Indeed, beyond the day of the week or start time, the fact that the most popular live shows occurred at the beginning of social isolation measures in Brazil suggests a novelty value. “They came right at the start of quarantine, and it encouraged people to stay at home,” says Ricardo Mello, consultant for the Brazilian Music and Arts Association.

“Also, these artists have such a huge popular appeal in Brazil. Take U2, for instance, there are loads of U2 fans in the world, but they don’t necessarily have such a close and strong connection with the band,” he adds. Major Brazilian country acts have their own dedicated “fandoms” on social media. Marília Mendonça, for example, has over 5.2 million followers on Twitter and an incredible 32.2 million on Instagram.

A lucrative opportunity?

With several economic sectors desperately struggling thanks to the Great Lockdown, businesses spotted these live concerts as an ideal vehicle for advertising. Payment company Stone backed Marília Mendonça’s world-record-breaking show in early April, and since then every subsequent broadcast has been awash with ad breaks and product placement.

The format of the shows has also become more elaborate. Fellow country singer Gusttavo Lima held a series of live shows entitled “Bar at Home,” which included a live band, guests, a barbecue, and copious amounts of beer, supplied by the concert’s sponsor, Brazilian brewing company Ambev.

This particular show got the singer into hot water with ad regulators, however, as Brazilian rules state that alcohol commercials cannot include the actual consumption of alcoholic beverages.

This rule affected any YouTube live shows which included sponsorship from drinks companies, and became subject to much ridicule after Brazilian samba legend Zeca Pagodinho went through his entire live show drinking only water. The singer, best known for sitting on a barstool during his shows, guzzling pint after pint of beer, was left tee-total. “I keep grabbing this glass thinking it’s beer,” he said. “What a pain. This is the first time this has happened to me.”

Criminal YouTube streamers

These online live shows have also served as useful vehicles for raising money and resources to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. A YouTube concert by pop duo Sandy e Júnior raised some 1,000 tons of food, in partnership with retailer Casas Bahia.

It hasn’t been all goodwill, however. Official live streams are often duplicated and pirated onto a variety of different YouTube channels in order to “steal” views, but this practice became a lot more sinister in mid-April, with reports that fake live streams were able to rob donations from the public watching at home.

As most official streams included a permanent QR code for donations, pirated streams altered these codes as a way to redirect the audience’s contributions to their own bank accounts. This practice was brought to the attention of artists, recording companies, and YouTube itself, and the number of “fake lives” has since fallen significantly.[/restricted]


The world rediscovers Brazil’s most incredible writer

When the late Susannah Hunnewell, publisher of The Paris Review, asked French author Michel Houellebecq how he has the nerve to write some of the things he writes, he replied: “Oh, it’s easy. I just pretend that I’m already dead.” That is the best starting point to discuss one of the most avant-garde books of all time, “The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas,” the 1881 masterpiece published by Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis. In short, it is the autobiography of a dead man. Not an author who wrote before his death. Rather, he died … and then wrote his story.

If you think about it, great literature has always managed to combine escapism while messing with sleeping dogs. Which is why it is good news that, in the middle — or beginning, or end, who knows? — of the coronavirus crisis, English speakers will have a new chance to discover a work that challenges programs, beliefs, illusions, and preconceptions that dictated cultural production not only in Brazil, but around the world, way before postmodernist literature existed. This month, two translations of this masterpiece were released, by Penguin Classics and Liveright.[restricted]

The brochure edition put out by Penguin sold out instantly and, in the U.S., put Machado de Assis atop the “Caribbean and Latin American Literature” category on Amazon. “Not in my most feverish of fever dreams did I imagine this kind of enthusiasm. (Nor did Brás, since he estimates his readership at 5 people, max!),” wrote Flora Thomson-DeVeaux, who translated the book, on Twitter.

Posthumous Memoirs — as Brazilians usually shorten the title — is the no-holds-barred story of a life told from the point of view of a narrator who led an unexceptional life and represented the ordinary petit bourgeois in Rio de Janeiro’s late 19th century. On this note, an earlier edition of the book in English was titled “Epitaph of a Small Winner.” At various points, Brás Cubas breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the reader about what he, the narrator, sees as flaws in his book, but ultimately decides to keep. 

Living narrators couldn’t come close to this level of self-awareness.

Through his narrator’s eye for detail, Posthumous Memoirs is a thorough and dead-on assessment of a racist, decadent society — and Machado leaves no convention untouched. In one particular chapter, the narrator witnesses a freed slave who once belonged to him whipping his own slave. Cubas at first finds it bothersome, but eventually cracks a laugh. This passage has a subtle jab at elites of the time — slavery would only be abolished years later, in 1888.

And the book is filled with these little details.

As Dave Eggers’ introduction to the Penguin edition claims, Machado was a master of deciphering the jokes of life — or maybe that one big joke called life. This is a book dedicated to “the worm who gnawed on the cold flesh of [Cubas’] corpse.” 

“[It] wouldn’t hurt,” Mr. Eggers writes, “to have a few more [novels] that allow humans — characters, readers, authors even — to laugh. Denying the jokes in life, and the joke of life itself, is too sad.”

Who was Machado de Assis — and why he was so important

Machado de Assis (1839-1908) was no joke at all. A mixed-race man from a poor Rio de Janeiro family, he barely attended public school and it’s unlikely that he ever made it to university. His father was a house painter, the son of freed slaves, and his mother, an Azorean servant of a wealthy household, died when Machado was just nine years old. The father remarried to a poor black woman and died a few years later, meaning Machado grew up orphaned, the grandson of slaves — in a country where the slave trade would be at the center of the economy until he was 50 years old.

It gets worse: Machado was terribly myopic, almost going blind at 40, and he suffered from epilepsy and a stutter. The death of his wife Carolina Novais, in 1904, was the ultimate hardship: depression took hold of Machado, who died four years later.

Despite all the turbulence, Machado somehow managed to learn French, English, German, and Greek. Early in his youth, Machado would display his aptitude for letters by translating Victor Hugo’s “Les travailleurs de la mer” (The Toilers of the Sea) from its original French. 

A voracious reader, he worked in various public departments, and also as a typesetter and journalist from youth onwards, until literature made its call. In 1897, already well known for his newspaper chronicles — he wrote roughly 600 of them and helped popularize the genre in Brazil, still seen today in major newspapers — Machado founded the Brazilian Academy of Letters and became its first chairman. 

His legacy is remarkable in itself, but gains a whole new meaning when you realize that Machado was born just 31 years after the first book was printed in Rio. Between 1500, when the Portuguese first began Brazil’s colonization, to 1808, when the Portuguese Crown fled Napoleon and settled in Rio, printing was illegal in the colony — meaning that the country was unable to develop knowledge for itself for over 300 years.

To date, Machado’s work has been translated into Arabic, Danish, Dutch, and German, among other languages. Renowned critic Harold Bloom called him “a miracle”, and Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade nicknamed him “The Wizard from Cosme Velho,” a reference to Machado’s uncanny literary skills.

Machado de Assis also stood at a delicate ethnic crossroads in Brazil. Completing his life’s work at a time when non-white Brazilians were overtly treated as second-class citizens, a critic once referred to him as a “genuine representative of the mixed Brazilian sub-race.” At the end of his life and in death, however, Machado de Assis’ image underwent a process of whitewashing — sometimes literally. 

Despite photographs and anecdotal evidence proving that the novelist was dark-skinned, he was classified as “white” on his death certificate in 1908. This impression lasted throughout the 20th century — in a 2011 television commercial for public bank Caixa, Machado de Assis was played by a white actor, which was met with ire from black rights groups.

In times such as these, in which racism is still a hot topic, the world needs to read this book more than ever. Not only because it’s wise to listen to the wisdom of our dead, but also because it’s great literature that provides a terrible opportunity for escapism — or does it?[/restricted]


Streaming services to surpass pay-TV in Latin America in 2020

The streaming war is a global fight, but the next 12 months will be crucial for regional battles in Latin America. Not only will the region receive two new platforms from media big-hitters, capable of going toe-to-toe with hegemon Netflix, but also the number of subscribers to this type of service is set to exceed the traditional pay-TV customer base for the first time in history.

Latin America is expected to end 2020 with 62.2 million subscribers to streaming video services, a 36-percent increase on last year’s figures. Even more impressive are the projections for the near future. By 2024, the region should have 110.7 million users on these platforms — which, in industry jargon, are known as OTT, or over-the-top, a term used to designate the offer of audiovisual content over the internet.[restricted]

Pay-TV via cable or satellite, in turn, will remain stagnant at its current level of 57 million subscriptions, having plateaued in 2016. This data was passed on to LABS by Ampere Analysis, a market research firm specializing in media, content, and communications.

“Latin America is expected to be the second-fastest-growing region in terms of the proportional increase of the subscriber base in the next 5 years, with the subscriber base more than doubling from 2019 to 2024, second only to Sub-Saharan Africa, where current subscriber numbers and penetration is relatively very low,” says Lottie Towler, senior analyst at Ampere Analysis.

The growth is closely linked to the debut of platforms backed by media and technology giants. The Disney+ service will launch in Latin America in the last quarter of this year, while HBO has identified the region as a priority, set to make it the first market outside the U.S. to receive its new HBO MAX service in 2021.

Both platforms offer huge catalogs to compete with already established services. Netflix is ​​expected to maintain its spot on top of the pile, but the competition it will face will be heavier. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+, which have been operating in Latin American countries since 2016 and 2017, respectively, are unlikely to be passive spectators. Regional platforms, such as Claro Video, Blim TV, and Globoplay, will also make important moves in the field, whether by trying to grow their own bases or establishing coveted partnerships for content distribution.

Digital TV Research, a consultancy that provides business intelligence for the television industry, predicts that the five major global streaming platforms — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max — will dominate 88 percent of streaming subscriptions in Latin America by 2025. The firm estimates that the subscription segment — or SVoD, for Subscription-based Video on Demand — excluding advertising-based services — AVoD, Advertising-based Video on Demand — will reach 106 million customers in Latin America within five years, a 152-percent increase from 2019.

“Latin America is already very important for Netflix. Brazil is the company’s second-largest international market [after the United Kingdom]. And it is crucial for the main platforms to have original content. If you are Netflix, for example, and you have 31 million-plus subscribers in Latin America, you want to keep them happy. There has been quite a lot of investment in several countries around the region as I understand it,” said Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research, in an interview with LABS.

Investment in local content

In addition to growth in the number of subscriptions, the first half of the 2020s is likely to be a period of heavy investment in local content. The big platforms are likely to expand their portfolios produced in Latin America, with a growing selection of TV series, films, and documentaries in both Spanish and Portuguese.

The movement is already clear: 15 percent of the films and series recently announced by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — the two major international platforms already established in the region — will be in Spanish or Portuguese, according to Ampere Analysis, which tracks the content commissioned by major services. A part of these programs are produced in European countries, mainly Spain or Portugal, but they have great appeal among the Latin American audience.

“Platforms are investing quite a lot to make their offerings more localized in these regions, which will provide more competition for the local platforms, as that’s one area in which they have been able to differentiate themselves by offering local, regional content,” says Ms. Towler.

On the other hand, regional investment can bring good global results. Ampere, which tracks Netflix’s top 10 charts in 60 countries, has noticed an increasing interest in Spanish-language shows. “A number of titles, such as Money Heist, have been really successful not only in Spanish-language countries but also in other markets,” notes Ms. Towler.

Homegrown streaming competitors

Global media giants will come up against stiff local competition in Latin America, represented mainly by major TV networks or mobile telecom companies, such as Globo (Brazil), América Móvil and Televisa (Mexico), and their respective streaming services Globoplay, Claro Video, and Blim TV.

But regional platforms will face an uphill battle, as global services tend to follow in the footsteps of Netflix and produce a smaller proportion of their content in the U.S. and increase internationally commissioned shows and movies. “When it comes to local services, obviously, the challenge is the budgets they have. It’s hard to compete with the giants when they’re investing so much in their own, original content,” reckons Ms. Towler.

According to Mr. Murray, of Digital TV Research, there is room in Latin America for other formats, such as what he calls “import platforms,” which usually aggregate pre-produced content. “I am surprised that Televisa and Globo, for example, haven’t got more into this than they have done given the content that they have. Obviously, they have existing deals with broadcasters and pay-TV operators around the region that they don’t want to spoil, but you would think that those two companies are ideally placed to explore the AVoD market.”

According to the consultancy, Claro Video will continue to be the largest local player, going from 2.7 million to 4.5 million subscribers until 2025, but all regional services should face difficulties in gaining new subscribers. Blim TV and Movistar Play, which is controlled by Spain’s Telefónica, will grow little — the former from 297,000 to 600,000 users, the latter from 392,000 to 800,000. Digital TV believes a lot more people will receive these platforms for free, as added features to premium subscriptions in mobile or pay-TV sectors. Brazilian GloboPlay does not disclose any concrete numbers on users or subscribers and therefore international consultancies do not track its progress.

The pandemic and digital services

In addition to new services, the search for convenience, and technological developments, the Covid-19 pandemic has offered another boost in demand for digital services in general, including in Latin America. Measures of social distancing have led people to seek more entertainment at home and it is unlikely movie theaters will be able to open and function as normal any time soon. 

JustWatch, a streaming guide that monitors the sector in 46 countries, identified an explosion in the use of platforms in the two largest markets in Latin America. In Mexico, between March 15 and the first half of May, HBO Go has seen its traffic quadruple, while Amazon Prime Video more than tripled, and Netflix recorded a 188-percent growth in use. In Brazil, even in a shorter observation period, from early April to mid-May, increases were above 100 percent across the board, with Amazon users accessing the service almost three times as much as before.

This article was originally published on LABS – Latin America Business Stories, a news platform covering business, technology, and society in the region for an English-speaking audience.



Brazilian malls begin reopening

A couple of months ago, all of Brazil’s 577 shopping malls were closed. Now, 211 establishments have reopened their doors, despite the growing number of Covid-19 cases nationwide. According to the World Health Organization, Brazil is “far from reaching the peak of its infection curve,” and data from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation shows that the country is entering its annual respiratory virus season.

São Paulo state began its gradual reopening on June 1, and 32 malls have resumed activities to some extent. The Brazilian Report has shown that the infection rate in the state is still rising and that past experiences of rushed reopenings, as was the case in Santa Catarina state, have resulted in a worsening of the problem.

As we reported in May 2019, the current business model of Brazilian malls is already under threat from a growing e-commerce industry, and some administrators are moving to launch their own online platforms, integrating store stocks to deliver goods to nearby customers. There is some expectation that the Covid-19 pandemic will fast-track this process.

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Coronavirus Power

Without lockdown, Brazilian cities pass prohibition laws

On Sunday, Brazil recorded more new coronavirus deaths than any other country in the world: 653 — with a total number of 22,666 casualties. Still, most Brazilian states and municipalities resist the idea of a strict lockdown. In São Paulo, for example, a six-day “weekend” was created to raise social isolation rates, to no avail. And on a federal level, the government continues to bash even the mildest isolation policies. To avoid keeping people at home against their will — except to perform essential activities — a handful of local administrators from various ends of the political spectrum have tried something different: Covid-19-induced prohibition.[restricted]

The northeast state of Piauí was the first to restrict alcohol sales — but only during a three-day weekend. Governor Wellington Dias, of the center-left Workers’ Party, said the move aimed at reducing car crashes, which would then reduce hospitalizations for reasons other than Covid-19. He added that forbidding people from drinking in public spaces also makes social distancing easier. “When people drink too much, they lose their sense of judgment, then there’s hugging, kissing, contamination … I want people to go back to hugging, kissing, and celebrating together, but it’s not the time,” said Mr. Dias, without detailing the effects of the move — or why it was only enforced for three days.

In Palmas, the capital city of Tocantins, Mayor Cinthia Ribeiro tried to enforce an open-ended prohibition law on May 16. Ms. Ribeiro, a member of the center-right Social Democracy Party, claims the decision was based on studies carried out by the Health Ministry’s Health Emergency Operation Center, linking excessive alcohol consumption to lower immunity, which would make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The mayor also justified the move by pointing out Palmas’ high rates of domestic violence — the city has the eighth-highest incidence among Brazilian state capitals.

But Ms. Ribeiro’s endeavor was short-lived. Just two days after her prohibition was enforced, a state court struck it down. The case’s judge cited the financial risk to beverage vendors.

In São Sebastião do Oeste, a 5,000-people town in countryside Minas Gerais, an alcohol ban was passed in order to prevent house parties that could become breeding grounds for infections. On May 13, the town hall issued the prohibition decree, valid for 20 days, establishing that non-compliance will be punished by a BRL 5,000 fine for companies, and BRL 80 for individuals.

The same reason motivated the town of Urandi, in the arid backlands of Brazil’s Northeast, to pass its own ban to run through June 1. With 42 confirmed cases so far, the 16,000-people town threatens to suspend licenses from vendors who refuse to abide by the rules. Urandi’s stance is as hard as municipalities are allowed to be. “The Supreme Court has granted municipalities powers to regulate commerce and issue administrative fines against trespassers — including shutting down establishments. But they are not allowed to use the police on these matters,” says constitutional law expert Guilherme Amorim.

Countries with pandemic prohibition laws

Places such as Panama and Greenland have enforced alcohol bans during the pandemic — but perhaps no country has gone to the same lengths as South Africa. In one of the world’s strictest lockdowns since March 26, the country banned both tobacco and alcohol in a controversial move. Pretoria claimed the ban was a necessary public health measure, citing empty emergency rooms as evidence of its success. Critics, however, say the prohibition handed over the industry to organized crime, cost the state billions in invaluable tax revenue, and criminalized millions of South Africans. 

Alcohol and cigarettes are still widely available, as powerful syndicates flooded the market with knock-off brands at heftier prices. Tobacco smuggling is one of the most lucrative rackets in the country’s underworld and the men who control it have close links to senior political leaders. Since the beginning of the ban, the government has been polarized between competing factions on this issue — one centered around the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, an outspoken prohibitionist — and his critics.

Tens of thousands of South Africans have been arrested for non-compliance. In a high-profile case, the police and the military have been accused of beating a man to death while enforcing their prohibition rules. Collins Khosa was accosted by law enforcement for drinking a beer on his porch. South Africa is set to maintain its tobacco ban, but allow for alcohol sales when it moves to a more flexible lockdown regime on June 1.

The perils of substance abuse during the pandemic

As reporter Lucas Berti showed earlier this month, Brazilians are drinking more at home — with a bump in alcohol sales in supermarkets and delivery apps. Meanwhile, Dutch brewer Heineken registered a fall in revenue of just 5 percent in Brazil, a fraction of its global drop of 69 percent.

A study published by the Alcohol and Drug Review by researchers from Canada, Brazil, South Africa, and the U.S. — alongside the World and Pan-American Health Organizations — warns about the lasting consequences for a bump in substance abuse during the pandemic. 

People are exercising less and eating more junk — not to mention an increased consumption of alcohol, drugs, and pornography. Many experts predict that, while social isolation is the best way to curb the coronavirus infection curve, it will take a serious toll on people’s mental and emotional health.

Additional reporting by Benjamin Fogel and Brenno Grillo.[/restricted]

Coronavirus Tourism

How the coronavirus is wrecking Brazil’s tourism industry

The Brazilian tourism industry had high hopes for 2020. According to the Travel Trends 2020 report, by Scottish travel platform Skyscanner, Brazil was one of the top 3 emerging destinations, with a 27-percent increase in global searches and bookings from 2018. Experts predicted that the loosening of visa policies to make life easier on travelers would begin to pay off, and projected a rise in revenue for the sector.

But then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Roughly 4 billion people in the world are currently under some sort of social isolation measure — or even strict lockdown — and nearly all flights have been grounded.[restricted]

For Brazil, the impact will be devastating. The sector represents almost 4 percent of the country’s GDP and employs some 7 million people, creating revenue for people from all social sectors. A study by think-tank Fundação Getulio Vargas estimated losses for the 2020-2021 period at BRL 117 billion (USD 20 billion). 

To compensate for the losses, it will take no less than a 17-percent annual growth rate in both 2022 and 2023 — which, considering the economic crisis Brazil is facing, won’t be easy. Not by the slightest. And that’s not to mention that we have no idea how long this crisis will last for.

Uncertainty for travelers and operators

Gislaine Navas, 38, had her suitcases packed for a trip with her husband to the northeastern coastal city of Jericoacoara between April 29 and May 2. But she had to stay home, as Brazilian states started enforcing quarantine rules as Covid-19 cases started to rise. “I got an email from the airlines saying I could postpone for up to a year, but I eventually decided to reschedule the trip to July, cost free. Should I have canceled it, I would have paid a fine,” she says.

For Douglas Coca, 42, things were much less smooth. He bought a vacation package for Porto de Galinhas, a beachfront paradise in Pernambuco, with travel platform Decolar. He was hooked up with multiple providers — for car rental, airline tickets, and accommodations. Now, he is finding it impossible to coordinate with all services a new date. “Before getting new flights, I must get new hotel bookings — but the platform simply doesn’t allow me too,” he told The Brazilian Report.

For tourism service providers, things are not much better. In many regions, such as the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, the sector is the core economic activity. 

The 21 volcanic islands are filled with picture-perfect beaches and turquoise waters — making up one of the most beautiful destinations in Brazil. It is home to 3,300 people who live off tourism — but trips have been forbidden since March 24. “Nobody can come here, and people were in lockdown between April 20 and May 10, and beaches are closed until May 31. Only people with government authorization can leave their homes, and police intercept non-compliant residents,” said innkeeper Rodrigo Valença.

The archipelago is under a special political administration attached to the state of Pernambuco, which is offering basic baskets of necessities and a BRL 200 monthly emergency aid benefit per family, to pay for utility bills. “We are fighting to free the islands from the virus. Reopening tourism now would be a mistake,” said Mr. Valença.

Fernando de Noronha had 28 confirmed Covid-19 cases — all recovered — and is currently monitoring five suspected infections.

fernando de noronha marcioenrique
Fernando de Noronha: beaches closed at least until May 31. Photo: Marcio Enrique/Shutterstock

What it will take to lift the tourism sector back to its feet

To avoid a full-scale collapse of the tourism industry, governments must step in. “Public aid will be essential to keep the sector alive, with special credit lines — especially for the aviation sector, which is the heart of the industry,” said a Fundação Getulio Vargas report. That has to been done by the federal government.

On Friday, Gustavo Montezano, head of Brazil’s National Development Bank, announced a deal to bail out Brazilian airlines through a package that may reach up to BRL 6 billion. Mr. Montezano stated during the bank’s Q1 earnings conference that the country’s three largest airlines (Gol, Latam, and Azul) accepted the plan’s conditions, which include the obligation to direct their resources towards their Brazilian operations — not to financial creditors — and to have equal conditions for all companies.

“Due to the pandemic, we have reduced our operation by 90 percent between March and April. We are now flying only 70 daily routes to 27 cities — from a normal rate of 920 daily flights to over 100 destinations,” said Marcelo Bento Ribeiro, an institutional relations director at Azul. “The aviation sector has high overheads and employs highly-specialized workers — which makes it impossible for companies to drastically cut costs. That has seriously compromised our balances. We urgently need liquidity to weather the crisis,” said Mr. Ribeiro.

But while the big airlines are being taken care of, the government must not forget small companies — who make up for the majority of the industry’s players. Experts advise in favor of increasing subsidized credit and aid packages for businesses that choose not to lay off workers. 

The (near) future of tourism is domestic

Nobody knows when international trips will be safe again — or how long it will take for countries to lift all travel bans in place at the moment. But it is hard to imagine most people eager to hop onto a jumbo-jet with 400-plus possible virus-carriers. Moreover, a boarding line respecting safe-distancing guidelines (2 meters between each person) would mean lines of about one kilometer each.

It is safe to say that the future of tourism — at least until the coronavirus scare is behind us (if it ever will) — will depend on domestic travel. For Brazil, the shock will not be that drastic, as the country has always been overlooked by international travelers. The country attracts merely 6 million foreign tourists per year, mostly from South America. 

That’s fewer travelers to the entire country than the Eiffel Tower alone.[/restricted]


Delivery is the future for fine dining in Brazil

Covid-19 isolation measures have already changed a number of industries in ways that we do not yet understand. Sanitary concerns will take on unprecedented importance around the world, and the rapid expansion and public acceptance of on-demand delivery services of an unlimited range of products may have changed consumer habits forever.

Affected by all of the above factors is the restaurant business, an industry that relies on the public leaving their homes, gathering in reasonably confined spaces, and not wearing masks. While mid-range and popular restaurants have been invested in food delivery for decades, Covid-19 has also pushed fine dining establishments into the takeaway business.[restricted]

Food delivery is a huge business in Brazil and has been for some time, particularly thanks to the facility of smartphone apps. When factoring in courier and transport services, there are an estimated 4 million people working with deliveries in the country. Leading the way is Brazilian firm iFood, which last year registered some 1.2 million searches per month on Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

In 2019, we wrote that Brazil’s bar and restaurant association predicted phone-based delivery to become completely extinct within five years, such has been the boom in app usage.

Haute cuisine at your door

However, with iFood’s ranks normally filled with local pizza joints and fast-food chains, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen Michelin-star restaurants migrating to smartphone apps and their own delivery systems, to keep business ticking over during social isolation.

“Honestly, it was a matter of survival,” says Benoit Mathurin, head chef at Esther Rooftop, the swanky French bistro in São Paulo’s city center that has been offering food delivery since the start of the city’s quarantine. “It meant that we could keep paying our staff and that we could remain present during the isolation,” he explains, speaking to The Brazilian Report.

Esther Rooftop’s delivery offerings consist of a sizable à la carte menu, with dishes that one wouldn’t typically see in a takeaway, such as pork cheek with arracacha gnocchi, or deep-fried camembert with a herb salad and plum compote.

“I had actually planned to start a delivery menu six months before the coronavirus outbreak,” explains Mr. Mathurin. The expansion had been put off due to what the chef describes as “laziness,” but also a fear of not being able to deliver a product that lived up to the restaurant’s high standards. “So far, though, it’s going great. People seem to be happy.”

While results certainly differ from establishment to establishment, Esther Rooftop is managing to cover its overheads by delivering meals. However, many restaurants have been forced to branch out and offer other services, such as emporiums — to make use of their extensive stocks of wine, cheese, and other specialty products — and frozen meals, to take advantage of the public’s developing habit of cooking at home.

“The reality is we’re going to need three or four different revenue sources from now on,” says Mr. Mathurin. “We can no longer rely on the restaurant alone, everything is going to change.”

Restaurants of the future

Indeed, the eventual reopening of bars and restaurants is the cause of much anticipation and trepidation for owners. Once quarantine measures have been lifted and establishments are allowed to fill their dining rooms again, there is an expectation that it will take some time for clients to regain their trust and feeling of safety about eating out.

Customers are likely to place heightened importance on sanitation, particularly in upscale eateries, meaning that several adaptations will have to be made when restaurants do eventually reopen.

At Esther Rooftop, the team is planning on pulling out all the stops. “We’re going to measure temperatures at the entrance, make disinfectant spray available to the customers, and maybe even put in plexiglass barriers at each table,” says the head chef. While masks are clearly out of the question for diners, the kitchen and wait staff will use protective face covers at all times.[/restricted]


Piauí passes “prohibition” law during long weekend

Piauí Governor Wellington Dias said his state will pass a prohibition -like decree prohibiting alcohol consumption until Sunday, May 17. According to Mr. Dias, the goal is to avoid social gatherings at bars and other public spaces during the local three-day weekend starting on May 15. Consumption at home is still permitted.

Mr. Dias announced additional social distancing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. Intercity bus travel is prohibited for the weekend, while banks will be closed and work on construction sites must be put on hold. As of this Thursday, Piauí had reported 1,784 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 60 deaths. Around 46 percent of the state’s intensive care units are occupied.


Mother’s Day sales to fall almost 60 percent this year, says survey

Mother’s Day, which this year falls on Sunday, May 10, is typically one of Brazilian retail’s biggest calendar events of the year, taking second place only to Christmas in terms of sales volume. However, this year, the Covid-19 pandemic is set to slash retail sales by 59.2 percent, according to the National Confederation of Commerce, as “non-essential” stores are closed in most areas of the country.

No segment will be hit harder than clothing, with sales expected to fall 74 percent. Even book sales are set to lose 37 percent of its expected revenue, despite the segment being strong in e-commerce.