The rich and the hungry in Brazil

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The rich and the hungry in Brazil

Leonardo Sakamoto writes about terrible wealth and poverty.


Playground for the rich: Brazil now has 20 more billionaires than last year, up from 45 to 65.

Credit: Alobos Life/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A government team rescued a worker with Covid-19 from slave labour in a sugar cane plantation in São Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest state. He had fever, was coughing and aching, and he had difficulty walking. But he didn’t stop working.

He was part of a group of 22 people government teams rescued earlier in 2021. The government teams have investigated reports of modern slavery since 1995. Their employer ‘bought’ him and his colleagues and they were starving. But slave labour is also a result of very serious poverty, which has increased during Covid-19.

Research by the Brazilian Network for Research on Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security shows that in 2020, 19 million people went hungry in the country – out of 116.8 million who had some food insecurity. Hunger affected nine per cent of Brazilians – the highest rate since 2004.

They published these figures in early April. On the same day in answer to pressure from Congress, the Brazilian government made payments of the Covid-19 emergency benefit to unemployed workers. The Brazilian government stopped the payments many months earlier. These payments were monthly between $116 and $232 per family at the beginning of 2020. Then it reduced to between $58 and $116 a month, and then reduced to between $28 and $72 today.

The Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies says that with $28 a month, a single person in São Paulo can buy only 23 per cent of the food they need. But President Bolsonaro believes that the best way to fight Covid-19 is to push workers onto the streets and that the sooner people are infected, the sooner Covid-19 will end. The problem is that people will die as a result; in Brazil, very many have died so far.

The research on hunger was from the last three months of 2020, when they still paid the reduced emergency benefit. So the figures for 2021 are likely to be even worse, as Bolsonaro stopped payments at the end of 2020, and only started them again 96 days later.

Also in April, Brazil learned that it has 20 more billionaires than 2020, up from 45 to 65, says Forbes magazine, with a 72-per-cent increase in their wealth from $127 to $219 billion.

Katia Maia is Oxfam Brazil’s director. She says the fact that a small group of Brazilians are very wealthy while 116.8 million do not know if they will eat each day is a serious situation. She talks about the very low emergency benefit payments and says, ‘This new emergency benefit shows that human life is not important.’ Opposition and even government supporters in Congress are asking for an increase. Now there is a new scandal. The government spent $440,730 on President Bolsonaro’s holiday, including security, accommodation, and transport. This is enough for a monthly $116 payment to at least 3,800 Brazilians.

In Brazil, the idea of taxing the super-rich is something people are not supposed to even think about, and the government keeps delaying reform. The country’s super-rich pay far less tax than the middle class.

The inequality shows that the government exists to serve the wealthiest and control the poorest. Over time, inequality leads to lack of trust in government – which helps to explain the situation in Brazil today.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)