During a recent visit to Porto Alegre, my hometown in Brazil, I went to the supermarket for groceries. As my turn at the checkout approached my phone rang and I launched into an animated conversation, in English, with my American boyfriend. Suddenly I felt a presence around me. As I looked up from the groceries I was placing on the belt I saw eyes peering at me. The bagging boy whispered something inaudible to the neighboring check out girl and I decided it would be best to end the call. I said hello, in Portuguese, to the cashier who had her eyes wide staring at me. She answered with a murmur. After she finished checking my items she did not give me the final amount aloud, as they usually do, but pointed to the screen while staring back at me, as if her life was in danger. I gave her exact change and all of a sudden the woman behind me in line tapped my shoulder.
“I’m sorry to bother, but why are there so many Americans in town?” She asked in good english, as I anticipated.
The three surrounding registers and the bagging boys all stared at us, anxiously waiting for an answer. I told her I am in fact a local who lives abroad, visiting my family. That did not suffice.
“Why on earth would you come here?” Asked the checkout girl.
“Where do you live?” Inquired the next one.
“Are you really spending the holidays HERE!?” questioned the boy.
The general consensus was that I had lost my mind.
“Why would you come back here?” The question lingered with me several days after that.
I had not been to Brazil in several years. The recent developments of my country’s political and economic state frightened me, not to mention a spike in violence that has not been witnessed in nearly twenty years. The type of violence that affects all layers of the population from housekeepers, taxi drivers and waiters to CEO’s, TV personalities and everyone in between is a petty violence. They steal because they want your Tupperware with food, to feed their hunger; or your cellphone to trade for crack. Sometimes, more regularly than not, they’ll kill for a chunk of change, they don’t know any other way. It’s a lawless state.
National magazines print stories covering a mass exodus of Brazil nationals attempting to build their lives on solid ground in North America or Australia. Hell, anywhere but there. It’s a hopeless state.
The population revolts and takes to the streets. The government, corrupt all the way to the top, buys votes, steals money and rips to shreds an economy built strong over the course of two decades. There is no education, no healthcare and no public safety to speak of. Brazil is today a country with no infrastructure, but it’s still a beautiful country. Brazil has insurmountable beauty, incredible fun and joy to offer. Tourism may very well be it’s last threshold and hope.
I left Brazil in the pursuit of a dream, several years ago at the height of its economic boom. Americans would look at me in shock wondering why would I ever want to abandon such a paradise especially when the country was performing so well. Truth be told, I had serious doubts that the mentality of the population and its politicians had changed so rapidly. Unfortunately, I was right.
Today from where I stand, I see several people I know plotting an escape plan. I see several people I don’t know having to sell homes they never actually moved into because they aren’t able to keep up with inflation and interest rates. Brazil has in less than a decade created a real estate bubble of gargantuan proportions, similar to the one that took the United States half a century to build up. Brazil’s bubble is bursting, what’s worse, the little hope Brazilian citizens had in the future of its country is gone. The population stopped believing in the system, more than that, the population stopped believing in the population. The citizens of Brazil stopped believing they are in fact the decision makers, they stopped believing that they are in fact capable of affecting change.
The people of Brazil are so afraid of losing the bread crumbs the government throws at them, that they keep quiet. No one sues the government because they already know the judiciary will not push their suit forward. One alone, may be weak, but what about the hundreds of thousands of people who suffered together at the hand of President Collor and still have not received a penny back since 1992? Why aren’t all these people banding together to fight the country for the money that is rightfully theirs? Because the people lost faith in the people. The people are afraid of the people. It’s a snowball effect that allows for the Brazilian government to stay its course of thievery and impunity.
The impoverished population who had no access to decent homes, or any credit for that matter, all of a sudden saw the hands of bankers and lenders opening up. Suddenly families of six who shared a one-room home had flat-screens, laptops and nicer clothes. These families were immediately elevated to the status of middle class. But elevated by whom? The government, who saw fit to show the world how rapid change was possible in Brazil. It was all an illusion.
When the government believes it’s more important for the people to have material possessions (and debt) instead of education and access to healthcare, there is definitely a strong misconception. When the population becomes so desperate that they have to steal food from their fellows standing at bus stops in order to feed themselves, the country enters a dark age. My feeling upon returning to Brazil was of anguish, and this feeling was shared with every person I came in contact with during my trip. The disappointment of seeing firsthand what it’s like for people to turn against each other because their government is busy spending the people’s money on better homes and vacations for themselves is painful, it’s revolting.
I wish I could pose a solution to these issues, but I can hardly wrap my head around the problems of Brazil. For the moment I offer my thoughts and hope for better days. This country has stood in the dark for much longer than it’s seen the light. It’s time to change.
Originally published in The Huffington Post / WorldPost, Feb 2016