Slums and sunny beaches: Crises show Brazil a nation of contrasts

World Today

Not long ago, Brazil was considered a rising star among emerging markets. But more recently, a combination of crises tarnished its once shining image. CGTN’s Paulo Cabral reports.

Sunny beaches filled with beautiful, happy people. The vast Amazon Jungle, home to nature at its most exotic. The big and colorful samba parties of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

These are among the images of Brazil that have enticed the world’s imagination for decades, making locals proud.

But according to many residents, there are also plenty of things they say make them feel ashamed. Poverty and social inequality is abundant, and perhaps most easily seen in places like the country’s ‘favelas.’

In Rio alone, there are more than 760 of the slums, with nearly 1.4 million people living in them.

The military takes part in a pre-dawn crackdown on drug gangs at the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Apu Gomes)

Carlos Antonio de Souza has lived in the Rocinha neighborhood his entire life. For the last 26 years, he’s also been working as a tour guide, showing outsiders the harsh realities of his home.

“It’s very good when you bring favelas, in all different ways, into evidence,” de Souza explained. “We’d never have an answer about why the country is so violent without going down to the roots of it. You can show [that] even in the favela there are social classes. In Brazil, the money is very concentrated in a few hands.”

For about a decade during the government of President Lula da Silva, strong economic growth helped to improve living conditions for the poor. Brazil began to construct an image of itself as a rising star among emerging economies.

Fireworks explode over Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Over the last few years, however, a perfect storm of political crises, corruption scandals and recession dramatically changed perceptions domestically and abroad.

Matthew Shirts, an American journalist based in Sao Paulo for thirty years, says he’s never seen the country with such low self-esteem.

“Everything was getting better. We were having a lot of good luck,” according to Shirts. “We were having what looked to us really forward moving progress with the PT government, and then we discovered the extent of the corruption throughout government. It’s just tiring! These are tough times, in reality and in terms of self-image as well.”