Category Archives: Income disparity

In Brazilian novellas, Brazil is an all-white country with a couple of happy-to-be-poor black people

Brazil’s Globo TV company is producing a new novella called “Sexo e as negas (“Sex and denials“), about a group of four black women living in a lower-class neighbourhood in the Zona Norte of Rio de Janeiro, loosely based on Sex and the City.

Instead, however, of it being about four white women working prominent jobs in Manhattan, the wealthiest neighbourhood in the wealthiest country on earth, the four black characters are poor (but glamorous), and work as a cleaner, a seamstress, a manual labourer and a cook.

sexo-e-as-negras like sex and the city, but with black girls in Rio

(Also don’t search that title on Google, or you’ll come up with a lot of naughty pictures).

Despite Brazil having a huge share of black people in prominent and senior positions (including a potential future black female president in Marina Silva), Globo’s novellas on TV prefer to cast black people in poor, subservient roles where they are the comic foil or lackey. Black men and women are cleaners, manual labourers or shop assistants in the world of Globo scriptwriters.

That’s if black people feature at all in the novellas.  Despite Brazil being the second most-populous country in the world for black people (over fifty-per-cent of Brazilians identify themselves as black), novellas are predominantly dramas based in a Brazil where only white people exist.

In the latest smash-hit novella from Globo, Meu Pedacinho de Chão, here is the main cast (which you’ll notice doesn’t feature any black characters at all):

Meu pedacinho de chao, the rest of the predominantly-white cast

 

And here’s the black character:

Meu pedacinho de chao's diapo, the one black character is a clown...

And here’s the female lead protagonist, just because:

Meu pedacinho de Chao seio hot Brazilian novella girl with huge breasts on TV

The cast is whiter than milk, which obviously doesn’t represent the real Brazil. In fact, the characters are so white it only represents the small contingent of European descendant Brazilians that live in southern Brazil and still have blue eyes and blonde hair. They’re a tiny percentage of Brazil’s population (think Gisele), but they receive the most amount of attention on TV, are considered the most glamorous and hold the most senior positions.

The majority of Brazilians are a mix of caramel, coffee and chocolate skin colours.  Most of them aren’t that poor; they hold down jobs and buy cars and drink beers and speak other languages and have dreams.  but Globo doesn’t want to portray that side, which is pretty sinister and cruel when you think of the insane popularity these shows have in Brazil and what that would do to a person’s psyche.

For Globo, it’s everyone in their place, forever, and for black people, that means staying poor and pathetic.

 

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Fear and loathing in Sao Paulo: citizens driving armoured cars in Brazil’s richest city

How do you spot an armoured car in Sao Paulo? Check out the distorted reflection from the windows. The toughened glass they use to protect the car from bullets is slightly wavy, and the glass has a thick black border. Also, look at how they sit a bit lower to the ground, and how the tyres have a plastic sheen rather than the matte finish of rubber.

When you know how to spot an armoured citizen’s car (um carro blindado) you’ll begin to see them everywhere. Sao Paulo residents love their armoured cars.

A single shot fired at the driver of a “carro blindado” or armoured car, in Sao Paulo.

But is Sao Paulo really that dangerous? And what happens when you get out of the car? You can’t wear an armoured vest for the rest of your life, so armoured cars are only really useful when you’re waiting at traffic lights.

It’s not exactly cheap to make a car blindado, either. Depending on the size of the vehicle it runs from 50,000 reais (£15,000 or $25,000) to 80,000 reais (£25,000 or $40,000) to reinforce the suspension, put armor-plating in the engine and door-panels, replace the glass with a toughened resin and change the tyres for run-flats.

The car has a shorter life-span carrying its extra shell, and depreciates quicker than a normal car. Engines are constantly strained and the chassis buckles under the extra weight. Armoured cars are good for scrap in a few years.

Totally-destroyed armoured car, although the glass never smashed through.

And probably a total waste of money, and for why I’ll give you an example. My Paulista friend told me a story about his friend that drove an armoured car around Sao Paulo. At the traffic lights a ladrão approached his friend and pointed a gun at the glass. He demanded his watch.

Now, the friend was in an armoured car, so the bullet wouldn’t go through the glass. But the friend remembered that replacing the bullet-proof glass would cost 5,000 reais, and his watch only cost 2,000 reais.

So the friend cracked open the window and handed over his watch, saving himself 3,000 reais in the process…

The perception of security is often used by car-manufacturers to sell expensive cars. SUVs like Humvees and Range-rovers (military vehicles) in the US and Europe offer a kind of sanctuary, where the outside world can’t get to you. As a result you feel safe, even though you can’t live in your car forever.

In Brazil, crime is a serious problem. But armouring a car still seems like overkill. I’m not sure it really offers either security or safety. If they want you, they will follow you and either force you from the vehicle or wait until you get out.

Six reasons Neymar represents everything that’s wrong with Brazil and its wealthy elite

Although the advertising machine around Neymar works hard to make him appear a pretty nice guy, here’s six reasons why the footballer – rightly or wrongly – represents everything wrong with Brazil’s wealthy, corrupt elite and the crushing inequality these powerful figures create.

1) He, or the people around him, are corrupt: When Neymar signed for Barcelona its vice president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Neymar’s transfer fee was €87.2 million. They then declared the  official transfer fee on documents as €57 million, as €40 million “supposedly… flowed to a company which is close to Neymar’s family.”

Brazilian politicians are famously corrupt. One politician was elected to Brazil’s Congress while under investigation for murder after having an adversary killed with a chain saw. Another is wanted by Interpol after being found guilty of diverting more than $10 million from a public road project to offshore bank accounts. I can’t find the source but I read recently that 60 per cent of Brazilian politicians are currently under police investigation.

2) He’s rich: Neymar was making 1.5 million reais a year at just 16 years old. He makes 9 million euros a year now playing for Barcelona.

Similarly, Brazilian politicians are among the highest paid and least productive in the world.

And in the world of business the 15 Richest Families In Brazil are worth an estimated $122 billion — or about 5% of the country’s total GDP. Out of 65 Brazilian billionaires listed by FORBES in its World’s Billionaires list, 25 are blood relatives.

3) He’ll sell himself to the highest bidder: Neymar has sponsorship deals with Castrol, Red Bull, Volkswagen and Panasonic and an 11 year boot deal with Nike worth at least $1 million per year. There’s nothing wrong with footballers making hay while the sun shines, though.

Brazilian politicians see nothing wrong using the same “sponsorship” tactics, however. Municipal and state officials are close to the mega-corporations that run Brazil’s construction, beverage, transport, energy and food industries. The cost of building Brasilia’s World Cup stadium nearly tripled to $900m in public funds, for example, largely due to allegedly fraudulent billing.

This after the construction company for Brasilia’s stadium increased its political donations 500-fold in the most recent election.

4) He’s light-skinned: Neymar’s dying his hair blonde might seem insignificant, but it takes on huge cultural significance in a country that has a legacy of slavery and inequality. It’s known as “Branqueamento”, (“Whitening”) and can lead to a prosperous shift from the darker-skinned underclass to the lighter-skinned Brazilian elite.

Neymar a few days ago: tall and tanned and young and blonde?
Neymar before the Brazil-Mexico game: tall and tanned and young and blonde.

Over 70 per cent of Brazilian politicians are light-skinned.

The Berkeley Review suggests this is because white Brazilians have more money on average than non-whites. Brazilian politicians elected to office had significantly higher mean total assets, at 432,000 Brazilian reais (R$), than those who were not elected, whose average assets totaled only R$188,000. White Brazilians have an average net worth of R$440,000, compared to R$247,000 for non-whites, indicating that on average white politicians simply have more cash to spend on campaigns than non-whites, and therefore gain power more easily.

5) He left Brazil: In 2010 Neymar’s agent said Neymar “wants to become the best player in the world. The chances of him doing that while playing in Brazil are zero.” Neymar added that  it was a “dream” of his “to play in Europe”.

There’s nothing against a football player wanting to play for one of the biggest teams in the world, and those teams are in Europe. But it is a familiar desire amongst the wealthy Brazilian elite to leave the country (they have the power to change, rather than rob from) and in which they have made their fortune to hide their money in Cayman Islands bank accounts or spend it on handbags, iPhones and suits in New York and Europe.

In 2005 a senior politician in Lula’s government was seized at an airport with $100,000 in his underwear as part of the Mensalão corruption saga.

6) He’s not afraid of backing out on a promise: Neymar promised his youth club Santos he wouldn’t leave them until after the 2014 World Cup. Santos consequently doubled his wages to raise him to European footballer salary levels.

…And in 2013 Neymar signed for Barcelona, anyway.

Politicians are familiar with breaking promises. A trainline between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro promised for the 2014 World Cup has, as of today, never even started. A huge number of World Cup projects remain unfinished or were never started. Belo Horizonte’s metro system was supposed to be extended for the World Cup. As of today it has one line.

Dilma, Cade o Metro? ("Where is the Metro?")
Dilma, Cade o Metro? (“Where is the Metro?”)

So there you have it; six reasons why Neymar represents everything that wrong with Brazil and its wealthy elite.

FIFA won’t pay any tax to the Brazilian government on its sales and merchandise at the 2014 World Cup

In 2002, Japan and South Korea spent 10 billion reals (£2.8bn, $4.4bn) each on hosting the World Cup,  and (after taxes) FIFA made a profit of 3 billion reais.

In 2006, Germany spent 9 billion reais on its World Cup, and (after taxes) FIFA made a profit of 5 billion reais.

In 2010, South Africa spent 11 billion reais on its World Cup, and (after taxes) FIFA made a profit of 6 billion reais.

In 2014, Brazil has already spent 35 billion reais on hosting the FIFA World Cup. And for the first time ever, FIFA will be exempt from paying all taxes to the Brazilian Treasury.

As a result, FIFA stands to profit 15 billions reais from the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

FIFA told Brazil it would only allow the country to host the World Cup if it made the football organisation exempt from imported goods taxes (IPI), the contribution to Social Security Financing (Cofins) on imported goods and services, and the Contribution to the Programs for Social Integration and Heritage Formation of the Public Servant ( PIS-Pasep) on imports.

The savings from FIFA not paying tax amount to around 2.5 billion reais. That’s money that would have gone into the government coffers that will now remain in Switzerland, where FIFA has charitable status and pays almost no taxes anyway.

“Brazil stands to win a lot more by the stimulating effect on the economy,” said the Brazilian sports minister Orlando Silva back in 2010. Brazil’s economy has slowed to 0.2 per cent in the run up to the World Cup, an indication that huge sporting events don’t bring quite the stimulus politicians were expecting, although it has made a few people very rich.

If nothing else, Brazilians should be angry that FIFA is paying no tax for the sales it makes on its merchandise. It’s giving nothing back to the country financially. It’s also using an army of unpaid volunteers to make sure the World Cup goes well. Protests against the government are already shutting down entire highways in Belo Horizonte – it will be interesting to see how many protests flare up in the next few weeks.

 

Ocupação Rosa Leão in front of Niemeyer’s City Admin building as Favela residents are forced from their homes

Favela residents protest outside Oscar Neimeyer Cidade Administrativa building

Residents of a favela in northern Belo Horizonte built a barricade of burning tyres across one of the main motorways out of Belo Horizonte yesterday to protest the forced removal of 8,000 families from their homes.

The burning tyres shut off the road throughout the evening outside the iconic Oscar Niemeyer-designed Cidade Administrativa building, the offices of the government of Minas Gerais.

Considering the motorway is the only route from the airport to Belo Horizonte’s downtown, it raises implications for tourists arriving for the World Cup if they do the same thing.

Protesters forced removal from favale Oscar Neimeyer Cidade Administrativa

The protest was part of Ocupação Rosa Leão, the name given to the fight against the forced removal of residents from their homes in the Zilah Sposito neighbourhood in Belo Horizonte. 

Residents of favelas are generally tolerated until the land becomes valuable as urban sprawl spreads to the outskirts of the city. The 2014 World Cup and Brazil’s economic boom since 2008 have raised property values into the stratosphere, and all those favelas sit on now-prime valleysides with beautiful views over the city.

When Belo Horizonte was built 115 years ago it was its central neighbourhoods that were prime real estate, as delineated by Avenida Conturno, which formed a barrier around the city. Only government workers could buy properties in the centre of the city, which is why the most-fashionable area of BH is still the “Funcionarios” neighbourhood, literally, “Government workers”.

Map of Belo Horizonte when it  was originally built

The residents of Zilah Sposito say the ground they built their homes has never been used by the city. As favelas grow they become mini-cities, complete with eletrical and water systems, roads, bus routes and all of them have little bars and supermarkets. 

Ultimately, however, the land is the property of the government, and the favelas are considered illegal settlements. 

“DROP THIS BACKWARDS BRAZIL” – Brazilian fashion designer ignites controversy with anti-bureaucracy rant to “Abaixo este brasil atrasado”

The catwalk yesterday. (Also, one of the beautiful faces in this image is top transexual model Lea T).
The catwalk yesterday. (Also, one of the beautiful faces in this image is top transexual model Lea T).

“Abaixo este brasil atrasado.”

The final catwalk-run by Brazilian designer Time Ellus (“Team Ellus”) featured a t-shirt slogan calling for the Brazilian government to catch up with the rest of the world by removing the inefficiency, corruption and lack of productivity that makes its traffic, airports, hospitals, schools and by definition its economy, so sluggish and slow.

Although it sounds like a call for a better society, the mission statement issued by the designer afterwards focused more on the fashion world and its problem with homegrown Brazilian designers being forced out of the market by cheap foreign imports “from poor countries”.

The slogan was never really about improving the situation for Brazil’s poor, who make minimum salaries of US$300 a month (in a country where an iPhone sells for US$1,250) and suffer terrible public schooling, transport and health systems, but about the fashion world getting better business breaks and tax-cuts.

Is there a problem with a rich, white Brazilian designer jumping on the “corruption/bureaucracy/failing public education and health sector bandwagon to promote her own personal commercial interests? A fashion designer who almost certainly went to a private school for her education, a private hospital when she was sick and travels the world in luxury, attending the most fabulous parties in the gentrified air of some of Rio de Janeiro’s best hotels?

A better writer than me has summed up the hypocritical issue of rich Brazilians complaining about Brazil’s social problems they themselves are financially and ideologically-intertwined within, so I won’t try.

Instead, here’s the statement “Team Ellus” released following the catwalk run for you to decide by yourself (Portuguese below):

OUTBURST.

Brazil is clogged, congested in everything. The transit system, airports, hospitals, roads, energy, schools, communications, bureaucracy (corruption), all don’t work… Even the water system’s blocked!
It’s difficult for everyone! Nothing flows! Everything is so difficult! All this trouble costs us.  Brazil = inefficiency, lack of productivity. That means we stay isolated from the rest of the world, making us fall behind in relation to the rest of the modern world.
It’s clear that those most responsible are the old-fashioned, pencil-pushing, quasi-medieval politicians and governors, with their backward ideas of protectionism just creating more and more atrophy (in the business market). 
Within the fashion industry, exporting our designs is too difficult with all of these issues, and, because we don’t have the right conditions to be able to compete, it creates an opportunity for clothes and accessories to just be imported from poor countries.
We need to cut red-tape and simplify the system to motivate, advance, open and internationalise ourselves, because if not, everytime we fall back we get more and more isolated in the glaciers of the South Pole.
What kind of Brazil is this where businesses and public fortunes are just destroyed?!?! 
DROP THIS BACKWARDS BRAZIL!
– Team Ellus
And the original Portuguese:
DESABAFOO Brasil está entupido, um congestionamento em tudo. Não anda no trânsito, nos aeroportos, nos hospitais, nas estradas, na energia, nas escolas, na comunicação, na burocracia (corrupção)… Até a água está entupida!Dificuldade para tudo! As coisas não fluem! Tudo é tão difícil! Tudo isso gerando esse custo. Brasil = ineficiência, improdutividade. Isso faz com que fiquemos isolados do mundo, acarretando esse atraso todo em relação ao mundo moderno.É claro que os maiores responsáveis são os políticos e os governos antiquados, cartoriais, quase medievais, que com suas ideias atrasadas de protecionismo acabam por gerar atrofia.

Até para indústria da moda, exportar o nosso design fica difícil com todo esse custo, abrindo espaço maior para as importações de roupas e acessórios provenientes de países pobres, porque nós não temos condições de competir.

Precisamos desburocratizar, simplificar para motivar, avançar, abrir, internacionalizar, se não, cada vez mais, ficaremos isolados nas geleiras do Polo Sul.

Que Brasil é esse em que até as empresas e patrimônios públicos acabam destruídos?!?!

ABAIXO ESSE BRASIL ATRASADO!

Time Ellus

Five things about Brazil tourists should know before visiting for the 2014 World Cup

Five not-so-well-known facts about Brazil every tourist visiting the country for the 2014 World Cup needs to know.

1) Napkin rollies: You’re going to eat in a restaurant or bar, you’re going to reach for a napkin from a little dispenser and you’re going to grab a piece of wax-paper.

Napkins in Brazil feel as if they’ve been coated in some kind of non-stick formula to stop any liquid adhering to them. They absorb nothing, they’re crunchy, and you need twenty to clean up the tiniest blob of grease, so good luck with that cheesy dribble of pizza hanging off your chin. You may as well use your hands.

So what are these napkins good for? Well, making spliffs, actually:

For educational purposes only.
For educational purposes only.

2) TP Backlog: I need to talk toilets. Brazil has a terrible plumbing system, and toilet-paper is not allowed to go down the drain. Next to almost every toilet in Brazil is a little plastic bin for your used toilet paper.

Note there is no toilet seat and a waste-paper bin for used toilet-paper
Note there is no toilet seat. This is fairly common.

The cumulative effect of hundreds of thousands of visiting World Cup tourists throwing their toilet-paper down the drains could result in raw sewage pouring out onto Rio’s beautiful tiled streets.

Don’t do it.

3) Income disparity: On a more serious note, tourists should be aware that Brazil’s minimum wage is around 700 reais a month.

That’s about £185, or $314 in the US. A month.

In a country where a McDonald’s Happy Meal costs 20 reais and Brazil’s cheapest car costs 35,000 reais (£9,400 or US$16,000), that’s not very much.

Sexy, though, isn't it?
Sexy, though, isn’t it?

The price for a Fiat Palio Fire includes rear-seatbelts, AC and electric-windows. Wow. That’s the “buy-now” price, too. You’ll pay 50,000 reais if you want to pay installments.

So here’s the reality: street-sweepers, cleaners, McDonald’s workers, sales-assistants, porters, bus-drivers and even police-officers in Rio are making just 700 to 1000 reais a month.

That’s especially hard to imagine when you consider a couple of World Cup tourists could easily blow 300 reais on lunch and a few glasses of wine in a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.

A visit to a night-club might cost 300 reais each for entry and a few cocktails (See “Fifteen things foreigners should know about Brazilian night-clubs“). A night out can cost thousands of reais if you order table-service and a couple of bottles of Absolut.

And remember, 700 reais is the official minimum wage. Consider the street-sellers, the Giras (trash-collectors) and the homeless, scraping by on a few reais a day, surrounded by wealthy tourists and locals thinking nothing of spending 10 reais on a Coca-cola.

It’s important visiting tourists keep in mind the huge disparity between the rich and poor in Brazil. It leaks into everything; crime, education, health, transport, housing, entertainment, safety and culture.

4) Gridlock: What time should you leave your hotel to attend your World Cup game? An hour before kick-off? A few hours?

How about the day before?

Traffic in Brazil’s big cities is monstrous, and it’s only going to get worse for the World Cup. Dilapidated and neglected roads can’t take the amount of cars and trucks packed into them, in what is a modernising, industrialised country. Despite the ridiculous price-tag of the Fiat Palio Fire, it is a best-seller. And remember, Brazil has its fair share of incredibly wealthy people driving SUVs and sports-cars, too.

Bring a book...
Bring a book…

Driving is a source of independence and pride for modern Brazilians, even if you do just end up rolling off the forecourt and into two hours of gridlocked traffic.

If you can, tourists should just walk to the game. You’ll get there so much faster.

5) Fala ingles? Outside of the metropolitan tourist cities of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Salvador you’ll struggle to find many Brazilians that can speak a whole lot of English.

Sunset in deepest Minas Gerais
A little bar in the Brazilian sticks

If you’re visiting Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Cuiaba or any of the other host cities, you’ll need to brush up on your Portuguese, as even in some of the big hotels the management don’t really prioritise teaching their staff English. It’s a case of time, money and the jeitinho brasiliero (“Brazilian Way”).

In any case Brazilians are very friendly people, and they’ll try their best to help you, even if the conversation consists almost entirely of Beatles’ song lyrics.

I’ll be writing five more things you need to know about Brazil, talking about winter, power and protests , very soon. Please comment or like if you want to hear more!