We Are All Block Captains [OPINION]

Could the Pandemic Give Way to a “New Normal" for Brazil?

Women organize foods for distribution in Paraisópolis during the pandemic. Photo by Gloria Maria | UOL

Clique aqui para Português

For the original article in Portuguese by Gilson Rodrigues, president of the residents’ association of São Paulo’s largest favela, Paraisópolis, published in UOL click here. This is our latest article on the new coronavirus as it impacts Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

On International Worker’s Day [May 1], I look around and see, through the dark veil of the pandemic, two distinct Brazils. One there ahead, in peaceful quarantine, working from home, supplied with food and distracted by the TV, phones and the Internet, face masks and disinfectant whenever needed. And the other Brazil, the one of 13 million favela residents, without money, without food, even without water to wash their hands, where the pandemic further reveals and accentuates social differences.

Unemployment, already on the rise in recent months, has been accelerated by the circumstances, and informal workers have to risk their lives on a daily basis trying, without any protection against the virus, to support the families they leave at home in their barracos. The residents of favelas living over open-air sewage canals, without basic sanitation, where hunger was already an issue, are now moving towards absolute poverty. Disinfectant and face masks are luxury items, unaffordable for this population.

Once again, the lack of public policies is going to cause many deaths in the favelas. It is necessary to have empathy and look to one another. Rising inequality hurts all Brazilians.

“Growth is impossible if it is not for everyone. We need to create solidarity-based economic models.”

The experience of the Block Captains (Presidentes de Rua) in [São Paulo’s largest favela of] Paraisópolis, with volunteer residents representing and serving each region, has helped us to build—efficiently and generously—a large support network to confront the crisis.

Together, we can confront this pandemic and carry on with our lives. Not as things were before, but perhaps with an even better model. Gradually resuming activities in a more collective and humane way, our “new normal” will feature a more united, productive, and confident country.

May the green on our flag be the green of hope. May our colors be the reason for our strength. May we once again take pride in living in Brazil. For this, we must press our representatives for effective actions for all. We need well-structured public policies that look after the rights of every citizen.

“Today marks five months since the death of nine young people in Paraisópolis. One more date marked by injustice and the neglect of deprived populations. Unity is needed if we want to stop being a country defined by social inequality.”

At a time when the virus is taking away our air, I ask that we join forces to catch our breath. All this is going to pass. If we are aware, we will take a lesson with us: that only through unity will we rise from this tragedy as one Brazil, just, strong, and free.

Support our efforts to provide strategic assistance to Rio’s favelas during the Covid-19 pandemic, including RioOnWatch’s tireless, critical and cutting-edge hyperlocal journalism, online community organizing meetings, and direct support to favelas by clicking here.