An image of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil with the phrase “hysteria damages the economy” was projected on a building in São Paulo last month to protest his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Miguel Schincariol/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

We live in a time of more questions than answers. Beware anyone who thinks otherwise, especially presidents.

The New York Times
Apr. 14, 2020

by Vanessa Barbara
Contributing Opinion Op-ed Writer

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — My first symptoms started on a Monday morning, March 23. I was just getting over a random disease that my daughter had brought home from nursery school — we’re still not sure what — when I had a sudden fever. My husband was the culprit, we decided; my daughter and I had already been isolated at home sick with something else for 10 days. He, on the other hand, was still attending a few work meetings and leaving our house to buy groceries.

On that first day, I had a low fever and a strong headache. I also lost my sense of smell and developed nausea and ear pain. I called an ear, nose and throat doctor and reported my symptoms; she asked to examine me at the hospital. On Tuesday, I went to see her — she looked like an astronaut, in all her protective gear — and she promptly ruled out a bacterial infection. She prescribed a fever reducer and a medication to loosen the mucus. Then she put me on home quarantine — again — this time, for a suspected case of Covid-19.

In Brazil, until very recently, only the most severe cases were being tested for the new coronavirus. So I spent the next week in a haze: Was it Covid or not Covid? Would I infect my 21-month-old daughter? How could I take care of her in such a dire state? Would I soon require hospitalization? I was already feeling depleted from the intense mothering of the past couple of days without nursery school; suddenly I had to keep doing exactly the same thing, but with a fever. I wondered about the recovery rates for exhausted moms.

At the same time that I was facing this unprecedented uncertainty and fear, my president seemed absolutely certain — about everything.

For weeks now, President Jair Bolsonaro has been downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis; he dismissed the outbreak as a “fantasy,” called measures to fight it “hysteria” and called the illness a “measly cold.” He spreads dangerous misinformation — about an unproven cure, for example — and publicly ridicules quarantine measures. He ignores statistics, scientific evidence and specialists’ recommendations, as if he alone is endowed with a mysterious source of wisdom. He acts with the assuredness of fools. When in mid-March, Brazilian governors and mayors started to enforce lockdown measures, Mr. Bolsonaro accused them of falling into a state of panic. “Our lives have to continue,” he said, urging everyone to roll back restrictions. Later, he conceded a little ground, saying that “we will all die one day.” Because that is the sort of statesman he is.

Luckily, most of us haven’t listened to the president. In fact, few are still listening to him. My city, São Paulo, has been the place hardest hit by the outbreak in Brazil, and that’s enough to keep us on our toes — there’s no time to pay attention to delirious statements like Mr. Bolsonaro’s call for a national day of fasting and prayer to “free Brazil from this evil.” He is becoming more isolated by the day — figuratively, I mean: The approval ratings of his minister of health and various state governors are on the rise, while his own have plummeted.

Back in the realm of reality, the weekend came and my fever subsided, but I still had a persistent headache. I knew by then that the second week of the disease cycle was the truly critical one, when patients either improve or get sicker. I tried not to have a panic attack, since if I did, I wouldn’t know how to know whether it was the disease causing shortness of breath or my intense anxiety. At this point, the country had registered 4,309 confirmed cases and 139 deaths — 98 of them in the state of São Paulo.

On Tuesday, the 31st, I managed to schedule a visit with a health care provider to test me for the coronavirus. (I had to pay $73 for it.) It was the RRT-PCR test, which stands for real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction; the test detects bits of viral genetic material present in respiratory secretions. The results would not be ready for a couple of days. By then, my headache had lessened to something more tolerable, and I could once again smell the sweet scent of my daughter’s full diaper. I recovered my appetite (not while in proximity to her diaper, though). We resumed our mother-and-daughter sessions of crazy tap dancing on the balcony. I felt a vague sense of victory. By Friday, April 3, Brazil had 9,216 confirmed cases and 365 deaths.

Then on Saturday, the 4th, my test results came back negative. And the uncertainty came flooding back: Had it been the flu all this time? Or a false negative, perhaps? (A Chinese study has suggested that the false-negative rate of PCR tests may be around 30 percent.) A positive result would have been at least something concrete to deal with, a rare certainty amid all this coronavirus-fueled anxiety. As the days pass, I’m left wondering when or if we will get serological tests — which detect the presence of antibodies for a specific disease — to settle the question. I was back where I’d started, only more exhausted this time and with a (slightly improved) headache.

Besides the terrible loss of thousands of lives, the coronavirus has hit us with a wave of uncertainty. We worry for ourselves and for our parents. We wonder what will happen next, when the curve will start to flatten, how long this is going to last. Mass testing of the population still seems the surest and fastest way to stop the virus, but when my turn came, I learned that even this is riddled with ambiguities. But perhaps at this time, only fools have certainty about anything.


Vanessa Barbara is the editor of the literary website A Hortaliça, the author of two novels and two nonfiction books in Portuguese, and a contributing opinion writer. 

Miguel Schincariol/Getty Images. An image of President Jair Bolsonaro wearing a face mask projected onto a building’s wall during a Panelaço balcony protest, São Paulo, Brazil, March 19, 2020

This running series of brief dispatches by New York Review writers will document the coronavirus outbreak with regular updates from around the world.

—The Editors

The New York Review of Books (Daily)
by Vanessa Barbara
March 20, 2020

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—Over the last week, a powerful virus has been circulating among the toddlers in my daughter’s public nursery school. She spent two nights with a high fever and many others with a persistent cough that caused occasional vomiting. (She’s twenty months old.) But this happened a few days before the coronavirus started to spread locally in Brazil, so her pediatrician guessed it was common flu or something similar. Besides, many schools here are registering a number of H1N1 and Influenza B cases, which are also possibilities. I was eventually infected, too. We didn’t take any tests.

At that point, the country had registered two hundred confirmed cases of coronavirus and almost two thousand cases under suspicion. There was no countrywide confinement. 

On Monday, when my husband went by the nursery school to deliver a sick note, the teacher casually mentioned that there were three confirmed coronavirus cases there. He immediately went home and broke the news. I was alarmed. My daughter apparently found the word funny and she couldn’t stop repeating it: “Co-ona-visss! Co-ona-visss!” while running in circles in the living room. (She was feeling a lot better.) 

To be completely sure, I called the school. They said those were only suspicious cases. We stayed home, as we’ve been doing for a while now. My husband went to work, wondering when he would be allowed to do his job remotely. (He’s a tax inspector for the city hall.) 

In Brazil, denial and confusion are the current official strategies to deal with the pandemic. President Jair Bolsonaro has been downplaying the crisis for weeks; he had called concern over the virus “oversized” and said that “other flus kill more than this.” On March 15, the president joined a pro-government street rally in Brasília, ignoring medical recommendations of social distancing. He shook hands and took selfies with supporters. More than fifteen members of his recent delegation to Florida have now tested positive for the virus. 

On Tuesday, against all better judgement, a few of my friends gathered to play volleyball as if nothing was happening. Meanwhile, health officials reported Brazil’s first death from Covid-19. By then, the country already had three hundred confirmed cases. But we know these statistics are unreliable: almost no one is being tested for anything, after all. 

On Wednesday, my friends decided to play volleyball again. Seriously. The death toll rose to four people, all of them from São Paulo. The mayor ordered the shutdown of all commercial establishments—including volleyball courts—with some exceptions such as supermarkets and drugstores. My husband was finally allowed to work from home. I had a low fever. My daughter seems to be recovering well. 

On Thursday, I received the news that my daughter’s best friend, from the nursery school, is also on the path to full recovery—we only don’t know exactly from what. In Brazil, against the recommendations of the World Health Organization, only patients with severe symptoms of coronavirus are being tested. Streets are finally starting to empty out a bit. Death toll: seven

It seems that the denial phase is almost over. Now we can concentrate on isolating ourselves with confusion as company.

Cronista de varandas

Posted: 18th março 2020 by Vanessa Barbara in Crônicas
Tags: ,

Itaú Cultural
Brechas Urbanas, mar. 2020

por Vanessa Barbara

Eram 4 da manhã de uma sexta-feira, mais ou menos um ano atrás. Eu estava (invariavelmente) ninando o bebê na varanda do meu apartamento, no 14o andar, tentando não colapsar de sono e de tédio. Então vejo um motociclista passar velozmente pela rua de cima. Ele dá meia-volta, atravessa a pista e estaciona diante de uma escadaria. Olha para trás. Sai da moto, tira o capacete. Certamente vai cometer um ilícito. O homem parece analisar o jardim. Olha para os lados e pula uma mureta baixa. Colhe uma rosa branca. Depois parece refletir melhor, colhe mais outra e uma terceira (depois de escolher muito bem). Amarra em um buquê, bota o capacete de volta e sobe na moto. “Alô, polícia?”, pensei em anunciar. “Temos aqui um meliante agindo de forma premeditada com a flagrante intenção de roubar um coração. Não demorem. E tragam reforços.”

Ninguém precisa de televisão quando se tem uma varanda – ou, vá lá, uma janela com vista para a rua. Por aqui vejo de tudo: briga de bêbado, procissão, filmagem de comercial, ladrão no telhado, carro na contramão, bloquinho de Carnaval. Quando venta muito, a gente vê baldes voando. Quando chove, é a inundação descendo a ladeira. De vez em quando falta luz no bairro e é bonito divisar uma fronteira entre ruas iluminadas e ruas escuras, enquanto o farol dos carros abre um clarão no asfalto adiante.

Outro dia caiu um balão enorme numa casa da rua de cima; vieram uns malucos gritando numas motos, pularam o portão, deram uma apagada parcial no fogo do telhado e fugiram correndo. Depois de um tempo apareceram os bombeiros e duas viaturas de resgate para apagar o resto do fogo. Tudo isso aconteceu em questão de 15 minutos. Pelo que pude apurar, os moradores estavam na sala assistindo à televisão. Um deles continuou sentado no sofá enquanto o outro atendia os bombeiros.

Confesso: tenho um binóculo Celestron 15 x 70, que serve para enxergar as luas de Júpiter, a inclinação dos anéis de Saturno, algumas nebulosas e a Estação Espacial Internacional. Serve também para entender o que aqueles homens estão fazendo no meio da rua às 3 da manhã (recapeamento), de que companhia aérea é este avião enorme no céu (Qatar Airways) e, por fim, se o vizinho da frente está mesmo limpando o sangue de uma faca e de um serrote depois de esquartejar a esposa inválida (não, isso foi com o James Stewart e eu preciso parar de ver esse tipo de filme).

Não que eu passe a madrugada de binóculo em punho vigiando a rua – isso só quando tem chuva de meteoros e fica nublado de repente. Aí não sobra muito o que fazer. Às vezes estou casualmente estendendo roupas no varal e vejo alguma coisa interessante; a questão é que eu costumo estender roupas lá pelas 2 da manhã, quando qualquer coisa que acontece é interessante. E lá vou eu acompanhar a caminhada solitária de um homem que demora dez minutos para percorrer a rua, parando para amarrar os sapatos e soltar um espirro agudo que quebra o silêncio denso do orvalho. Ou um casal que espera o ônibus noturno para a Cachoeirinha. Ou um bêbado que recita a altos brados versículos aleatórios da Bíblia.

Também não precisa de telefone aquele que tem uma boa varanda. Até pouco tempo atrás, da minha sacada era possível enxergar (de binóculo) a feirinha de orgânicos da rua de trás. Assim dava para conferir se haviam chegado meus adorados pimentões, pepinos e morangos. O problema é que às vezes eu espiava com displicência e descia correndo para arrematar meia dúzia de tomates, só para chegar ao local e descobrir que eram maçãs. Para piorar, as verduras ficavam guardadas numa área mais fresca, dentro da loja, o que dificultava enormemente a minha apuração a distância. Sugeri – a sério – que o funcionário afixasse um cartaz na parede com os dizeres: “Vanessa, chegou a alface”, e fui recebida com ceticismo.

Mas nem tudo é contemplação passiva nesse ofício de sentinela de varandas. Já tentei travar contato com os vizinhos do prédio da frente que ostentavam uma portentosa árvore de Natal de 2 metros de altura, mas eles fingiram que não me viram. (Minha filha gritava: “Batussínu!”, o que na língua dela quer dizer “Bate o sino”, e gesticulava com os braços. Ambas fomos ignoradas.)

Há pouco decidi travar uma competição com outro vizinho da frente: estamos vendo quem será o último bastião de resistência dos piscas-piscas de Natal. Nunca tinha parado para pensar que não existe polícia estética que obrigue os cidadãos a observar os feriados corretos em seus adornos domésticos; não há multa para os que deixam abóboras de Halloween como enfeites de porta bem depois de outubro ou para os que usam um capacho temático de Páscoa no ano inteiro. Esse descaso das autoridades tem consequências preocupantes: já estamos em março e nenhuma das duas varandas dá sinal de desistir dos enfeites cintilantes.

Coitados dos vizinhos; não imaginam com quem estão lidando. Mal sabem eles que nossas bandeirinhas de festa junina foram até dezembro, chegando a coexistir com os piscas-piscas.

“Alô, polícia? Temos aqui uma cronista de varandas atuando sem licença e espalhando o anarquismo decorativo pela vizinhança. Tragam reforços. Ela está armada de advérbios e não irá hesitar em usá-los.”

Protesters against police violence in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Last year, police killings in the state reached a 20-year high. Credit: Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press

Security forces have always been unaccountable for their actions in the favelas. But under Bolsonaro, things have gotten even worse.

The New York Times
Mar. 16, 2020

by Vanessa Barbara
Contributing Opinion Op-ed Writer

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — It was around 5 a.m. on an average Tuesday. I was sitting on the sofa eating toast when I received a Facebook notification saying that a police raid had just begun. “Please don’t leave your homes,” I read. “If you are outside, take shelter!”

Classes were canceled that morning. Armored tanks rolled through the streets, shooting seemingly at random. By 8 a.m., according to reports, police officers broke into homes and tortured residents. Others headed to the roofs to set up sniper hideouts. The operation lasted all day. It was entirely typical.

Of course it didn’t happen where I live — a middle-class neighborhood in São Paulo, where such acts of state terror would be nearly inconceivable. No, the operation took place last month in Complexo da Maré, a complex of 16 favela communities in Rio de Janeiro where approximately 140,000 people live.

I recently started following the Facebook page “Maré Vive” (Maré Lives) months ago, in a vague effort to grasp what it would feel like living in a Rio favela. To keep residents safe, the page shares information and live updates on police raids in the community. Almost every morning, around 5 a.m., I receive their daily forecast. Will everything be calm in the favela today? Or are the tanks already rolling in? It’s almost like a weather forecast — if only you could trade raincoats for bulletproof vests.

And yet I can shut down the computer and forget all about it right away, if I want to. Residents can’t. In 2019, according to a report by the nonprofit group Redes da Maré, there were 39 police operations in the complex — one every 9.4 days — that lasted almost 300 hours and left 34 people dead. (None of them were white.) Twenty-four school days have been lost. (School is canceled when there’s a police raid.)

The raids are part of a disastrous policy to combat drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro. The state’s security forces have always been violent and unaccountable for their actions in the favelas, but things have gotten even worse under the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his ally, Rio de Janeiro’s governor Wilson Witzel.

Mr. Witzel has promised to “slaughter” criminals in the communities, saying that military police should “aim at their little heads.” This is at the core of his public security policy, which consists of tough-on-crime rhetoric, giving carte blanche to the police and nothing else. Last year, he claimed he should have the right to send a missile into a favela in order to “blow up these people.” He encourages incessant and deadly police invasions into poor communities in pursuit of drug gangs, failing to recognize that most of the residents are law-abiding, working citizens.

As a result, police killings in the state of Rio de Janeiro reached a 20-year high last year, with 1,810 people murdered by security forces — almost five deaths per day. (Twenty-two police officers were killed in the same period.) Police forces are now responsible for 43 percent of all the violent deaths in the state, an astonishingly high number even by Brazilian standards.

While the authorities claim that most of the victims are gang members who engaged in confrontations with the police, many cases show signs of being extrajudicial killings. Other times, victims are innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire: Six children died last year during police raids in Rio de Janeiro’s poorest communities. (Most of these murders are still unsolved.) Other victims were wrongfully targeted; if you are black and live in a favela, anything can be mistaken for a gun. People have been killed for carrying an umbrella, an hydraulic jack, a cellphone, a backpack. Four years ago, a 16-year-old boy was killed when his bag of popcorn was mistaken for drugs.

In the poorest neighborhoods, random episodes of violence, torture, humiliation and verbal aggression by the police are so common that we have a word in Portuguese for them: “esculacho.” The slang refers to the degrading treatment of black poor citizens by police officers. Kicking down a door and waking up everyone inside the house, putting rifles to their heads and accusing them of using drugs? Pretty typical esculacho. “Our society has constructed the idea that the favela is inferior, that the people who live there are worth less,” the journalist and activist Raull Santiago said in an interview with The Guardian. He is the co-founder of “Papo Reto” (Straight Talk), a group similar to “Maré Vive,” which monitors police abuses in the Complexo do Alemão favela, also in north Rio de Janeiro.

Last year, Mr. Santiago recorded and broadcast several scenes of the police in armored helicopters opening fire at his neighborhood from above. Firing from helicopters has intensified in the last couple of years — so much so that a school in Complexo da Maré installed a big yellow sign on the rooftop that read, in capital letters: “SCHOOL, DON’T SHOOT.”

At least two people died and two were wounded in the “typical” raid in Complexo da Maré I mentioned earlier, which took place on Feb. 18. The authorities found one rifle and two radio transmitters.

It’s obvious that these random, brutal police raids are not effective at combating organized crime or drug trafficking. They do certainly serve to undermine any trust that residents may have in the police, which should be protecting them, and in the government, which should at least acknowledge them as citizens.

I don’t know what it would take for the authorities to understand that people who live in favelas are just as deserving as anyone else when it comes to eating their toast in peace and, well, staying alive. But I have a suggestion. Let’s install a sign on every rooftop and every street: “HUMAN BEINGS, DON’T SHOOT.”


Vanessa Barbara is the editor of the literary website A Hortaliça, the author of two novels and two nonfiction books in Portuguese, and a contributing opinion writer. 

A version of this article appears in print on March 22, 2020, Section SR, Page 3 of the New York edition with the headline: Brazilian Police Are on a Rampage. 

Nenê Gigante

Itaú Cultural
Brechas Urbanas, fev. 2020

por Vanessa Barbara

Há anos circula pela internet o vídeo “Caminhando com Tim Tim”, que resume bem o que é andar pelas ruas da cidade na companhia de uma criança pequena.

A artista Genifer Gerhardt descreve a venturosa jornada de Valentim, de 1 ano e 4 meses, até a “casa da vovó”, que fica a duas quadras de distância. O menino dispara na frente, estanca, volta, examina pedrinhas, sai correndo de novo. Ele anda de forma cambaleante, tem um penteado arrojado e veste sandálias vermelhas e azuis. Genifer, que é mãe, “palhaça, bonequeira e poeta”, descreve os quatro encontros do garoto nesse curto percurso: ele cumprimenta seu João, morador de rua e flanelinha; seu Jorge, o guardador de carros do restaurante da esquina; o “homem do mercadinho” e seu gato; e os três senhores do almoxarifado do hospital.

Com Valentim ela aprende que “chegar não é mais valioso que a andança, e que o encontro é precioso e necessário”. O menino exibe as sandálias para um dos amigos, faz carinho no gato de outro, dá a mão para atravessar a rua. Não tem pressa. Às vezes parece se perder observando uma pedra.

Penso sempre nesse vídeo quando passeio com minha filha de 1 ano e 7 meses, que atende pelo codinome de Batatinha. Ela frequenta uma creche que fica a 400 metros de casa. O horário de saída é às 6 horas. Porém, quando vou buscá-la, é comum chegarmos em casa lá pelas 7, cansadas e falantes, cheias de aventuras para contar.

Batatinha gosta de reparar nos buracos da calçada e pedir que os passantes tomem cuidado com as poças d’água. Gosta de ver os balões azuis da loja de sapatos, os passarinhos que dão voos rasantes, o pandeiro da loja de instrumentos musicais, uma letra “O” gigante em um letreiro de estacionamento. (Ela gosta do “O” porque é uma letra que está sempre espantada.) Empolgadíssima, avisa a todos quando vê um carro vermelho ou o caminhão do lixo.

É comum que ela pare subitamente e fique encarando alguém em específico: outro dia foi um pai com um menino na garupa de uma moto estacionada. Estavam ambos de capacete, o que lhe pareceu bastante intrigante. Ela passou uns bons minutos olhando séria para os dois, sem dizer nada. Nessas horas, eu já nem fico mais constrangida; apenas aguardo, respeitando o tempo misterioso de suas contemplações. Só parou de encará-los quando a moto foi embora. Então retomou o passo.

Batatinha gosta de ir comprar pão na “padaria da Raíssa”, que é a atendente do turno da tarde da padaria da esquina, e às vezes leva uma florzinha para ajudar a pagar a conta. Ela gosta de procurar a “lua magrinha” (minguante) no céu e fica feliz quando consegue avistar uma estrela. Quando os funcionários de uma clínica oftalmológica jogam arroz para os pombos, o percurso ganha uns 15 minutos a mais.

Sair para caminhar com uma criança pequena é uma aula prática de relatividade: o tempo e o espaço se distorcem, e nada é tão objetivo e direto quanto um dia já pareceu. Uma quadra pode ser percorrida em 20 segundos ou 20 minutos; às vezes escurece assim que dobramos a esquina.

Há dias em que saímos de casa apenas para visitar duas extraordinárias atrações do bairro: o “nenê gigante” e o “cabelo maluco”. O primeiro é a foto grande de um bebê de gorrinho no letreiro de uma loja infantil. Ele está abrindo a boca com ar de deslumbramento. Perdi a conta de quantas vezes fui até lá só para apreciar essa surpreendente obra de arte contemporânea; não sei como ainda não me cobraram ingresso. O Nenê Gigante evoca na Batatinha um enlevo estético que nenhum museu seria capaz de replicar. (Acho que é o ar de espanto.)

O Cabelo Maluco se refere ao penteado dos manequins de uma loja de roupas. Um dia, Batatinha conseguiu testemunhar o momento em que uma das vendedoras vestiu com um macacão branco o manequim pelado, que ainda por cima estava sem braços. A funcionária deixou que a extasiada visitante tocasse no cabelo maluco, que se enrola para o alto feito um sorvete de casquinha.

Batatinha só falou disso pelo resto da semana.

Manequins sem cabeça também despertam o interesse filosófico da menina, que logo se apressa em checar se a dela continua no lugar. Não se conforma com a negligência dos bonecos, que deixam cair a cabeça pela rua. Outro dia refletiu bastante, apalpou meu pescoço e declarou, aliviada: “A mamãe não perdeu a cabeça”. (Eu não seria tão categórica assim.)

Agora que Batatinha já sabe falar, todas essas aventuras ganham comentários descritivos em tempo real: “O menino espirrou”, “Olha o cabelo azul!”, “Oi, cachorrinho, tudo bem?”, “O moço tá dormindo”, “Acabou o Natal”, “O vento levou o chapéu”, e assim por diante. As peripécias são relembradas e recontadas ao longo de vários dias. As experiências do passeio de ontem são evocadas no passeio de hoje, como se pregássemos dezenas de placas comemorativas em cada ponto de interesse.

No domingo passado nós simplesmente saímos para dar uma volta no quarteirão, sem destino. Foi como uma road trip sem automóvel. Encontramos cachorros, lixeiras sem tampa, o Guigui de bicicleta, um homem soldando uma porta, um sapato esquecido no chão (“Pega, Cinderela!”). Sentamos na escadaria da rua para tomar água. Puxamos conversa com 13 ou 14 passantes.

A cidade da Batatinha tem a medida exata do seu assombro.

Cabelo Maluco
Deforestation in the Amazon (above) has skyrocketed under Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Joao Laet/AFP/Getty Images

Vogue | Up Front
Jan. 2020

by Vanessa Barbara

IT WAS A MONDAY AFTERNOON when day turned into night in the city of São Paulo. I was visiting an expensive nursery school for my 13-month-old daughter, trying to look remotely worthy of such a sophisticated institution. Although it was not supposed to rain that day, the sky suddenly disappeared behind a dense layer of low, heavy clouds. A two-year-old boy stepped out of his classroom, rubbed his eyes, and looked inquisitively at the principal, who said, “No, it isn’t night yet, dear, and your father’s not here to pick you up. Go back inside.”

Later that day, meteorologists struggled to explain the midday darkness. They eventually blamed low-lying clouds from a cold front combined with smoke from the fires in the Amazon rain forest, thousands of miles away. Many people saw this as a sign. While we Brazilians were carrying out our day-to-day activities in oblivion, our rain forest was sending an unequivocal distress signal. How were we going to answer? Was there anything we could do besides posting angry rants on social media?

In August, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported an 84% increase in fires in the country compared with the same period in 2018. More than half of these were in the Amazon region. Thanks to images from NASA and NOAA satellites, one can see the extent of the devastation: dozens of smoldering patches of land clouding the otherwise dark-green landscape. The smoke from the flames had already swept across several Brazilian states, including São Paulo.

These were not natural wildfires—nor caused by weather and other factors, like the recent, devastating blazes in California. They were likely set by cattle ranchers, farmers, and loggers to clear the land for commercial purposes. Their method is well known: First they pull trees by their roots, using tractors equipped with chains. They wait a few months for the dry season, and when the piles of wood have finally dried, they set fire to everything.

It’s been going on for decades. For a while, between 2004 and 2014, a stricter enforcement of environmental laws had effectively curbed the pace of deforestation. But over time, a coalition of landowners, soy producers, and other rural players—the so-called agribusiness caucus—has gained more and more power in Brazilian politics, pushing its economic interests further into the forest. Then came the election of far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro—a notorious anti-environmentalist who sneers at the rights of indigenous people—and all hell broke loose.

Landowners have felt emboldened by the new president’s rhetoric. Some of them even coordinated a recent “fire day” in the northern state of Pará to declare their right to burn land. Worse, several reports have described a gruesome uptick in attacks on indigenous territories since Bolsonaro won the presidency, with several cases of homicide, stoning, and arson. Last January, dozens of men armed with machetes, chainsaws, and firearms entered the protected territory of the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe to claim land for commercial purposes. They marked trees and staked out plots for sale. For months the tribespeople have fought back. Now part of this territory is on fire.

The author with her daughter, Mabel, photographed in the Brazilian city of Juiz de Fora. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Barbara

SO THERE WE WERE in the streets of one of the world’s largest cities as the sky turned dark. Ironically, my husband and I were interested in that upscale nursery school mainly because it is one of only a few in the neighborhood with a large outdoor area, a place where children are not confined to a concrete room depressingly devoid of windows. In a dense city like this, where trees are such a luxury, it can be hard to believe there’s hope for the Amazon.

But I’ve long since learned that being Brazilian is an exercise in helplessness. Protesting in the streets, organizing strikes, or calling the United Nations to beg for international attention—it can all feel beside the point given the Brazilian government’s legendary ability to ignore its own people. Sometimes policies temporarily change—under the heat of media pressure, perhaps—only to worsen exponentially later, when the news cycle has moved on.

The feeling of helplessness is acute for someone like me, a writer and journalist who is constantly taking stock of her country. One of my columns for the New York Times, for instance, praised the United Nations’ special rapporteurs—independent experts who monitor countries on behalf of the international body. I’d learned about them through my work: Whenever I researched a serious Brazilian matter related to, say, the environment, or the rights of the indigenous people, I would find out there had been a stern, accurate statement from a special rapporteur condemning exactly this situation. And the statements were always ignored. “Let’s keep working together on being neglected,” I wrote at the end of my piece. And I meant it.

But helplessness is no way to live, or else why would I have chosen to have a child? There is something endearingly foolish about a couple deciding to bring a new life into this world, I think. And things were not good when I decided to take the leap of faith: President Dilma Rousseff had been recently impeached on controversial charges of manipulating the federal budget. The incumbent government was enjoying an approval rating of 3%—almost lower than the poll’s margin of error. And yet I decided to go for it. I mean, the future had to be brighter, right? Little did I know that I would be nursing my tiny baby when the unimaginable happened: Jair Bolsonaro elected the 38th president of Brazil. The retired military man who praised the country’s history of dictatorship and who disparaged women, blacks, and homosexuals. The same man who vowed to put an end to all activism in Brazil. Indeed things could get worse. At home, watching the returns come in, I cried so much that my daughter stopped nursing to look up at me. She was wearing a rainbow onesie that day.

The grim new reality gave fresh resonance to another leap of faith I’d taken some years before. This was at another moment of powerlessness—personal and professional—and I’d first considered such remedies as studying medicine, opening a turtle sanctuary, or joining one of the remarkable environmental NGOs that work in Brazil. Feeling unsuited for any of it, I settled instead on one of the few true freedoms that we have: the choice of what to eat. I became a vegetarian.

At first I was guided only by ethical reasons: Animals are sentient beings that feel pain and are due certain moral rights. Killing a living creature seemed to me justified only in extreme circumstances; consuming an animal just for your own pleasure, convenience, or out of habit was morally wrong. I felt strongly about this, but I knew it would be difficult—for a number of reasons—to stop eating meat. I hate to cook; there are very few vegetarian restaurants in this city that open for dinner. I’ve had anemia before; I struggle with chronic depression. None of it would be easy, I complained to a vegan friend. (Until then, the only thing we had in common was our commitment to amateur astronomy.)

He just replied, “You are seeing this from the wrong point of view.” When we moan about difficulty, what we really mean is we’re not willing to stand up for fundamental change. Try talking about difficulty to a cow waiting in the line to get a captive bolt in her skull. Try talking about difficulty to indigenous tribes being exterminated to make room for livestock. Would I resign myself to helplessness? How serious was my indignation? I decided to get my act together; I consulted a nutritionist and stopped eating meat on the same day.

THE FACT THAT most Brazilians don’t think, even for a moment, about vegetarianism— that we are one of the world’s most carnivorous countries—spurred me along in my defiance. The case for eating meat is conservative, as conservative as the people who voted for Bolsonaro. They’d argue that meat-eating is natural, normal, and even necessary.

They’d appeal to tradition, evoke images of Christmas turkeys roasting in wealthy suburban homes. According to their worldview, vegetarians are outsiders, along with homosexuals, feminists, atheists, environmentalists, indigenous people, blacks, and immigrants—the same groups that Bolsonaro once swore to eradicate. Such an honor, I thought.

Gradually my choice became more about politics—and about the climate. These facts are fairly well known: Going vegetarian is one of the four biggest environmental contributions a single person can make—along with having one fewer child, living car-free, and avoiding air travel (especially transatlantic flights). The livestock sector is horribly inefficient, representing nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while providing just 18% of calories and a third of the protein consumed around the world. In 2010, the U.N. reported that a significant reduction of the impact from greenhouse gases could be possible only with “a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” And in October 2018, a report in Nature argued that a shift toward plant-based diets was essential to mitigate the effect of greenhouse gases. According to the research, citizens from rich nations such as the United States would need to cut beef consumption by 90%.

And, of course, Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef and the second-largest soy producer. (Around 70% of the world’s soybean ends up as feed for animals—not for direct human consumption.) Livestock production is by far the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. According to a 2004 report from the World Bank, medium- and large-scale cattle ranching accounts for 80% of all converted land in the forest. Which is probably why President Bolsonaro recently declared that environmental issues matter only to “vegans, who eat only vegetables.” He was speaking for the status quo.

In the end, we didn’t choose the upscale school for our daughter—and not only because it was too expensive. I feared she would grow up among rich, entitled children of the same conventional families, and she would lack a diversity of perspective. We decided to hang around a few more months on the waiting list for the public nursery schools, which are unpretentious but have very nice teachers. I supposed she would be more comfortable there, with her rainbow onesie and her feminist toys. (She has a knitted Molotov cocktail, which we often throw at the chauvinist Easter Bunny. She also wears a secondhand onesie that says prince, which my neighbors find outrageous.)

I have to admit I feared the conversations I would have with the other parents in that upscale school. Already I catch myself dodging small talk in order to hide the fact that I’m a vegetarian; I’ve also learned to make excuses to skip barbecues or feijoadas, serving a traditional Brazilian dish made with black beans and pork. I mostly try not to sound judgmental, since I feel that people here can see my dietary choices as a threat to their way of life. After all, everyone knows that a woman should cook, obey her husband, and honor the Lord by diligently consuming His creatures. If I refuse to follow these rules, there must be something wrong with me. Maybe I’m secretly trying to boycott the Brazilian meat industry. Maybe I’m not patriotic. Maybe this will become one of the many subversive acts that call for punishment.

I am equally aware that the efforts of a single person are barely a scratch in the grand scheme of things. A vegetarian mother does not create a greener, compassionate world for her child (and my daughter is eating meat . . . for now. I’ll let her decide for herself when she’s older). I’ve never been the one to make decisions by weighing their consequences, for better or worse, so in a way it doesn’t matter if my vegetarianism has any effect on whether Brazilians continue to raise and kill animals for food. Brazil may indeed become a country with no place for indigenous people, homosexuals, blacks, feminists, environmentalists, and vegetarians. The fires may persist, the smoke continuing to gather. But I will choose not to participate in that grim barbecue.

Women performing “Un violador en tu camino,” or “A Rapist in Your Path,” in a demonstration against gender-based violence in front of the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, last month. Credit: Esteban Felix/Associated Press

Women in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere know: Stopping violence against women starts with politics and power.

The New York Times
Jan. 29, 2020

by Vanessa Barbara
Contributing Opinion Op-ed Writer

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — During the jury selection process for Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial this month, dozens of women gathered outside a Manhattan courthouse to perform a version of the dance/chant known as “Un violador en tu camino,” or “A Rapist in Your Path.” First in Spanish, then in English, they sang: “Patriarchy is our judge that imprisons us at birth/And our punishment is the violence you don’t see.”

This performance, which quickly went viral, was created last year by the feminist collective Lastesis in Valparaíso, Chile, and is based on the work of the Argentine-Brazilian anthropologist Rita Segato. The lyrics describe how the state upholds systematic violations of women’s rights, through institutions such as the judiciary and the police. It’s not just that members of those institutions simply disregard the complaints — looking the other way, doubting the victims — but that they are often the perpetrators themselves. “This oppressive state is a macho rapist,” the chant goes.

“Un violador en tu camino” was first performed in front of a police station by a small group during a protest in Valparaíso on Nov. 20. It was then repeated five days later in the capital, Santiago, by hundreds of activists on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In early December, a group of thousands sang the anthem together outside Santiago’s National Stadium, which was a detention and torture center during Chile’s military dictatorship. (In one verse, the song mentions the “disappearance” of women.)

From there, it has spread all over the world: London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Tokyo, Beirut, Istanbul, Mexico City, Caracas, Lima, Buenos Aires, among other places. In Manhattan, according to The Associated Press, it caused “a commotion so loud that it could be heard in a 15th-floor courtroom.”

Protesters performing “A Rapist in Your Path” outside the Manhattan courthouse where Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial is underway. Credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The choreographed dance begins with a driving drum beat, as the women do a side-to-side movement and stomp out the rhythm with their feet. Many verses speak universally about the violence against women: They mention rape, femicide, impunity for the killers. “And it’s not my fault, not where I was, not how I dressed,” they shout, as if collectively rebuffing the same old forms of victim-blaming.

But the performance also carries strong local elements that might go unnoticed by the broader public. One verse sarcastically quotes the Chilean police anthem word for word: “Sleep calmly, innocent girl/ Without worrying about the bandit,/ Over your dreams smiling and sweet,/ watches your loving police.” The title, “A Rapist in Your Path,” is also an ironic appropriation of an old slogan used by the national police, “a friend in your path.”

The performance also makes references to police abuse in Chile, and by extension in neighboring countries. Part of the choreography includes squatting down, hands behind the head, a common search procedure still performed in many Latin American countries: Police officers and prison wardens often force women — sometimes even children — to squat, naked, in order to do a body cavity search.

The activists wear a black lace blindfold as a symbol of the often invisible ways that women are made vulnerable, but also as a nod to the hundreds of protesters who were partly blinded by the Chilean police in the past three months. (Since the beginning of the demonstrations, Chilean’s National Human Rights Institute has filed 1,080 lawsuits against the state, 770 for allegations of torture and inhumane treatment and 158 for sexual abuse, including four rapes.)

In Latin American countries, women performing the song also wear pañuelos verdes — the green scarves symbolizing the campaign for legal abortion. (The use of green scarves as an abortion-rights emblem derives from the white scarves carried by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, whose children disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship.)

But “Un violador en tu camino” is way more than its Latin American specificities. This is why it has spread so far and so quickly. It speaks about something that is true in too many countries — not only Chile, Argentina or Brazil. “The rapist is you,” the women repeat here and everywhere, either pointing to a courthouse, to the police headquarters or to the presidential palace. They mean that violations against women are not isolated events, not merely connected to interpersonal relations, but rather, essentially political. Activists point a finger at institutions that facilitate gender-based violence by systematically dehumanizing women and promoting ideologies to keep them under control.

For proof that this is really a global political issue, look to Turkey, where the police broke up a performance of the song in Istanbul and confiscated the activists’ megaphone. Six women were arrested for supposedly insulting the president and degrading the institutions of the state. In a separate incident, courts issued arrest warrants for 25 women who protested in Izmir, while nine were detained. “Turkey has become the only country where one has to have immunity to stage this protest,” said a lawmaker, Sera Kadigil, as she and other colleagues staged a version of the protest in the parliament.

It should come as no surprise that female representatives make up only 17 percent of the Turkish parliament and 11.8 percent of the ministerial positions. The country ranks 130th out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2020.

Performing the piece in front of the Supreme Court in Brasília last month. Credit: Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

Here in Brazil, we face similarly depressing statistics. Activists here have added a couple of verses to the lyrics of “Un violador,” saying: “Marielle is present. Her killer is a friend of our president.” These refer to Marielle Franco, a Brazilian City Council member who was assassinated in 2018, and to the fact that President Jair Bolsonaro has ties to both of the suspects in the killing. (The investigation is ongoing.) In Brazil, women occupy 15 percent of the lower house seats and 9 percent of ministerial positions.

“It’s the cops. It’s the judges. It’s the system. It’s the president. The rapist is you.”

According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, the largest gender disparity in the world still lies in the sphere of political empowerment. I dare say that’s where everything else begins. Only 25 percent of the 35,127 global parliamentary seats are taken up by women, a figure that drops to only 21 percent at the ministerial level. In nine of the 153 countries the forum examines, women are not represented at all. Over the past 50 years, 85 countries have had no female head of state.

It is no wonder that women from Chile, where the song was created, are demanding gender parity for a forthcoming constitutional convention. There will be no justice for women as long as we are kept out of the political process. There won’t be any hope of equality. The rapists will continue while most of us stand powerless outside courthouses, police stations and presidential palaces, furiously pointing at them, to no avail.


Vanessa Barbara is the editor of the literary website A Hortaliça, the author of two novels and two nonfiction books in Portuguese, and a contributing opinion writer. 

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 29, 2020, Section A, Page 27 of the New York edition with the headline: A Feminist Performance Goes Global.

“Un violador en tu camino,” Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile. Creditos: Esteban Felix/Associated Press

The New York Times
Jan. 29, 2020

Vanessa Barbara
Traducción Yahoo Noticias

SÃO PAULO, Brasil — Este mes, durante el proceso de selección del jurado para el juicio penal de Harvey Weinstein, decenas de mujeres se reunieron afuera de un tribunal de Manhattan para interpretar una versión del himno feminista conocido como “Un violador en tu camino”. Primero en español y luego en inglés, ellas cantaban: “El patriarcado es un juez que nos juzga por nacer / Y nuestro castigo es la violencia que no ves”.

Esta canción y su coreografía, que pronto se hicieron virales, fueron concebidas el año pasado por el colectivo feminista Lastesis con sede en Valparaíso, Chile, y está basada en el trabajo de la antropóloga argentino-brasileña Rita Segato. La letra describe la forma en que el Estado defiende las transgresiones sistemáticas a los derechos de las mujeres a través de instituciones como el poder judicial y la policía. No es solo que los integrantes de esas instituciones sencillamente ignoren las denuncias —al mirar hacia otro lado y poner en duda los testimonios de las víctimas— sino que a menudo ellos mismos son los perpetradores. “El Estado opresor es un macho violador”, dice la canción.

“Un violador en tu camino” fue interpretada por primera vez frente a un cuartel de la policía por un pequeño grupo durante una manifestación en Valparaíso el 20 de noviembre. Luego, cientos de activistas lo repitieron cinco días después en Santiago, la capital, el Día Internacional de la Eliminación de la Violencia contra la Mujer. A principios de diciembre, un grupo de miles de mujeres reunidas cantó este himno afuera del Estadio Nacional en Santiago, el cual fue un recinto de tortura y reclusión durante la dictadura militar de Chile. En una de las estrofas, la canción hace mención de la “desaparición” de mujeres.

A partir de ahí, se propagó en todo el mundo: Londres, Berlín, París, Madrid, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Nueva Delhi, Tokio, Beirut, Estambul, Ciudad de México, Caracas, Lima, Buenos Aires, entre otros lugares. Según The Associated Press, en Manhattan provocó “un barullo tan sonoro que llegaba a escucharse hasta el piso 15 de un juzgado”.

La coreografía del baile comienza con un ritmo de repiqueteo de tambor, mientras las mujeres hacen un movimiento de lado a lado y zapatean al mismo ritmo. Muchas estrofas hablan acerca de la violencia contra las mujeres a nivel universal: mencionan la violación, el feminicidio, la impunidad para los asesinos. “Y la culpa no era mía, ni dónde estaba ni cómo vestía”, gritaban como si de manera colectiva rechazaran los típicos argumentos que se usan para culpar a las víctimas.

Pero también tiene fuertes elementos locales que quizás no advierta el público en general. Una estrofa reproduce literalmente con sarcasmo el himno de la policía chilena: “Duerme tranquila, niña inocente / sin preocuparte del bandolero, / que por tu sueño dulce y sonriente, / vela tu amante carabinero”. El título “Un violador en tu camino” también es una apropiación irónica de un antiguo lema utilizado por la policía nacional, “un amigo en tu camino”.

La representación también hace referencia al abuso de la policía en Chile y, por extensión, en países vecinos. Una parte de la coreografía incluye agacharse con las manos detrás de la cabeza, un procedimiento común de cateo que aún se realiza en muchos países latinoamericanos: los oficiales de la policía y los carceleros a menudo obligan a las mujeres —a veces incluso a los niños— a agacharse, desnudos, con el fin de realizar un cateo en las cavidades corporales.

Las activistas llevan una venda de encaje negro en los ojos como símbolo de las formas con frecuencia invisibles en que se vulnera a las mujeres, pero también como un guiño a los cientos de personas que la policía chilena ha dejado ciegas parcialmente en los últimos tres meses en medio de las protestas que se están realizando. (Desde el inicio de las manifestaciones, el Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos de Chile ha presentado 1080 demandas contra el Estado, 770 por acusaciones de tortura y trato inhumano, así como 158 por agresión sexual, incluyendo 4 por violación).

En los países latinoamericanos, las mujeres que cantan esta canción también portan pañuelos verdes —que simbolizan la campaña a favor de la legalización del aborto—. (El uso de pañuelos verdes como emblema del derecho al aborto procede de los pañuelos blancos que llevaban las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo cuyos hijos fueron desaparecidos durante la dictadura militar en Argentina).

Pero “Un violador en tu camino” es mucho más que los casos latinoamericanos específicos. Por ello, se ha difundido tan rápido y tan lejos. Habla de algo que es verdad en muchísimos países, no solo en Chile, Argentina o Brasil. “El violador eres tú”, repiten las mujeres aquí y en todas partes, ya sea señalando un juzgado, un cuartel de la policía o el palacio presidencial. Piensan que las agresiones contra las mujeres no son sucesos aislados, vinculados nada más con relaciones interpersonales, sino, más bien, fundamentalmente políticos. Las activistas señalan a las instituciones como las que facilitan la violencia de género al deshumanizar a las mujeres de manera sistemática y promover ideologías que las mantienen sometidas.

Como prueba de que en verdad es un tema político a nivel global, echemos un vistazo a Turquía, donde la policía dispersó una manifestación en Estambul en la que se interpretaba la canción y confiscó el megáfono de las activistas. Arrestaron a seis mujeres por, supuestamente, insultar al presidente y degradar a las instituciones del Estado. En otro incidente aparte, los juzgados emitieron órdenes de arresto en contra de veinticinco mujeres que protestaron en Izmir, mientras que otras nueve fueron detenidas. “Turquía se ha convertido en el único país en donde se debe tener inmunidad para organizar una protesta de este tipo”, dijo la legisladora Sera Kadigil, cuando ella y otras compañeras interpretaron una versión de la canción en el Parlamento.

No debería sorprendernos que las mujeres conformen solo el 17 por ciento de las representantes en el Parlamento turco y el 11,8 por ciento de los cargos ministeriales. En el Informe Global de Brecha de Género 2020 del Foro Económico Mundial, este país se sitúa en el lugar número 130 de 153.

Aquí en Brasil, las estadísticas son igual de deprimentes. Las activistas han añadido algunas estrofas a la letra de “Un violador en tu camino” que dicen: “Aquí está Marielle. Su asesino es amigo del presidente”. Se refieren a Marielle Franco, integrante del ayuntamiento brasileño que fue asesinada en 2018, y al hecho de que el presidente Jair Bolsonaro tiene vínculos con los dos sospechosos del asesinato. (La investigación está en curso). En Brasil, las mujeres ocupan el 15 por ciento de los escaños de la Cámara Baja y el 9 por ciento de los puestos ministeriales.

“Son los pacos, los jueces, el Estado, el presidente. El violador eres tú”.

Según el Informe Global de Brecha de Género 2020, la mayor desigualdad de género en el mundo se sigue encontrando en el ámbito del empoderamiento en materia política. Me atrevo a decir que es donde comienza todo lo demás. Solo el 25 por ciento de los 35.127 escaños en el Parlamento a nivel global están ocupados por mujeres, cifra que desciende a solo un 21 por ciento a nivel ministerial. En 9 de los 153 países que estudia el foro, las mujeres no tienen representación. Durante los últimos 50 años, 85 países no han tenido ninguna jefa de Estado.

No sorprende que las mujeres de Chile, donde se compuso la canción, estén exigiendo igualdad de género para una próxima convención constitucional. No habrá justicia para las mujeres mientras sigamos fuera del proceso político. No habrá ninguna esperanza de equidad. Los violadores seguirán mientras la mayor parte de nosotras nos quedemos impotentes señalándolos con furia y en vano afuera de los juzgados, los cuarteles de la policía y los palacios presidenciales.

O sol e a cidade

Posted: 22nd janeiro 2020 by Vanessa Barbara in Crônicas
Tags: , , ,
(imagem: Anna Carolina Bueno)

Itaú Cultural
Brechas Urbanas, jan. 2020

por Vanessa Barbara

Reza a lenda que existe uma brincadeira popular no Sesc 24 de Maio, no centro de São Paulo (SP), que consiste em se aproximar das beiradas do edifício, espiar para fora e ficar se perguntando: “É pedaço de céu ou pedaço de prédio? É céu ou pedaço de prédio?”. Aparentemente na região há muitas fachadas cegas de edifícios (face externa sem janelas) que podem ser erroneamente confundidas com lacunas de céu, e a graça estaria em tentar adivinhar o que é concreto e o que é troposfera.

É fato que, na cidade grande, se encontram facilmente lojas que vendem bigodes postiços, sorvetes de gorgonzola e roupas blindadas, além de restaurantes búlgaros, dentistas especializados em coelhos e cursos de sumô – mas difícil mesmo é encontrar o horizonte. Para onde quer que se olhe, edificações dos mais diversos formatos e alturas se sobrepõem em uma desordem encardida, fazendo com que os raios de sol tenham de se espremer por frestas e se esquivar de obstáculos variados em sua incansável trajetória pelo céu.

Tomar sol em São Paulo é um trabalho laborioso. Há pouquíssimos parques suficientemente amplos. A maioria de nossas praças parece uma irredutível aldeia gaulesa em meio à invasão do Império Romano: são diminutos baluartes de resistência verde cercados por torres de 20 andares e monumentais shopping centers. Sustentadas pelo furor inabalável do mercado imobiliário, tais obstruções se multiplicam a cada dia e interferem nessa atividade tão nobremente praticada pelos gatos.

Lembro de, anos atrás, tentar tomar sol no parque Buenos Aires com um livro na mão. Tive de mudar de lugar a cada quinze minutos, sempre que o astro rei era bloqueado por um prédio, um poste ou um ponto de ônibus, e terminei a leitura do lado de fora do parque, em cima de uma amurada na calçada da Rua Piauí. Era o último lugar vagamente banhado pelo sol. Pensando bem, é estranho constatar que passei um tempo lendo um livro sentada em plena calçada, enquanto transeuntes se dedicavam a seus afazeres e os carros passavam ruidosamente – aposto que, se deixasse uma caneca vazia ao meu lado, era capaz de alguém jogar uns trocados.

Se os parques e praças são poucos, piscinas públicas há menos ainda. Gosto de “passear” pelo bairro usando o modo satélite do Google Maps só para ver como estamos carentes de parques e piscinas – dá para contar nos dedos os retângulos verdes e azuis, que muitas vezes se encontram dentro de clubes particulares ou condomínios residenciais. Se tivéssemos uma quantidade maior desses espaços, o sol ficaria mais livre para distribuir democraticamente seus raios a todos os cidadãos que os desejassem.

Não somos poucos. São clássicas as imagens de operários sentados no meio-fio, cochilando ou tentando tomar sol em horário de almoço. Há os velhinhos em cadeiras de rodas que saem no fim da tarde em busca de uma dose de quentinho – com ou sem manta de lã nos joelhos –, os bebês recém-nascidos de chapéu colorido, os cachorros com frio, os deprimidos em geral.

Sabe-se que a exposição diminuída ao sol pode levar à deficiência de vitamina D, o que por sua vez aumenta os riscos de osteoporose e doenças cardiovasculares. A falta de sol também pode prejudicar o ritmo circadiano e piorar a depressão sazonal. Não é só um problema de bronzeado, mas de saúde pública. Quando os donos da casa ao lado decidem erguer um sobrado irregular e tapar seu sol – coisa que já aconteceu comigo –, seria preciso reagir como se direitos humanos fundamentais estivessem sendo violados. Caberiam aí uma passeata de trancar as ruas (só que durante o dia, que é para aproveitar o sol) e a instauração imediata de um núcleo jurídico de defesa do direito do cidadão à claridade.

Na época em que eu amamentava, uma das indicações da pediatra e da consultora de aleitamento era tomar sol nos peitos, o que deixaria os bicos mais resistentes a rachaduras e fissuras. Mas como garantir a integridade do nosso instrumento de trabalho em uma cidade como São Paulo? Embora o topless não seja proibido por lei no Brasil, é muito provável que, assim que a mulher ameace tirar a blusa em praça pública, a polícia apareça com três viaturas e uma tropa especial de operações táticas só para detê-la por atentado ao pudor (artigo 233 do Código Penal, que dispõe sobre atos obscenos). Nesse caso, como a cidadã de bem pode garantir o leite das crianças?

Dentro de casa muita gente não consegue obter nem uns poucos minutos de sol. Às vezes de manhã só bate sol na cozinha, acima do fogão, para bronzear a coifa. Ou numa fresta do vitrô do banheiro. Imagino uma mãe recente tendo de segurar o bebê para fora da janela, à la Rei Leão, só para garantir à cria a dose mínima diária de vitamina D. (Nada de aproveitar para fortalecer a pele dos mamilos: ok, já entendemos. Os vizinhos conservadores podem se escandalizar.)

Depois de me mudar de uma casa que foi sufocada pelo puxadinho do vizinho, aluguei um apartamento. Escolhi um prédio específico porque, andando pela rua numa tarde particularmente bonita, vi que o sol vespertino batia nos apartamentos acima do 11º andar. Fiquei bem satisfeita. Mas em questão de meses um novo prédio foi erguido na frente e tapou várias horas de sol nas áreas comuns do meu edifício. Há pouco começaram a construir outro prédio ao lado e passei a temer pela nossa resistência óssea.

Às vezes nem o sol é para todos.


Vanessa Barbara é escritora, jornalista e tradutora. Autora de O Livro Amarelo do Terminal (2008; reportagem), Operação Impensável (2014; romance) e O Louco de Palestra (2014: crônicas), entre outros, já colaborou com os jornais Folha de S.Paulo O Estado de S. Paulo e com a revista piauí. Compõe o time internacional do New York Times. Mantém o site Hortifruti.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil posing for a selfie in November. Despite being surrounded by scandal and corruption, he has been able to suppress dissent. Credit: Adriano Machado/Reuters

The rest of Latin America is on fire. Why is its largest country still so quiet?

The New York Times
Dec. 26, 2019

by Vanessa Barbara
Contributing Opinion Op-ed Writer

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — This year has been marked by widespread social convulsion in Latin America.

Since mid-October, Chileans have been in the streets; what started as demonstrations over a subway fare hike quickly broadened into protests over enormous economic inequality. The right-wing president, Sebastian Piñera, ordered a militarized police force to suppress the protests, causing more than a dozen deaths and the partial blinding of more than 200 people.

In Colombia, students, workers and indigenous people have been demonstrating since late November against rumored pension cutbacks and changes to labor laws. Protesters accused the center-right president, Iván Duque, of failing to address issues like corruption, economic inequality and the murder of human rights activists.

In Ecuador, too, there has been civil unrest over fuel price increases and new austerity measures. Massive protests have also rocked Paraguay, Peru, Haiti, Bolivia and Venezuela.

So where, amid all this, is Brazil?

There is certainly plenty to protest in Latin America’s biggest country. We have a notoriously clueless president who recently claimed that the actor Leonardo DiCaprio contributed to the fires in the Amazon rainforest. Seriously. At first, President Jair Bolsonaro tried to conceal the spike in fires that he himself helped bring about; when that plan failed, the next logical step was blaming nongovernmental organizations and a Hollywood star for the terrible destruction.

Taking office in January, Mr. Bolsonaro’s government set about systematically dismantling all state agencies that enforce environmental protection and indigenous rights, empowering illegal ranchers, loggers and miners. As of October, the Ministry of Agriculture had approved 382 new pesticide products, many of which are banned in Europe and have been deemed highly hazardous. Two months ago, after a mystery oil spill polluted more than 1,000 miles of the country’s most beautiful beaches in northeast Brazil, the government inexplicably implied Greenpeace might have been responsible. (As far as I know, no one has pointed the finger at Brad Pitt, yet.)

Want more? A group of Brazilian lawyers and former ministers are seeking to indict Mr. Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court for encouraging the genocide of indigenous people and for failing to protect the forests they depend on. According to the Indigenous Missionary Council, an advocacy group connected to the Catholic church, there were by September of this year 160 invasions of indigenous reserves by those seeking to exploit their resources. During the whole of 2018, there were 109.

This government has also approved a pension reform that will increase social inequality: Rural workers, women and the poor will be hardest hit. (That’s not just my opinion; the French economist Thomas Piketty, among others, thinks so too.)

There aren’t any silver linings. For a president who ran on the promise of fighting corruption, Mr. Bolsonaro is remarkably surrounded by scandal. One of his sons, Flávio, a federal senator, is being investigated for embezzlement and money laundering. Another, Carlos, a councilor in Rio de Janeiro, has been implicated in improprieties relating to his council office. And Mr. Bolsonaro’s third son, Eduardo, was nearly appointed ambassador to the United States; his only credentials were having flipped burgers as an exchange student in Maine, and having visited Colorado once. “I don’t think it’s nepotism,” said President Trump, who endorsed the nomination. (The idea was later discarded.)

Many members of the cabinet — the ministers of tourism, economy, agriculture, environment, security and health among them — are also reportedly involved in corruption scandals. Mr. Bolsonaro’s own chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, admitted he pocketed slush funds from a company in 2014. The confession never led to an investigation; the justice minister Sérgio Moro explained that Mr. Lorenzoni had already acknowledged his past errors and apologized. (Most importantly, he got a tattoo with a Bible verse on his arm.)

This should all be more than enough to flood the streets with pissed-off citizens, clenched fists in the air, furiously shouting chants that rhyme “police” with “violence.” Right? So why are Brazilian streets so calm?

Perhaps it’s because of the government’s terrified pre-emptive reaction to the wave of protests sweeping Latin America. In late October, the president revealed that the government was monitoring political developments and that the army was prepared to intervene. One month later, Mr. Bolsonaro submitted a bill to expand the so-called “excludente de ilicitude” — an article in Brazil’s criminal code that allows impunity for some illegal acts in special circumstances, including those practiced by law enforcement officers. This would give a legal cover to the military to shoot and kill during protests.

Both the economy minister and the almost-ambassador Eduardo Bolsonaro have suggested that if Brazilians tried to mimic their neighbors, the government would answer with a new “AI-5” — that is, a new version of the decree issued by the military in 1968 that dissolved Congress, suspended many constitutional guarantees and curtailed press freedom, thus institutionalizing censorship and torture.

The message is clear: Whatever happens, Brazilians must stay put.

Maybe the thinking is that our problems will cancel each other out. There’s no need to worry about pensions if we all die early from eating food full of pesticides anyway, right?

It’s certainly a creative way to suppress discontent. But can it last while the rest of the continent is on fire?


Vanessa Barbara is the editor of the literary website A Hortaliça, the author of two novels and two nonfiction books in Portuguese, and a contributing opinion writer.