Why is Corona beer not sold in Brazil?

Brazil's President downplayed the corona virus. But millions of Brazilians who have lost their jobs and barely have enough to eat know: "Hunger is not a fake"

They have been eating rice and beans for weeks. Brazil had once successfully fought hunger.

Dry protective masks made of fabric next to the entrance of the exposed brick house, attached to a clothesline. Several of them have holes. The picture symbolizes how the family from Rio who lives here is getting through the pandemic: They do what they can with what they have. Adilson de Paula, his wife Ana Maria and their 18-year-old son have 600 real per month at their disposal. That is the equivalent of around 100 francs or a good half of a Brazilian minimum wage. At the end of August, state aid for informal workers in the Corona crisis will end. "After that, our fate is in the hands of God," the 57-year-old father repeats several times. He tilts his head upwards as if he hopes to be heard by him.

"The poor share with the poor"

The de Paulas are happy about the corona money from the state. But as Ana Maria says: "It's not enough." For weeks, the Afro-Brazilian family has been eating mainly rice and beans. Fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese or yoghurt are a thing of the past. Because of the virus, Adilson de Paula has lost his temporary job as a security guard. Ana Maria de Paula, who worked as a cleaner, felt the same.

The 59-year-old describes how they have been muddling through since then: their eldest son shares the contents of the grocery basket that he receives once a month from his offspring's school with them. The day before yesterday a friend brought the fried chicken leftovers that her children had not eaten. Nothing is wasted. "The poor share with the poor."

Then she steps into the living room and points to an old sewing machine. She had received scraps of fabric and elastic from a friend to make protective masks, which this lady in turn exchanged for food on the street: "A mask for a kilo of rice." Ana Maria de Paula received fruit or rice for her needlework, and an electricity bill was paid once. Now that you have run out of thread and elastic, it's over.

Obviously, they are more concerned with getting food than fear of contracting the coronavirus. Is she afraid of it? "I'll protect myself," she replies like a shot from a pistol. Now that she is unemployed, she hardly ever leaves her four walls. These are located on the outskirts of Rio; not in a favela, but in a neighborhood of the lower middle class in the north of the city.

The de Paula family is particularly hard hit by the economic consequences of the virus, as they lost all of their income after it broke out. Such cases are of particular concern to the Director of the UN's World Food Program in Brasilia, Daniel Balaban. In an interview, he refers to a study by the World Bank, according to which 5.4 million Brazilians will slide into extreme poverty as a direct result of the pandemic. Ana Maria de Paula's family could be one of them.

Enrichment with ventilators

In view of her need, she received an aid package from Mulheres em Movimentos da Zona Norte (MMZN) this Monday. It contains rice, oil, sugar, and beans, as well as soap and disinfectants. Ana Maria de Paula is happy about it and thanks Tania Mota and Ana Claudia Dias. You founded the organization two years ago to support women from the impoverished periphery with advice, courses and food donations (see addendum).

The friends, both around fifty years old, come from poor backgrounds themselves, but were able to improve their situation: Mota is now the owner of a beauty salon for Afro-Brazilian women, Dias works as a night watchman in the city and rounds off her income as a food courier. They run MMZN alongside their regular jobs. It is a matter close to her heart, you can tell. Mota complains about politics, especially the governor of Rio, who is said to be involved in a corruption scandal over the purchase of ventilators for corona patients. "A mess!"

With the outbreak of the pandemic, MMZN temporarily focused on food distribution and food aid. It organizes itself anew every week: sometimes a supermarket donates goods, sometimes a different organization. Friends, acquaintances or neighbors help with money, food or material donations, but also with logistical support. For example, Mota and Dias picked up the food package that Ana Maria de Paula's family received on the same day from the NGO Acao da Cidadania's warehouse in central Rio.

"Hunger is not a fake"

In the impressive brick hall there are dozens of cardboard boxes on wooden pallets with the inscription “Hunger is not a fake”. The message is a swipe at President Bolsonaro, who plays down the virus and likes to dismiss unpleasant things as fake news. The boxes contain sacks of basic food and hygiene items financed from donations. Water bottles, rice sacks and soaps donated by companies on a large scale are next to it. According to the organizers of the Acao da Cidadania, a load of 40 to 50 tons of goods arrives every fortnight. This is picked up and distributed by smaller aid initiatives such as MMZN. A waiting list determines who's turn and when.

Shortly after ten o'clock in the morning, the first vehicles roll through the gate - including the truck on loan from MMZN. The loading area is opened, Mota and Dias transport the relief goods into the wagon. "Do you want rice too?" Asks a coordinator. "Absolutely," yells Mota through her face mask and nods. They then drive the material to their headquarters in the north of the city. Some parcels are temporarily stored there, others are picked up directly or distributed to the recipients, as was the case with the de Paulas.

Non-governmental aid in the form of food ensures, according to Daniel Balaban from the UN nutrition program, that families “do not die of hunger”. He praises the 600 real emergency aid, from which 65 million Brazilians currently live. In his opinion, however, this has a palliative effect. Balaban quotes the director of the International Monetary Fund, who advocates a guaranteed minimum income in the fight against social inequalities. Long-term government support is needed to prevent poverty from increasing further, he says. "The economic impact of Covid-19 will be enormous."

Brazil has long been considered a prime example of poverty reduction. Due to strong economic growth and extensive social programs, the country was able to reduce extreme poverty by two thirds between 2004 and 2014. According to the UN definition, this affects people who live on less than $ 1 90 a day. A new, lower middle class grew up. At that time Brazilians like Ana Maria and Adilson de Paula belonged to this group.

Adilson de Paula recalls that her life had improved back then. He had stable work and a good wage. At times he earned around five times more money than the family currently has available. The earnings of his wife were added. Brazil fell into a severe economic crisis, unemployment increased, social programs were eroded, and many people fell back into poverty. This tendency is now coming to a head with the pandemic. A whole network around MMZN tries to cushion this.

No more parties

This includes the black activist Sandra Aleixo. The 62-year-old has many years of experience in civil self-organization. She heads a Black Power cultural association and speaks and acts like a leader. She supports the young MMZN initiative in an advisory capacity. Since the coronavirus broke out, she and her sisters have been cooking meals for the homeless with donated ingredients twice a week in the outdoor area of ​​their residential complex. MMZN gave them several packs of the rice they picked up at the Acao da Cidadania. This afternoon it sizzles in a large saucepan next to beans and chicken. 118 meals are being created.

At 7.30 p.m. the food is packed in styrofoam dishes and ready to be picked up. It doesn't take long before a white VW bus with the label “I love the missions” drives up. An evangelical pastor is at the wheel, accompanied by three helpers. They thank God for the meals, invite them and drive to the city center. For logistical reasons, neither Aleixo nor MMZN can carry out the distribution on their own. That's why the Evangelical Church takes over, explains Aleixo, who belongs to the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble. “We team up so that the food arrives wherever hungry is,” she clarifies, pulling down her mouthguard and pulling on a cigarette.

As soon as the bus comes to a stop in a street, numerous homeless people approach in the drizzle. Only a few wear the mandatory protective mask; some are wrapped in blankets, whether the temperature is relatively cool for Rio that evening. The pastor and his helpers step out of the vehicle and say a prayer lasting several minutes. Some homeless people stretch their arms to heaven and pray with them. Others wait indifferently for the food to be served.

A young woman with four little girls - two daughters of their own and two orphans she takes care of - receives several meals. She spoons one into herself on the spot. She says that before the pandemic she sold caipirinhas and beer on the street in Lapa. Since the parties in Rio's nightlife district have come to a standstill, she is now on the street. The 31-year-old is confident that she will soon be able to sell drinks again.

Braiding courses for women

ann. Rio de Janeiro · After a compulsory Corona break of several months, courses in Afro pigtail hairstyles have recently been held twice a week at the MMZN headquarters. Around a dozen women of all ages take part in the two-month training under the supervision of a teacher. With protective masks on their faces, they braid the hair of dolls' heads. Various techniques are taught to them. Participation costs the equivalent of 14 francs. In order to register, each student must also donate three kilos of food, which will then benefit families in need. According to Tania Mota, the aim is to integrate women into the labor market. Once they had learned the trade, they could work independently and flexibly. The participants hope to be able to build a foothold in this way. According to Mota, previous graduates have succeeded in doing this. The training is being carried out for the fifth time.