The Brazilian Economic Crisis at Ground Level

What passes for dog-bites-man in Brazil in 2016

Last Friday, I called the furniture store because of a busted kitchen cabinet and a couple of drawers that wouldn’t stay in one piece. Turns out, they’ve closed shop. So I called their distributor to get a referral. With that out of the way, I asked a question:

“May I ask you why So-and-so closed his store? Was it the crisis?”

“Yes, I think so. Lots of stores are closing. It’s a shame.”


The other day, I was talking to a publisher about a translation project. He had taken some time to reply to a query, or so he thought, and wanted to explain himself.

“You see, I used to have 24 employees, now I have five, so I have to do a lot of things myself.”

Not to worry, I told him. I’d heard similiar stories from editors from three other publishers, from three different states. And he hadn’t taken that long to reply anyway.


At a taxi stand nearby, the cabbies have hung up a banner that says “We do not condone violence,” by which they mean “We are not the cabbies who beat up that Uber driver,” or perhaps “We are not the cabbies who followed that guy home and shot him,” or maybe “We are not the cabbies who shot that other guy. No, not that guy, the other one.”

But it’s probably the Uber thing.


“Mom, did you hear So-and-so closed his store?”

“He did? I knew he had fired all his employees, and now it was just him and the wife.”

“The wife? Mom, aren’t you thinking about the other So-and-so, the one who made my desk? I’m talking about the So-and-so who sold me the kitchen cabinets.”

“Oh, right. Him, too, huh?”


A popular joke among Brazilians is that “Aluga-se” is the fastest growing chain store in the country. That means “For Rent.”


Two people were killed at a bar a few blocks from my house this week. Over 50 bullets were fired. Apparently, one of the victims was the target, the other was just a bystander, watching the game at the bar because his cable was out. The whole thing was over in three minutes, according to witnesses.

Now take a minute to check the location on Google Maps here.

Notice that it’s across the street from a park dotted with swings and slides and roundabouts. Also, it’s less than 300 feet from Military Police Headquarters . Three minutes would have been enough for every policemen in that building to walk, at a leisurely place, to the scene of the shootout.


A friend of mine who lives in the old neighborhood told me a story. Let me paraphrase her:

Some dude tried to rob the store across the street. When he tried to rape the clerk, too, she screamed, and people came over to help. He ran for a block, but people caught him and started kicking his ass. He kept yelling “I have HIV! I have HIV!,” but who knows if that’s true or if he just wanted to get people away from his blood. Eventually, the cops took him.

The old neighborhood, by the way, is a nice suburb with two-storey houses, good schools, wide streets, electric fences, and bars on every window.


The broken tree is new, the homeless people aren’t. That’s across the street from the cathedral and the governor’s palace.

Two weeks ago, a wet downburst caught the city totally off guard, with hurricane force winds the likes of which no one remembers seeing. Ever. Whole regions were left without water, electricity or internet service for days. But nothing impressed the citizenry quite as much as the trees. They were broken, torn off the ground, smashed. It was as if God had decided to do away with photosynthesis for a minute, then changed his mind halfway.

That has nothing to do with the crisis. What does is that broken branches still piled litter the parks. Sometimes, the sidewalks. Sometimes, the asphalt of the nearest lane. They’re dry now, as brown as can be, and the city doesn’t have the funds, the manpower and/or the skills to collect the debris.

And so the tinder keeps piling up, just waiting for a match, a cigarrette butt, a spark, a kid with a magnifying glass.

It won’t be long now.

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