As Brazil’s death rate soars, activist Renata Carvalho tells Nick Awde about living under an oppressive government during a pandemic
Brazil’s response to coronavirus has been a catastrophe for a country whose right-wing government under president Jair Bolsonaro has stymied and confused efforts to control the devastation wrought by the virus in the world’s ninth largest economy.
“Our government makes fun of the deaths and takes no effective action to fight the virus – in fact it is actively against self-isolation,” says Renata Carvalho, an actor, director and trans activist based in São Paolo and founder of Monart – the National Movement of Trans Artists.
“The state where I live, São Paulo, has followed self-isolation, but less than half of Brazil’s population has done this and they are already thinking about loosening the rules. Meanwhile the numbers of people infected and dying are growing alarmingly overnight. It seems the state and the Brazilian people have no awareness of what is really happening.”
Brazil’s venues all closed after a staggered shutdown in April, as regional and local governments adopted measures at different times. But Carvalho sees this as just a new opportunity for a clampdown on the arts and freedom of speech. Culture in Brazil was under attack long before the coronavirus, with the current government creating a hostile environment that has raised homophobia and transphobia to national level and seen artists like Carvalho targeted with death threats and official encouragement from Bolsonaro to cancel their shows.
“We are in a sinking boat without a life-jacket. Brazilian art is in the red, artists are struggling to meet basic needs for survival, many are without food and money. It’s no surprise that the state has not presented any affirmative action policy to assist the cultural sector.
Artists are struggling to meet basic needs for survival, many are without food and money
“Other institutions and the state governments have also failed to present any concrete action to guarantee the survival of artists in the pandemic, only small actions that help a few artists and do not reach all our artistic classes.”
Plans to restore the arts industry are tied to intense pressure by the big companies on the government to open up trade while ignoring the escalating death rate – and this again comes with presidential public support and encouragement.
With all of the cultural events for 2020 so far cancelled or postponed and coronavirus showing no signs of abating, it is difficult to talk about restoring normality.
“The government has offered no position or strategy on restoring the performing arts and its cultural officials have no answer on how to include culture in the political process,” says Carvalho.
“Brazil is therefore facing the scrapping of culture. Some institutions are making emergency calls that don’t guarantee the artist, designed only to kill hunger with incentives for artists that do not cover their monthly expenses. It’s putting out the fire in one room, but the house is still on fire. We artists are helpless in this pandemic and we’re calling out for help.”
So is a return to how it was before unlikely? “I hope that nothing will be the same as before. We need to change our way of living because our ability to co-exist has failed. We have failed as humanity. Necropolitics is in full swing, we need to rethink ourselves as humans. We can no longer live with this blatant inequality between peoples.
“It’s time to rethink and review ourselves. We need to change the status quo. Basta.”