One of the major issues facing Brazil by now is a major short-term economic decline.Currently, the Real at an unheralded R$4.10 to the dollar. To put that in perspective, when I was living in Brazil in 2006-2008, the Real at its strongest point was R$1.57 to the dollar, in 2007, and even at the beginning of 2015, it was roughly R$2.65/dollar. This has a dramatic impact on commodities markets, threatening the Brazilian economy with contraction. Meanwhile, Dilma Rousseff has opted for an austerity program that all but ensures much of the social spending that helps Brazil’s population (helping Brazilians move upward) will be cut, a remarkable shift for a party that was founded in 1980 as a democratic socialist party and even in the 2000s created spending programs that helped many poor and working-class Brazilians improve their lives.
A new report by the UN argues that the effects of these cumulative events – depressed growth, inflation, rising unemployment, austerity measures – will affect the country’s Afro-Brazilian population particularly disproportionately. The report acknowledges that Brazil has made strides in protecting the rights of minority groups through laws. However, the racial and socioeconomic divisions between the rural and urban poor, who tend to be Afro-descendants, and the wealthy, who tend to be white, continue, and as Brazil’s economy goes through instability, uncertainty, and recession, those at the bottom of that socioeconomic scale are most threatened. The result is that socioeconomic inequalities continue even as laws attempt to juridically address inequality in Brazil, and thus, while there are legal protections for Afro-descendants, the reality remains that “poverty is colored in Brazil,” as the report says.
Of course, progress does not prevent efforts to re-establish structural inequalities for the marginalized, and that is exactly what Brazil’s Congress is trying to do, with the congressional Special Commission of the Family Statute approving the legal definition of a family solely as the union between a man and a woman. In a country with marriage equality but vocal, if growing-but-still-minority, evangelical voices, the effect of the law would be to deny gay and lesbian couples who have children the right to be considered a family for legal purposes. The vote was not even close, passing the Commission 17-5. The law attempts to legislate against the Federal Supreme Court’s recent ruling that gay and lesbian couples have equal marriage rights and protections that heterosexual couples have. The project heads now to a full Chamber of Deputies vote, where it very well could pass, before heading to the Senate. While its future there is less certain, the fact remains that, even in the slow steady push toward progress and with substantial economic and political issues (such as corruption) to contend with, there are members of Congress that are devoting some of their time to rewind and undo the rights gained by people historically marginalized based on their sexuality in an attempt to re-establish that marginalization of rights institutionally and juridically.