James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

R&K Insider: Let’s talk about Brazil

This week on Roads & Kingdoms, we’re diving into the upcoming elections in Brazil: Catherine Osborn writes about black women running for office in the wake of a city councilwoman’s murder, and Carol Pires talks about the rise of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro.

This post originally appeared on August 31, 2018, in R&K’s weekly newsletter. Read the archives and subscribe to the newsletter.

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Bom dia readers,

It’s Danielle here, taking over the newsletter to talk about a country that is near and dear to my coração: Brazil.

When I was 26, I quit my job in New York and moved to Rio de Janeiro.

I wanted to learn Portuguese (I decided my Portuñol would no longer do), live near the beach, eat pão de queijo, and maybe learn to samba while I was at it.

But mostly, I wanted to get in on the excitement that seemed to be sweeping the nation. The South American giant, already slated to host the World Cup, was chosen to host the Olympics. Obama had just called its president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, “The most popular politician on earth.” Massive oil reserves had been discovered off the coast, and it was said the petrodollars would help eradicate poverty. Brazil was taking off, according to the Economist; it was “the most exciting country on earth,” Wallpaper magazine declared.

It would be hard to overstate the optimism in Rio at the time. There seemed to be a solution for everything. Poverty? Bolsa Familia, the country’s massive cash-transfer program. Endemic violence? Pacifying Police Units (UPPs), a community policing program that offered a “soft touch” to fighting crime. In Ipanema, a newly unveiled elevator brought tourists—and residents—from upscale Ipanema to the Cantagalo favela perched above.

I left after a year, to go to grad school, and when I returned in October 2016, the country had changed dramatically. Dilma Rousseff, who had been elected president while I was living in Brazil, had been impeached. The once-booming economy was in the midst of a recession. Crime was up. The Olympics had come and gone, and the costly sports arenas were already beginning to decay.

I arrived days before municipal elections. Marcelo Freixo, a state representative and darling of the left lost his bid for mayor, but one of his close allies, Marielle Franco, had won a seat on the city council. After more than a decade of leftist, Workers’ Party rule, conservative parties were making inroads, and for progressives, Franco’s election offered some consolation.

Just as the United States saw a renewed wave of activism following Trump’s election, in Brazil, the left—and people like Marielle Franco—seemed energized in their fight to make their country a more inclusive, fairer place.

So when I saw, the night of March 14, news alerts on Facebook that Marielle Franco—the smiling, young city councilwoman my colleagues had profiled, and who was deemed by many a rising star—had been killed, I felt sick to my stomach.

Her death was yet another blow to a country that had already seen its fortunes fade so dramatically.

Brazil is holding national elections in October, and this week on Roads & Kingdoms, Catherine Osborn writes about the black Brazilian women who are running for office in the wake of Marielle’s death. “The person who killed Marielle didn’t realize they were stepping on an anthill,” one of the women says.

I also spoke with Carol Pires about Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing congressman who is now a leading candidate in Brazil’s upcoming elections.

On our sister site, Explore Parts Unknown, we published articles related to one of my favorite episodes of Bourdain’s show: Houston. The episode celebrates the city’s diversity, and our guide—with photos by our very own Cengiz Yar—insider tips, and local recipes will help you do the same.

Have a lovely holiday weekend. If you have questions, comments, or pão de queijo, please drop me a line at danielle@roadsandkingdoms.com.

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