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As World Follows Rio Olympics, Brazil’s Economy Struggles

Pictures from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have been beautiful. But underlying the beauty, there is unrest in Rio and many other parts of Brazil.

The country is in the middle of a political and economic crisis. Many Brazilians are feeling the pinch, and hurting economically. That is especially true for those who live in Rio’s poorest neighborhoods, called “favelas.”

Huberto Sousa spent most of his life renting beach chairs to people visiting Copacabana beach. In October 2010, he decided to open a bar in the favela of Cantagalo, where he was born and raised.

Sousa said he always wanted to work for himself, instead of having to depend on others. He said he enjoyed choosing his own hours.

In Cantagalo, Sousa is known as “the King.” So, he called his bar “King’s Castle.” The business was successful.

Times were good for many businesses in Brazil in 2010. The economy was growing and many Brazilians entered the middle class for the first time. The median household income grew 87 percent between 2003 and 2013.

Sousa said, during the best times, middle class people would come and socialize with people in the favela. He said this created an interesting mix of people.

“That was the best time, but it started to drop off about (in) about 2014,” he said.

Since that time, Brazil’s economy has struggled. Some blame increasing debt and cuts in government spending and investments. The sharp drop in oil prices also might have hurt the economy.

Brazilian economist Rodrigo Magalhaes said people who recently moved up into the middle class were hurt most by the economic slowdown.

“When the recession began, it broke the expectation of these people because in the last 10 years they had seen the situation getting steadily better and then it all collapsed,” he said.

Hospitals, schools and other public services also have been hurt.

This year, there have been teachers’ strikes in Brazil. Students also have “occupied” schools for weeks, in some cases, to protest problems in the education system.

Fabiola Camargo is a teacher. She told VOA teachers have not received a pay raise since 2014.

Camargo says the strikes and student occupations have helped each other.

“The occupations are supporting the strikes just as much as the strikes are supporting the occupations because they both were wanting improvements in education,” she said.

Brazil’s political crisis is another consideration. Early Wednesday, the Senate voted 59 to 21 to move forward with the impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff.

Lawmakers suspended Rousseff in May over accusations of hiding budget deficits before her reelection in 2014. Her trial is expected to take place late this month.

Holding the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has lifted the spirits of many Brazilians. The beautiful images of Rio’s bay and Olympic facilities have given many a much-needed lift. But the economic situation remains difficult.

Preparations for the games have cost the city billions of dollars.

Unemployment in Brazilian cities has reached eight percent and the jobless rate for the whole country is higher. The economy is predicted to shrink by more than two percent in 2016.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Jeff Swicord reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

feeling the pinch – idiom, to feel pain because of something unpleasant

median – n. the middle value among a series of values or numbers, the value right in the middle

adjust – v. to make a change or a correction that accounts for something

factors – n. things that influence results

impeachment – n. to charge a high official with a crime while in office

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