I have commented before that by 2001 the never-ending parade of 1990s slums from Guarulhos airport into São Paulo had disappeared. That there were no more people walking to work on the motorways at 6am. That in 2002 the election of President Lula has brought some hope to the people of Brazil with its Fome Zero program which helped reduce poverty. Or that there is now work and that there are new opportunities in the self-proclaimed ‘Land of the Future‘.
All this is and remains true (although the motorways are no more safer: the early morning walkers of the 1990s have been replaced in 2012 by motorcycle maniacs whose idol remains Ayrton Senna.)
To check whether anything has changed, I took the São Paulo metro to the Praça da Sé, bearing in mind what I had written in my book Brazil: Life, Blood, Soul:
It is in the Praça da Sé under the gothic cathedral flanked by two columns of tall palm trees that the scene becomes worthy of a Bosch or a Breughel seen through the eyes of Freddie Kruger: a shocking relapse into primitive animaggression. This is the realm of a twilight zombie video by Michael Jackson. This is India without the cows. The crowds are drunk, drugged, dirty, unhealthily thin, unshaven, smelly, hustling, staring blankly on benches, surrounded by hordes of street children. There may be no predators around, but the whole life, the aspirations and consciousness of the wretched beings in the Praça da Sé are as far from mine as a jaguar’s, their life perspective the same as that of a gerbil on a wheel.
Has anything changed? Well, there is still some way to go to eliminate poverty, as you can see below.
One question I put to myself was: where there fewer destitute cases than before?
The answer I arrived at was: I don’t know. Even one is one too much.