Heartbreaking photographs of destitute Brazilians rummaging through a pile of animal carcasses for food have exposed the hunger crisis ravaging Latin America’s most populous nation, where millions have been left destitute because of the coronavirus pandemic and soaring inflation.
The images, taken in Rio last week by the award-winning photojournalist Domingos Peixoto, Show the group searching for remains in the back of a truck that was transporting discarded giblets and bones to a feed and soap factory.
“Some days … I feel like crying,” truck driver José Divino Santos told journalist Rafael Nascimento de Souza, who was covering the story with Peixoto for the Rio Extra newspaper.
“Before, people came to ask for a piece of bone for their dogs. These days they are begging for bones to make food, ”added Santos, who distributes the leftovers to the needy in Rio after collecting them from supermarkets.
51-year-old scavenger Denise da Silva said she needed to feed her five children and 12 grandchildren who recently lost their partner. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen some meat, since before the pandemic… I’m so grateful for it,” Silva said of the fragments.
The images, one of which appeared on The Extra home page under the title “Brazil 2021: the pain of hunger”, immediately sparked an uproar.
About 19 million Brazilians have suffered from hunger since the start of a Covid epidemic that killed 600,000. Elsewhere in the region, the suffering is even more intense. Last week a large Venezuelan university noted nearly 77% of the citizens there lived in extreme poverty, with crippling fuel shortages and Covid to blame for a 10% jump from last year.
Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Rio on Saturday to denounce a social calamity that many blame the right-wing President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, whose response from Covid has been globally condemned.
“It’s inhuman,” said Alex Frechette, a 43-year-old artist, who wore one of his paintings showing Bolsonaro chuckling next to three black children who were holding bowls full of bones.
José Manuel Ferreira Barbosa, a 63-year-old decorator from the northern suburbs of Rio, also blamed the president for the hunger crisis in Brazil. “Things are really tough right now. Some people eat bones. Others have nothing to eat at all, ”Barbosa said as he took to the streets.
“It’s a shame,” admitted Rosa Maria Xavier da Silva, 53, a street vendor who lives in a squat in central Rio and struggles to feed eight grandchildren with a monthly allowance of 150 reais (20 £).
During a congressional hearing on the Covid disaster in Brazil, left-wing Senator Humberto Costa said Peixoto’s photos exposed the social tragedy unfolding under Bolsonaro. ” Unemployment increases. Inequalities are growing. Poverty is increasing. Hunger has returned. This is what this government… has done to our country, ”said Costa.
Even after three decades of documentation The drug conflict in Rio and social ills, Peixoto, 57, said he was shocked to see citizens sifting through carcasses. “I haven’t slept for two days, trying to process everything,” said the photographer, who struggled to remember seeing so many homeless people on the streets.
“People have to cook with firewood – and not just the homeless… Damn, we have to find ways to tell these stories to see if we can help somehow”, a- he added.
Peixoto said he was haunted by the memory of a scavenger he saw smile as the truck arrived to share its heartbreaking cargo. “He looked so happy … [because] he knew it meant another day’s food on their table, ”Peixoto said, adding,“ I didn’t take the photo. It was one of those images that you just take with your eyes and store in your heart. “
De Souza, the journalist, remembers urging a woman not to eat the discarded meat. “Young man, either we eat this or we starve,” she replied.
“This is the reality,” said the 30-year-old journalist. “If it doesn’t make you angry, if it doesn’t move you, then I don’t know [what will]. “