Despite the masks on the faces, anger is visible before the court in Recife, capital of the state of Pernambuco (North-East). “I just wanted to find my mom”, take turns claiming 600 demonstrators, when others brandish a raised fist, a sign “Justice for Miguel”. All denounce a drama due, according to them, to racism, an ultra-sensitive subject at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is severely affecting the black and poor population of the country.
Poverty and pandemic drama
The facts date back to June 2. Without school due to the pandemic, Miguel Otavio, 5, accompanied his mother, a domestic worker, to the home of the wife of an elected official from the region where she worked. Time to walk the dog, the mother, Mirtes de Souza, entrusts Miguel to his boss, who lets the boy enter the building elevator alone, then presses the button on the top floor without accompanying him. Moments later, Miguel, left unattended, will fall to death in the building.
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The owner, Sari Corte Real, will be tried for manslaughter. Until then, for a deposit of 20,000 reals (around € 3,000), she was released by the investigators, much to the dismay of the little boy’s mother. “If I, a black woman, had caused the death of a white child, I would be in prison, judged by public opinion”, was sorry Mirtes de Souza.
Black Lives Matter, version brésilienne
L’“Miguel case” has all the more ignited the Brazilian social networks for three weeks that it echoes the death of George Floyd, a few days earlier, in the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement first appeared in Brazil under the name #vidasnegrasimportam (black lives matter).
Because this drama highlights the social and racial tensions in the country, which are not new, but have been exacerbated under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, since January 2019. It highlights the differences in wealth between Brazilians: Mirtes de Souza wins 1,500 reals per month (260 €), barely the amount of the rental charges of his boss. For Luciana da Cruz Brito, professor at the Federal University of Bahia and specialist in the history of slavery, we can see a manifestation of the “Enslavement delirium of Brazilian society”.
Brazilian inequalities in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic
Miguel’s death also highlights the vulnerability of the poorest at the time of the health crisis, which is still uncontrolled in certain parts of the country. In Brazil, the second most affected country in the world after the United States, there were officially recorded 57,070 deaths from Covid-19 on Sunday June 28, four months after the first death from the disease.
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In her distress, Mirtes de Souza also said that she had been infected with the coronavirus while going to work. Like her, the poorest Brazilians expose themselves more than others while working. “The favelas are not confined, confirms the black activist Débora Dias, who lives in a favela in Sao Paulo. When a single mother earns a minimum wage, if she is called to come and do a cleaning day, she goes there! “
More destitute, therefore more affected by diabetes, hypertension and obesity, blacks also die more from Covid-19 than whites, one death in three people hospitalized in the first against one in 4.4 in the second, according to a study published in late May by the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.