Monthly Archives: August 2013

Brazilian doctors don’t like foreigners. Specially when they come to help

agenciabrasilabr082413vcvac_8461Not many countries have a state healthcare system. Brazil does. Not many countries make people commute for 50 km to get some kind of medical attention. Brazil does. Not many countries have a problem with Cuban doctors coming in to help because the Castro brothers have ruled there for decades. Brazil does. Actually, Brazil overall doesn’t. Brazilians just want more doctors. Our medical professionals, though,  reject that very openly — too openly sometimes. By doing that they have shown how xenophobic our elite can be when immigrants of developing countries are involved. It is fair to say they have far less restrictions when Caucasians are concerned…

In the wake of the June protests, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pledged to bring Cuban doctors to help isolated communities. That is what left-leaning Venezuela did, some might say.  That is what very-neutral Canada did, some others said. Brazilian doctors were against it all from the start. In the beginning they said the Cubans didn’t qualify. Then they said it would be unfair for them to earn less than other doctors — the Cuban regime will keep a big part of their wages. Now they promise to take every foreign doctor to court to prove they are working illegally. They will do that despite the slim chances of succeeding. Some of them have mobbed foreigners to criticize them because they are still learning Portuguese (as if it were a world away from Spanish).

It is good to see all the rest of Brazil disagrees with the doctors.

About 700 of Brazil’s 5,564 cities have no doctors at all. The medical professionals claim the real issue is the lack of investment in proper equipment. But in Alagoas, one of these places they don’t want to go to, there was an epidemic of diarrhea that killed a dozen of kids. A recent report showed that parents of low education are one of the reasons for many children to die at a young age. No need for equipment in these cases and in many others. That is why the Brazilian doctors are now as isolated as the communities they refuse to serve. That is why the Cubans have been welcomed. They have resurrected the idea that doctors can still work because of passion. 

Healthcare is supposed to be free in Brazil. But everyone who can gets health insurance. I have used both systems and there is no reason to believe there will be a major improvement in the short term. Private institutions will be even more essential now Brazil’s population is aging. In state hospitals waiting could take too long. Equipment many times is insufficient. And medicines could be expired for too long. Private hospitals are among the best in Latin America and some institutions are global references. The main issue, though, is the lack of doctors.

Almost all our medical professionals come from a very small elite. For ages, they have refused to work in the impoverished areas of the North and of the Northeast. Even those who barely left college usually choose to stay in the big cities, with a gigantic market to tap. No, the issue isn’t wages. Doctors who go deep inland can earn as much as US$ 4,000. But they can earn much more by treating high-spending diseases, such as cancer. After they go to state universities and spend much much more than elementary and high school students, they give nothing back. Average Brazilians know that.

Brazilian doctors want more than stopping foreigners from helping those they won’t help. They want money from the state, even those who profit a lot with their offices. Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia are crowded with doctors that earn some extra cash working for the state once or twice a week. Still, many of these state hospitals are overcrowded. Still, many of these state hospitals don’t have any doctors in some point of the day. There is surely bad governance in some of these health institutions, but there is a lot of greed. Greed by doctors who already come from wealthy families.

The same families that have badly governed Brazil for centuries…

The lack of medical attention in isolated regions is one of the big reasons Brazil’s HDI (Human Development Index) hasn’t improved even more in the last 20 years. Healthcare was the main issue in the campaign trail that gave Rousseff her term. The Health Ministry is the highest spender in the country — a budget of about US$ 50 billion last year. Until the protests gave Rousseff a cue, the plan of bringing doctors in was lying somewhere in Congress. That is how our doctors wanted it to be now. They’d rather keep their lobby on passing another law that would forbid anyone apart from themselves to giving injections.

That is how self-absorbed they are.

Most of the criticism our doctors make go to our friends from the Caribbean. But there is also criticism on Portuguese, Spanish and Argentinian doctors coming. They are likely to be the next targets. Some have already complained about the difficulties for Brazilian doctors to work in Europe. As if this were enough to heal all the wounds they don’t want to heal in Brazil.

Foreigners usually think most of the problems in Latin America have to do with bad governance. It isn’t that simple. Many of the issues have to do with history — it is a region which was almost as exploited as Africa. Others have to do with the ways of our elite. In other words, with that free market that some preach to be the solution to all grievances.


A footballer’s gay kiss reveals how little Brazil combats homophobia

emerson.emerson-publicou-foto-em-que-beija-amigo_1Football is a big part of Brazil’s daily life. Most of the qualities of our society are noticeable in the way we play the beautiful game and cheer for our sides. As a people, we are inventive, passionate and joyful. We can also be terribly disorganized, violent and self-absorbed.

Unlike Europe, Brazil has very little trouble with racism in the stadia — as a football fan I have never witnessed it in my 31 years of age. But there is loads of homophobia, which turns many people off the national sport. All that anger towards gays has come out of the closet after a famous local footballer kissed a business partner and published a picture on social media.

Neither are gay. And as you can see in the picture, that is no French kiss.

Brazilian sports media, with few noticeable exceptions, have chosen to be critical of Corinthians forward Émerson. Some say it is a personal matter at first, but soon find ways to condemn his posture. “He will be the joke of the dressing room,” one said. “Rivals are going to use this against him,” another said. “I’ve already told my children I would give them some spanking if they do anything like that,” a former club official admitted on national TV. When they are off the air they do the same homophobic jokes of the past.

About 55% of Brazilians are against more rights to gay couples, according to an important pollster. Although the Brazilian Supreme Court has decided to award gay couples new benefits and is on the way to rule on gay marriage, there are more and more cases of violence against homosexuals. In 2012, there were 13 assaults on gays nationwide, a rights group says. The same poll said most of homophobes were people of less formal education.

After the Supreme Court’s decisions in 2011, our very conservative Congress reacted. Religious lobbies and mismanagement by President Dilma Rousseff’s ruling party put a very conservative reverend as the chair of the Human Rights commission.  One of his goals is to stop legislation that criminalizes homophobia. Rousseff says nothing. She needs the conservatives to be reelected. In the last presidential elections, many of the same conservatives accused her of being an atheist lesbian that had come to split them. She dealt with them with care and put one of their guys in an irrelevant ministry. But the frictions have come back.

Those who elected the chairman of the Human Rights commission and many other conservatives do care about football. They say football is a man’s game (sorry to disappoint my American friends, but I mean our football, not yours). They make jokes about which club has the biggest gay support in the country. They call opposition fans “faggots” in many chants, as if it were the biggest insult possible. In an specific case, they refused support to one player because he was identified as a homosexual by a rival’s deputy chairman. Richarlyson, who has played for Brazil in friendly matches, has always denied the allegation.

No need for caption in this homophobic video

This is the macho environment that set the stage for the reaction to the infamous picture.

Striker Émerson is no activist. He is a Corinthians icon and a well-known womanizer who took a controversial shot for a laugh. But that sheer moment made homophobes show up at his training centre, prompted a wave of criticism among footballers and became the main issue in sports media since it was published on Instagram. Although Brazilian media is desperate to jump into debates on changing the law to punish under-18s more harshly, among other conservative discussions, it didn’t even consider a serious debate on homophobia. They chose to focus on what the player had done and forget the homophobic agenda.

I don’t believe Brazilian football or Brazilian society will change that much after that incident. It was just an update on how little the State has done to criminalize prejudice against homosexuals.

I am pretty sure racism exists in Brazil, but it isn’t nearly as aggressive as I saw in three tube incidents in London in just a year. Racism here isn’t as widespread as I could see in Argentina or Italy. But kicking out homophobia is surely a big challenge for a country that likes to be seen as a melting pot, not as a gender pot as well.