Brazil Through a Cuban Lens

Tristeza não tem fim, felicidade sim. –Chico Buarque

Isbel Diaz Torres


HAVANA TIMES – Brazil’s Ipanema beach unfolds before my eyes. The music of Antonio Carlos Jobim plays in my head, and I begin to hum the lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes. But this magic little moment lasts very little. I see a person selling water bottles stop at a shaded area to rest, exhausted.

The image of Regina Duarte, who became rich selling tamales on this beach, doesn’t seem that believable to me now. That has been the common denominator of my recent experiences in Brazil: behind every touristy post-card, a raw stroke of reality returns me to the sadness that permeates this nation and continent.

The notorious favelas of Rio de Janeiro emerge from behind the city’s sumptuous buildings. The periphery is at the center, above, below, mixed in with the glamour – and a strange harmony seems to keep this state of things afloat. “Till when?” I wonder.

Paulista Avenue, Sao Paulo’s wealthiest and most refined area, decorates the foot of its clean showcases with poor, homeless men and women. “Moradores da rua”, they are called. For such a terrible destiny, it strikes me as an excessively poetic epithet.

My mother, who knows me well, suggested I only take photos of the “pretty things” in Brazil – and I did, of course. I will share these with you in my next photo feature. Without these pictures, however, what would become of the reality of the beautiful people who live in Jardim Pantanal, in the outskirts of Sao Paulo?

The construction work undertaken for the Soccer World Cup has had an impact on this community, but Cuba’s Granma newspaper only speaks about the good times of Brazilian sports.

Like Havana’s Marianao neighborhood, this part of town shows me ruined houses without plumbing and bare, dilapidated walls propped up with wooden beams. Bare-footed children fly kites. I feel right at home.

I have photos of very humble people in Havana who are also homeless. In Brazil, however, this is something we see every second, at every street corner, at every subway entrance. I was unable to tear my eyes away from these people, from the pieces of cardboard that are their only beds, from the rags they wash at public fountains and hang nearby, next to luxury cars. There are hundreds, thousands of people like this in the city.

One night, I was sitting on the terrace of a bar, drinking a beer with friends. A man came up to me and, without the least bit of embarrassment, asked me for the rissoles on my plate. I had a lump in my throat and couldn’t reply.

Resolved, the man picked up the food on my plate with his dirty hands, leaving it empty. Perhaps it was the beer, but a tear ran down my cheek. Hunger and forlornness, which are not unknown to me, had slapped me in the face there.

I will share with you other photos too. Photos of Sao Paulo and Rio, where workers, students, and the moradores da rua, aren’t keeping quiet and struggle for the happiness denied them by those in power.

Click on the thumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery. On your PC or laptop, you can use the directional arrows on the keyboard to move within the gallery. On cell phones use the keys on the screen.

2 thoughts on “Brazil Through a Cuban Lens

  • Where are Moses and Griffin ? They’re usually here. They revel in the much less dire straits of the average Cuban. Come on in guys and explain how wealthy, resource-rich, capitalist Brazil leaves many of it’s people to lead such miserable existances. Let me guess the answer. Sure that guy in the picture lives on a grimy sidewalk – but he’s free ! If he weren’t so lazy he could be working on the next Facebook.

  • Thank you for the story and pictures. Very sad to see.

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