For months, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has insisted the coronavirus is not a serious threat. Beyond instituting a national lockdown in mid-March, his government has left 209 million Brazilians largely without federal help during the pandemic.

Brazil has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in Latin America: 101,826 infections COVID-19 cases and 7,051 deaths as of May 4. Nonetheless Bolsonaro continues shaking hands, hugging supporters and pushing to reopen the country. In April he fired his health minister for promoting social distancing.

Some governors are defying the right-wing Bolsonaro’s calls to restart the economy, and Brazil’s Congress recently approved a monthly cash payment of US$114 to help 54 million newly unemployed workers – less than the $190 national minimum wage. Since other federal aid does not appear to be forthcoming, neighborhood associations, churches, community groups and unions are stepping in to support struggling Brazilians.

One of Brazil’s civilian-led initiatives goes well beyond the average mutual aid society. Drawing on its vast network of farms, doctors, schools and restaurants, an activist group called the Landless Workers Movement is providing food, medical care and other pandemic support to hundreds of thousands of Brazilians nationwide.

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