South America’s largest country, Brazil, is currently in political turmoil as the president of the country is under investigation for his handling of the pandemic ahead of a new presidential election in 2022.
“I don’t know how fair it is for me to vote since I’m not there. I’m not living the struggle. I know what’s going on, I hear from my family, I hear from my friends,” Rafaela Cabede, a Brazilian from Río de Janeiro said.
The 42-year-old said she would vote for her family living in Brazil.
“Brazil at the moment is extremely polarized and this election is not just seen as sort of a contest between the right and the political left, but rather a deciding moment between democracy and fascism,” Andrew Janusz, a University Of Florida political science assistant professor said.
Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician and retired military officer, has led the country since January 2019. Next year he’ll face Luiz Inácio Da Silva, a former president of Brazil who was in office from 2003-2010.
“At the time he was president, the economy was growing; he introduced a number of social policies that lifted a number of people out of poverty, and when he left office he had about an 80% approval rate,” Janusz saud. “The polls indicate that if the election were held today, Lula would handily win, and that’s because a lot of Brazilians are frustrated with the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. So, Bolsanaro eschewed mask-wearing, admonished social distancing.”
Currently, Brazil is the second country after the United States with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. Brazil’s health ministry reported the country has registered more than 20 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to over 570,000.
The government’s response to the pandemic has led to protests and a criminal investigation into Bolsonaro’s response to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. But it’s not just the crisis of the pandemic the country is facing — Cabede said the country’s state has been in decline ever since she left her Brazil 11 years ago.
“Year after year, I was just seeing the situation in Brazil, the economic situation the political situation go down the hill, and unfortunately I wasn’t seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Cabede is among an estimated 120,000 Brazilians who call Central Florida home after leaving their homeland — many having to start from scratch like Cabede.
Like many other Brazilians, Rafaela left behind her family and daughter because she wanted a brighter future for her daughter, who was 11 years old when she left.
“It was very hard for everybody to understand but I knew at that point that I had to come before her because things were going to be difficult, and they were going to be even more difficult if I was with her. I could struggle; I could sleep in a couch, I could share a room with three strangers, but I couldn’t put my daughter through that,” she said.
A year later, she was able to bring her daughter to live with her.
In Brazil, Cabede was a teacher but after arriving in Florida, she ventured out into the restaurant industry becoming an entrepreneur and established Mrs. Potato restaurant in Orlando.
“I’ve seen the Brazilian community grow more and more and stronger,” she said. “Many people think that we are cowards. Many people think that we fled our country and that we took the easy way out but I think we have a responsibility here in this country to show our culture and to let people know what’s going on there.”