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In NY's "Little Brazil," home-country troubles are a state of mind

With a controversial impeachment creating political chaos, an economy on the ropes, and a Zika virus threatening the success of the Olympic Games this summer, Brazilians may want to escape. And many do. Right to New York City – where, in a section of town called “Little Brazil,” those with Brazilian roots lament the bad press about their country.

New York City is the leading point of entry for Brazilian immigrants and visitors to America.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians vacation in New York to take a bite of the Big Apple. Some buy expensive townhouses and condos in Manhattan. Others move to less expensive Astoria, Queens, where yet another “Little Brazil” is full of restaurants and supermarkets that caters to a growing community. There are nearly 75,000 Brazilians living the New York metropolitan area.

Brazilian tourists tend to flock to the main Little Brazil in Manhattan, a stretch along 46th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue near Times Square. Over the years, mammoth commercial real estate prices and competitive availability has pushed the Little Brazil restaurants and shops west. It is an area known by New Yorkers and visitors alike who may be curious about Brazilian cuisine and culture.

On any given night, Churrascaria Plataforma on West 49th Street is packed with tourists and locals. The spacious and dimly-lit restaurant specializes in “rodizio,” a style of roasting and serving meat that started in southern Brazil. Waiters slice a variety of tender bits of meats from skewers on to the plates of diners. It is a carnivore’s paradise.

Brazilians at any dinner table in New York City will tend to agree that the weakening economy back home and the Zika virus, which has been known to cause microcephaly in newborns, are devastating the country.
But, just like in Brazil, there is a divide about the current impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.

“I don't agree with her impeachment,” said Eremita Santos, who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, but shops sometimes in the Little Brazil in Astoria.

Rousseff has been accused of manipulating government funds to hide a huge deficit. She is also charged with obstructing an investigation for PetroBras, Brazil’s largest oil company. The majority of deputies from the lower house of Brazil’s National Congress voted to impeach Rousseff earlier in April.

It's not only her, said Santos. “There are so many politicians there who are corrupt. The next president will be just as corrupt.”

Brazilian Vice-President Michel Temer has expressed that, if Rousseff is impeached, he is ready to take the reins of government. But some political pundits say that he could be under the shadow of impeachment as well.
Indeed, more than half of the 600 sitting politicians are facing accusations or charges of criminal violations or corruption.

Santos feels that impeaching Rousseff without proof of a crime is more like a “coup or political assassination.”

And she is not alone in her sentiments. Before the Brazilian congress voted to impeach Rousseff, anti-impeachment protesters took to New York City streets to voice their opposition. “New York against the coup in Brazil,” said one sign. Another sign said: “Impeachment is illegal.”

In a show of force on April 28, anti-impeachment demonstrators throughout Brazil blocked dozens of highways during rush hour, causing havoc.

Still, some Brazilian expats in New York want to throw out Rousseff.  

“She can’t do anything more, she has lost all support,” said Eder Prado, 33, who works as a waiter at Brazil Grill on the corner of Eight Avenue and 47th Street. 

Prado, who left Brazil four months ago, acknowledged that people in the streets are angry because of the corruption. He said the country is rich with resources and wealth, but the government does not help the people.
“The dollar is high and the economy low in Brazil,” said Prado. “It is now more difficult to travel and shop.”

  “She hasn’t been found guilty,” said Marquez Felipe Marquez, host at Brasil, Brasil restaurant on West 46th Street. “But she is guilty by association.”

 Marquez has been living in New York City for 18 years and follows the events in Brazil closely. “People are really, really fed up. She is without doubt the worst president in our Brazilian history.

“If these politicians think they can get away with theft and corruption, putting one in jail will be showing an example,” Marquez said. “Then the next leaders will be more honest and careful,” he said.
  
Marquez does not think the Olympics will be affected by the political turmoil in his native country. “Brazilians love sports too much.” 

 But what about the Zika virus? “Well, Brazilians will always be ready to party,” Marquez said. “But with the Zika virus, people might not show up.”