Brazil Has a Disease… It is not COVID-19

Gregorio de Matos
3 min readJan 4, 2021

One of the country’s longstanding negative sociocultural traits could be hindering its ability to recover from the pandemic

Soure: The Brazilian Report

In early January 2021, Brazil ranks second in global deaths caused by COVID-19 (196 thousand) and third in terms of confirmed infections by the Sars-CoV-2 virus (7.7 million) among all countries. This is obviously not good news. Besides the current sanitary crisis imposed to virtually all nations of the world, Brazil has been particularly affected by an economic recession (2014–2016), persistent unemployment ever since, a track record of major corruption scandals leading to a significant ethical crisis, and a notable trend of increasing polarization and divisiveness within the society, which culminated in the election of right-wing and denialist president Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. All this could be interpreted as causes for the situation in which the country finds itself today. However, these seem more like effects arising from an underling problem Brazil sustains for a long time.

As many other nations whose cultural roots were based on Latin-Catholic principles, Brazilians tend to be more family-oriented as opposed to community-driven. This says a lot about this society, which clearly lacks disseminated trust among its members. People born and/or raised in Brazil have negative predispositions towards fellow citizens, who after all, aren’t part of the family nor are close friends. Historically, an environment of permanent suspicion towards the other was stimulated. Taking small advantages here and there became a national sport. Being a rascal is better than being a sucker. Thinking and acting as an individual or a small group seems to be more appealing than investing trust in wide-ranging spheres of human interaction. Don’t be fooled: the Brazilian stereotype of openness, joyfulness, hospitality, cordiality, friendliness and generosity could be completely misleading.

As Summer and the season’s holidays were approaching in late December 2020, more and more individuals in Brazil thought it was a good idea to travel, throw parties and gather on the beaches, not to mention other activities that were stringently not encouraged as the country was facing and fighting against a second wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Being inconsequent, not wearing masks (properly or at all) and living one’s live like there was no tomorrow has a lot to do with when you simply don’t care about the people surrounding you.

Brazil became independent from Portugal in 1822 and instead of instantly becoming a Republic, like all its Hispanic neighbors, it remained as an Empire. Furthermore, Brazil was one of the last countries in the 19th century to abolish slavery (back in 1888) and took absolutely no measure to promote the integration of freed slaves. This was the most notable seed for generating a fragmented social tissue, characterized by distance, indifference, and inherent spontaneous sociability hurdles. Gradually, throughout the 20th century, it became clear that the pursuit for the “common / collective good” or the “national / public interest” would turn into an inglorious effort. Socioeconomic inequalities alongside with crystallized disparities of opportunities slowly undermined the mutual moral obligations among fellow citizens.

Unlike several other nations built upon non-Latin and/or protestant values (Nordic countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, Germany, etc), Brazilians’ self-interest always seemed not to be guided by the belief that the well-being of each fellow national directly benefits their own personal existence. It should be all about projecting your own image in someone else, like an equal brother or sister, sharing the same piece of land, regardless of social status, profession, surname, or address. But this simply doesn’t happen in Brazil.

Consequently, the country reached the 21st century not understanding the benefits of a group-oriented society. This also has a lot to do with the lack of good quality basic education. There is no doubt this civilizing atrophy prevents its nationals from nurturing reciprocal concepts such as respect, empathy, solidarity, interdependence, and mutual reliability. As portraited in the book ‘Trust: The social virtues & the creation of prosperity’ (1996), by Francis Fukuyama, human capital (individual standpoint) is not enough to make a country thrive and prosper. Social capital (as an intangible group asset) is what is key to consistently generate development, harmony, well-being, and wealth within a society.

These are the ideas that should be going viral…



Gregorio de Matos

Internationalist and Global Public Health professional holding a Master’s degree in Public Policy. Brazilian / Portuguese.