Social Issues

Skeletons stacking up at Brazilian cemetery

By Waldheim Garcia Montoya

Vitoria de Santo Antao, Brazil, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Brazilians were scandalized this week by videos showing skeletons in a heap at the back of a cemetery in this northeastern city where a years-long problem of overcrowding has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

Efe saw dozens of skeletons in a heap, covered only by sheets of plastic, at the cemetery in Vitoria de Santo Antao, located west of Recife in Pernambuco state.

The scene evokes a horror film, with hands and jawbones protruding from under the flimsy covering.

Residents of the city of 140,000 say the problem dates from more than eight years ago, but has grown more acute in the last few months due to the pandemic, which has claimed nearly 285,000 lives in Brazil.

Vitoria de Santo Antao lies in the Zona da Mata, a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic coast and the semi-arid interior that is hot and humid year-round.

After years of suffering in silence, the people living in the ramshackle homes that abut the back of the cemetery started sharing their story after videos posted anonymously on social media drew the attention of the national press.

“Many children, old people and people at risk of catching diseases live here. With the heat, the odor becomes so intense that you have to leave your house. When it rains, as it is doing these days, the environment improves. But it is an inhuman practice for the living and the dead,” 65-year-old Maria dos Prazeres tells Efe.

The new municipal administration, which took office in January, said that the government of the previous mayor engaged in “illegal and disrespectful disposal” of human remains.

“It is worth clarifying that there are no decomposing bodies in the place, they are ossuaries that are there since last year,” city hall said, adding that the work of moving the skeletons to two cemeteries on the outskirts of Vitoria de Santo Antao was already under way.

Looking ahead, the administration said that the city council was considering an ordinance to build two new public cemeteries and a crematorium.

“The situation needs to have an immediate response,” area businessman Jose das Dores said. “I believe that with this mobilization of the media, the municipal authorities will act quickly.”

Brazil is second only to the United States in deaths from coronavirus and ranks third in cases behind the US and India. EFE wgm/dr

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