World Bulletin / News Desk
At the foot of a tall building in downtown Rio de Janeiro, government workers line up for donated groceries, unable to buy their own because their salaries have not been paid.
Inside, on the 13th floor, a food bank set up by a labor union is handing out plastic bags of groceries to help state employees as Brazil struggles through its worst recession in a century.
Celia Moitas Pinto and her sister donated two large bags of food in "solidarity."
Pinto's sister works for the government herself. But she is still getting paid thanks to a court injunction requiring the state to keep paying salaries of employees in the justice system.
She is luckier than her colleagues in public health and education, who have not been paid since November.
"There are recessions all over the world, but here it's been caused by theft and corruption," Pinto said bitterly.
"I'm ashamed to be Brazilian," the 71-year-old added.
Sergio Cabral, the former governor who led Rio during an economic boom that has now gone bust, was jailed in November on corruption, money laundering and racketeering charges.
A judge has frozen part of his assets, ruling he "contributed to the financial crisis devastating the state" by granting undue tax breaks to favored companies during his administration (2007-2014).
Cabral's wife is now behind bars on the same charges.
The food bank was set up by the justice system workers' union Sindijustica.
Inside its headquarters, some 30 people sorted donated food into piles.
Many wore black t-shirts that read: "The people will not pay for the crisis."
"We put rice, coffee, beans, etc.... hygiene products to lessen our colleagues' anguish and suffering," said volunteer Silvana Soares, a 57-year-old court official.
"They all passed civil service exams to get where they are, and now they find themselves in this humiliating situation."
Rio, which played host to both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, has been the state hit hardest by the crisis gripping Brazil, Latin America's largest economy.
Its hospitals are short of supplies, its streets are regularly flooded by government workers demanding their paychecks, and its police force sometimes has no paper or fuel.
Rio's payroll is one of the biggest drains on its troubled finances.
The Rio state government has more than 220,000 employees, plus 247,000 retired government workers. Its monthly wage and pension bill -- when it pays up -- comes to two billion reals ($610 million).
The food bank has collected more than 20 tons of donated groceries and distributed 1,500 baskets since it was set up just before Christmas, said fire captain Marcelo Mata, another volunteer.
He too is still getting paid as an employee deemed vital for public security.
"I consider myself lucky," the 43-year-old said. "But for how long?
"We are living a paradox in this city. We spend money for New Year's Eve fireworks on Copacabana Beach, but behind the scenes state employees have nothing."
Still, those helped by the food bank are touched by the donations.
"We're going through an unprecedented crisis. I give thanks to everyone who's helping us," said Yara da Silva, a 50-year-old nurse's aide.
She is still waiting for her November salary of $320, which the government now says will be deposited in five payments starting January 5.
"But what about December, and my Christmas bonus? It's hard. Very hard," da Silva said.
Outside the building, the long line crept along.
"This is humiliating," said septuagenarian pensioner Maurico Lucas. "I got up at 4:00 am to come get food handouts, after 38 years of work.
"All because of the government's lack of responsibility."
Since mid-October, Peshmerga have withdrawn from vast majority of ‘disputed’ parts of Iraq, Kurdish official says
Nearly 63 percent of 2,000 American participants oppose moving US Embassy to Jerusalem, survey indicates
Tensions continue to mount in occupied territories following US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
Defeat leaves Republicans with razor thin 51-49 majority in Senate
President Donald Trump has not changed his position on North Korea but does not oppose efforts to initiate talks
'Trump you failed to protect your nation,' Akayed Ullah allegedly wrote on Facebook
Vast areas have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated and thousands of firefighters are working around the clock.
Trade dispute ends Boeing’s CAN$19 billion bid to replace aging CF-18s fighters
One third of those detained are minors, Palestinian activists say
ISIL has recently suffered a string of defeats in Iraq and Syria
Turkish deputy premier says some leading Greek Cypriots say they would prefer to 'drink poison' than use Turkish water
'I want to shoot a movie in Jerusalem when it is liberated,' says Nawras Abu Saleh
After meeting in Ottawa with officials from the nation's 10 provinces and three territories, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he has agreed to give the provinces 75 percent of the monies.
Maduro's ruling socialists triumphed as expected in mayoral polls Sunday, taking 300 of the country's 335 mayorships after a boycott by the main opposition parties.
US president revises space agency’s policy, undoing Obama’s concentration on Mars
US-led global coalition will continue to operate and support local forces in Syria, Pentagon spokesman says