Unemployment and social instability threaten unwelcome return to the past in recession-hit country once seen as a model for developing economies

It wasn’t yet 5am when Miriam Gomes drove up to Happy Little Angel, the social project she runs in the scruffy Cidade Nova neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, but the queue for her weekly food handout was already a hundred yards long.

Some had slept outside – those among Rio’s growing army of homeless people, or who lived too far away to get there by 6.30am, when those registered could start collecting a bag of vegetables, fruit, rice, beans, pasta, milk and biscuits, and a little chocolate.

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