Bolsonaro attending a signature ceremony for the Coronavirus Vaccine Bolsonaro attending a signature ceremony for the Provisional Measure for the Coronavirus Vaccine. Photo: Flickr - Carolina Antunes / PR / Palácio do Planalto/ cropped from original / licensed under CC 2.0, links at the bottom of article

The view is growing that Brazil’s calamitous covid death toll is the result of a deliberate strategy by Bolsonaro, finds Orlando Hill

In Brazil, deaths due to Covid-19 currently number 232,000: the second largest national toll in the world after that of the USA. Close to 9.5 million Brazilians are currently infected with the virus. 

On January 29, the Association of Judges for Democracy (AJD) filed a criminal representation with the Attorney General’s Office on 29 January against President Jair Bolsonaro for crimes against public health during the covid-19 pandemic.  

The complaint invoked all three articles in the Brazilian criminal code dealing with public health and emergency management.

Article 132 defines it as a crime to “infringe the government’s determination to prevent the introduction or spread of a contagious disease”. Article 257 states that it is unlawful in the event of a disaster or calamity to hide or disable apparatus, material or any means intended for the service of combating danger, distress or rescue; or prevent or hinder such service. Article 268 seeks to prevent infringement of “the government’s determination to prevent the introduction or spread of a contagious disease.”

Bolsonaro also stands accused of going against the WHO’s recommendation that countries should adopt “a comprehensive and combined strategy to prevent infections, save lives and minimize the impact”, and conduct “an institutional strategy for the spread of the virus”. 

Catastrophic interventions

Bolsonaro has repeatedly intervened at critical moments of the pandemic, always to disastrous effect. He has exonerated health ministers, promoted public gatherings, refused to wear a mask, and disseminated false information regarding vaccines. He has encouraged the use of ineffective or even harmful drugs by the general population and behaved in such a way as to compromise diplomatic relations with important trading partners such as China and India.

When the governor of the state of Amazonas announced lockdown measures, Bolsonaro spoke out against them, legitimising civil disobedience.

In January, Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, experienced a public health emergency, with overcrowded hospitals running out of oxygen. Given the lack of response by Bolsonaro’s government, Venezuela stepped in, supplying 107,000 cubic metres of oxygen by road (a journey of over 1,500 km).

President Maduro declared that what was happening in Manaus was scandalous, and that “Venezuela extended its solidarity hand to the people of Amazonas.”

While accepting the offer, Bolsonaro also mocked Venezuela’s aid, saying that Maduro should help his own people. “The minimum wage there doesn’t even buy half a kilo of rice,” he sneered.

The president’s excuse for his multiple lapses is that his sole responsibility during the pandemic is to save jobs. The rest, he contends, is left to the states and municipalities as determined by the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court has never acted to take away any responsibility or power from the federal government. It has simply reaffirmed that states and municipalities have the autonomy to define isolation and lockdown measures. 

Impeachment calls  

On February 4, the Senate was requested to set up a parliamentary inquiry committee to investigate the actions and omissions of Bolsonaro’s government in regard to the pandemic. The federal accountability office has asked the federal government for details on how it intends to contain the new variants

On February 6, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) published a manifesto containing four explicit demands: (1) free vaccinations for all, delivered by the national health service (SUS); (2) resumption of emergency aid in the form of a basic income; (3) the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry committee on the pandemic; and (4) Bolsonaro’s impeachment. 

According to the bishops, Bolsonaro must go because he is not committed to defending the lives of Brazilians. He lambasts marginalised populations. He has proved by his words and practices to be a white supremacist whose racism is matched by extreme misogyny and homophobia. And he has made lies the content of his daily communications.

The teachers union of the state of São Paulo have called a strike for February 8 to protest against the reopening of schools the previous week. In that one week, 147 cases were registered in schools across the state. 

On February 6, nationwide rallies organised by the Povo Sem Medo (People without fear) front and the Frente Brasil Popular along with trade unions demanded the return of the emergency basic income which had been won by trade unions, social movements and opposition parties at the start of the pandemic. This was later withdrawn, on the pretext that the government had run out of money.  

Close to 70 impeachment requests have to date been submitted to Brazil’s National Congress.

The growing perception is that Bolsonaro is guilty not simply of omission and of mismanagement but also of pursuing the deliberate strategy of letting the virus spread and mutate. The pressure is mounting by the day for him to go.  

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Orlando Hill

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.