Author: Renato Pazinato, May 29th 2020

The lack of consensus between the federal government and the states, the insufficient emergency social security devices and a possible President impeachment have overloaded the chaos in Brazil during the COVID-19 outbreak. The country was not among the most severely affected ones in the beginning of the crisis, but it was only a matter of time and as of today, 29.05.2020, it is the second coronavirus epicenter after the US, with 500,000 confirmed cases. The health crisis and the President’s actions and comments such as, “some will die of it because such is life” and “Coronavirus is just Hysteria” are undermining Brazil’s image overseas.

Brazil is my home country and I have been spending time here since the beginning of the pandemic and due to that I have decided to stay home and not come back to Germany for the moment. Having been able to follow the events so closely, I chose to use this blog entry to describe the policy of President Bolsonaro vis-à-vis the current situation and to show how the country has been trying to deal with it, since it already presents major and concerning problems in several pillars, including the health system. My statements are based on personal observations and experiences with people from Brazil and the surveys and data gathered come from Brazilian and international daily media outlets. With this present contribution, I will analyze how the Brazilian President is manipulating the facts in order to satisfy his own agenda and how all these factors combined contributed to the chaos generated in Brazil, also deeply affecting the low income population.

Coronavirus is a “media trick” and “a little flu” – Bolsonaro, Jair – April 2020

Unlike other countries throughout the world, Brazil is not only facing a health and economic crisis. In fact, it is much worse than that, it is going through a crisis that affects several areas of the country. In the early days, President Bolsonaro had the power to impose a state of emergency in the country when the spread of COVID-19 started. Instead, he repeatedly tried to sabotage the social distancing state policies created, by claiming that it would cause economic chaos over which the federal government will have to take responsibility for. A couple of days after that, the President was pushing the state government of Distrito Federal (Federal District where the capital of Brazil is located) to re-open commerce and schools in early May, pressuring the rest of the country to follow them. In the meantime, on March 25, the war with the press began and the president started to spread the rumor that Corona virus was only a media trick created by Rede Globo, the nation biggest TV network. That was not enough for him: Bolsonaro has repeated several times that it was just a little flu, saying that he was not going to be affected. Besides, he has been arguing that he is a healthy man and is protected against the virus due the time he has spent in the Brazilian army.

Bolsonaro’s ship is sinking

The Brazilian overall situation during the COVID-19 pandemic is quite worrying. The dichotomy between health and economy will contribute even more to the colossal inequality in the country. It is conspicuous that it is not in the President’s first concerns to achieve a mutual agreement with the state governments, and other politicians. On April 16, the Health Minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta was fired by the President because, likewise the state governments, he was in favor of the lockdown that Bolsonaro refuses to adhere to. Moreover, Nelson Teich, the new Health Minister also got fired after 1 month in the office even though he had showed willingness to loosen the quarantine restrictions. So one question remains open: Can anyone ever fill Bolsonaro’s requirements or is he looking for someone willing to follow his own agenda during this pandemic?

Figure 1: President Bolsonaro and former Healt Minister Mandetta during a Press Briefing on Coronavirus
(Source: Andre Coelho / Veja SP / Getty Images)         

These two events, together with the resignation from Justice Minister Sergio Moro[1] led the country and the political scenario to a total chaos. National and international players manifested their fear and even former (and impeached) President Dilma Roussef stated that  “Yes, we are not immune to the crisis” and “Bolsonaro is a psychopath”, when asked about the decision of firing Brazil’s health minister in the middle of the most terrible political, economic and health crisis the country has ever faced in its history.

Following these events, a survey conducted by CNT/MDA found that 43.4% of the interviewers see the government as “bad” or “awful,” and 67.3% agree with the need for social distancing to contain the spread of coronavirus, while Bolsonaro keeps strongly advising against it and reaffirming the importance to reopen the business (Reuters, 2020).

Evidently, his main concerns are the economic consequences due to the pandemic rather than supporting his people, by also saying that eventually everyone will be infected by the virus. While other countries, almost immediately, implemented emergency transfer aids designated to the low-income population, the Brazilian federal government delayed it as much as they were able to. Besides that, Bolsonaro blames the approval of the program on Congress and on the Supreme Court when it was actually already passed by them as an Amendment to the Constitution. The latter benefit was only created on April 2, to aim informal, self-employed, unemployed workers and individual micro-entrepreneurs. Therefore, one could state that the effects of the pandemic will affect the Brazilian economy for the following years but the most damaged without a doubt will be the lower portion of the pyramid. After what I have experienced by distributing essentials food baskets in the Favelas, I could notice that they live in communities that lack infrastructure: waste and sewage are disposed of in careless and rudimentary manners which pose various health hazards. Thus, weakening people’s immune system. Besides, as a result of unsanitary conditions and crowding, the lower class is far more susceptible in contracting the COVID-19, as well as contaminating other people around them.

Ironically, there are suspicions that President Jair Bolsonaro contracted the disease (COVID-19) which he publicly denied, saying that if he did, it would have a deep impact on the economy. However, since Bolsonaro has been accused of hiding the truth, the Chamber of Deputies gave him an ultimatum to publicly show his tests. In the event of lying, he will be committing a social responsibility crime, which according to the Brazilian Constitution is a motive for Impeachment.

Overall, Brazil is not only facing a health crisis but a generalized chaos, with a direct confrontation between the President on one side, and the states and the Supreme Court on the other. Altogether, the dichotomy between health and economy and, Bolsonaro’s incompetent leadership have led to the start of the impeachment act. Consequently, generating more chaos and uncertainty in the country, which ultimately results in a vicious cycle of unemployment, fewer opportunities for low skilled workers, and a slower government management mechanism.

[1] Sergio Moro is considered Brazil’s star justice minister and he gained fame in Operation Car Walsh as being the leading judge that on Brazil’s high-profile scandal of corruption and bribery involving government officials and business executives

*Dieser Beitrag ist im Rahmen des Kurses Krisenmanagement in der globalen Stars-Cov2 / Covid19 Krise entstanden.

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