October 22, 2021
IntelBrief: Brazil’s Inept COVID-19 Response Places Bolsonaro in the Spotlight Again
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro finds himself under scrutiny yet again, as a Brazilian congressional panel is preparing recommendations that include charging Bolsonaro with “crimes against humanity” for his role in the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dozens of other individuals are also mentioned in the report, released Wednesday, including several members of the President’s immediate family and numerous government officials. More than 600,000 Brazilians died from the pandemic so far, and Bolsonaro’s cavalier attitude has garnered worldwide opprobrium. The 1,200-page report even goes so far as to call for Bolsonaro to be imprisoned, finding him directly responsible for the deaths of at least 300,000 Brazilians, half of the country’s overall death toll.
The country’s indigenous population was disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with hospitals in indigenous areas running out of oxygen. Bolsonaro’s response has been labeled “slovenly” and “macabre,” and will likely hurt his chance of reelection next year, with the report detailing a blatant disregard for human life. In the past, Bolsonaro has come under fire for the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which has also negatively impacted indigenous populations that have been forced to abandon their homes. The President has been accused of deliberate neglect of his country’s citizens. The list of charges against him includes nine separate crimes, such as malfeasance, preventing health measures, and illegal use of public funds, in addition to the more serious charges.
Bolsonaro was among the most indifferent world leaders, even encouraging mass gatherings as the pandemic raged, mocking the utility of masks, and criticizing members of the media that questioned his approach even as the gravity of the situation appeared obvious to anyone paying attention. He called the virus “a little flu” and joked that vaccines would turn people into alligators.
He reportedly remains unvaccinated.
Predictably, Bolsonaro responded to the report with disdain, labeling it a political attack by his rivals. Brazil’s political system is no stranger to controversy, as the three presidents that came before Bolsonaro were each tarred with accusations of corruption at various points. Experts on Brazilian politics noted that it was unlikely that Bolsonaro would be impeached or prosecuted, despite the damning findings laid out in the report. Just before it was to be released, several of those involved in preparing the report sought to tone down some of the harshest language, revealing the polarized political system that some have argued has led to sclerotic governance.
The ineptitude extended beyond the initial response to the pandemic; there are several instances documented in the report that point to further mishaps. Not only did Bolsonaro push unproven cures—including hydroxychloroquine, which was also peddled as a remedy by former U.S. President Donald Trump—but the Brazilian president’s administration mishandled deals with Pfizer to secure the vaccine. There have been widespread allegations of corruption, bribery, and kickbacks levied against Bolsonaro’s government. Brazil’s attorney general may seek to pursue criminal charges, which would also have to be approved by the lower house of Congress. Renan Calheiros, a Brazilian senator who was the lead author of the report, said that it was possible that the case could make its way all the way to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands. The committee vote is upcoming on October 26, and Brazil’s prosecutor-general, appointed by the president, will ultimately decide whether to pursue the charges.