President Jair Bolsonaro kept his style dry when speaking about the imminence of the 100,000 lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil. In the presentation that he makes every week live on social networks, he tried to distance himself from any responsibility. “People mourn all the deaths. We are already reaching the number of 100,000, maybe today, “he said on Thursday, when officially the deaths totaled 98,493. “Let’s get on with life, with finding a way to escape this problem.”
After a year and seven months in office, Bolsonaro retains the style of someone who ignores his adversaries, and remains focused on his permanent electoral campaign character. Since the first case was registered in Brazil in February, the president has combined authoritarian and denialist speeches with few moments of serenity. Its main objective has been to remove responsibility for the crisis and transfer it to the governors, mayors and other institutions, such as the Supreme Federal Court. In addition, he constantly tightens the rope with the other powers, recommends drugs that have no proven efficacy in fighting the disease – chloroquine -, mocks social distancing and takes advantage of the approval that he enjoys among the poorest thanks to emergency aid of 600 reais (112 dollars) that Congress approved.
The president has even witnessed his own surroundings become ill. The Planalto Palace has been renamed covidian. Of the 3,400 officials who work in the presidential headquarters, 178 had covid-19 until July 31 last. Of Bolsonaro’s 23 ministers, eight have reported that they had been infected. The most recent have been Jorge Oliveira (General Secretariat) and Walter Braga Netto (Civil House). They all fell ill after Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the virus on July 7. The first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, also fell ill. If it were a country, the presidential headquarters would have a rate of 5,235 contaminated per 100,000 inhabitants. Brazil’s rate is 129.
“During this process, the president has not had the interest or the ability to assume that he was wrong with this constant denial, and he has had to build the political narrative that the institutions have prevented him from acting,” says political scientist and lawyer Valdir Pucci , director of the Republican Faculty. Bolsonaro faces complaints before the International Criminal Court in The Hague and in the Supreme Court of Brazil. You also have at least 40 requests for impeachment for its strategy against covid-19. Not even having caught the coronavirus caused the president to moderate the tone of his radical speeches.
On just one occasion since he announced that he had been cured, on July 25, Bolsonaro told his supporters that they should keep a safe distance and wear a mask. However, days later he participated in agglomerations. In the city of Bagé, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, he fired another of his controversial phrases. When asked if he had contracted the disease because he had been careless, he said: “I have never been careless. He knew that one day he would catch her. Unfortunately, I think almost everyone will get it one day. What are they afraid of? Face it ”.
Bolsonaro’s phrases to minimize the disease have made headlines around the world: “I am not a gravedigger,” he pointed out in April, when the country counted more than 2,000 deaths; “So what?” He said when the country exceeded 5,000 dead at the end of that same month; and the famous “it’s just a flu”, a month before. The president has been trapped in the narrative of the confrontation and will likely remain that way until the end of his term, not just because of the pandemic.
“Bolsonaro’s political strategy includes the idea of being on an electoral campaign permanently. It is part of the DNA of Bolsonarism. Mainly, to keep his fervent followers closer and closer, ”says political scientist Leandro Consentino, professor of the Insper, an institution of university teaching and research. “Bolsonaro tests the limits of institutions and civil society,” says historian Odilon Caldeira, professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora. “When she began to radicalize, she tried to seek a process of naturalization of her speech,” she completes. In that crusade, he put General Henrique Pazuello temporarily in command of the Ministry of Health, after maintaining a pulse with the two previous ministers, both doctors, who left office because they did not agree with the protocols that recommended hydroxychloroquine to treat covid -19, as Bolsonaro wanted.
A military in Health
Pazuello’s mandate, which was to be provisional, is close to serving three months. Enough time to accommodate the president’s demands, such as endorsing chloroquine, even without scientific evidence. In his public appearances, Bolsonaro does not miss the opportunity to show a box of the medicine to his followers or even to the ñandúes who live in the Palacio de la Alvorada, his residence. It also encourages the use of the dewormer Ivermectin, another drug for which there is no evidence that it is effective against covid-19. While spending time on this propaganda sui generis, Bolsonaro has let his guard down in a sensitive field for radical Bolsonarians.
To get allies in the National Congress during the pandemic, the president has flirted with the Centrão, a set of political parties without a specific ideology that aim to be close to the Executive to get favors. It began to fill the second and third levels of the Government with politicians recommended by that group with two objectives: first, to prevent any of the more than 40 requests for impeachment that have been presented in the Legislative; second, to try to prepare the ground for the election of the Lower House Table, which will define what the second half of Bolsonaro’s term will be like.
Despite distributing charges, Bolsonaro has not had it easy in the Legislative. His support base is not yet organized. The proof is that 43 presidential vetoes are being analyzed – which are produced when a ruler does not agree with what the congressmen approve -, 19 of which correspond to laws or extracts of laws designed to combat the health crisis caused by the coronavirus .
Bolsonaro vetoed, for example, that mothers who raise their children alone could receive double the value of emergency aid. He also vetoed the suspension, while the state of public emergency lasted, the inclusion of debtor companies in the databases that are used as a parameter to grant loans. Those who follow the daily routine of Congress have the feeling that the president is more concerned with strengthening himself in the face of the distant 2022 electoral campaign than mitigating the effects of the pandemic.
Information about the coronavirus
– The coronavirus map: this is how cases grow day by day and country by country
– Questions and answers about coronavirus
– Guide to action against the disease
– In case of symptoms, these are the telephones that have been enabled in each country in Latin America.