With rising protests, criticism of allies and opponents, President Jair Bolsonaro’s irresponsible stance on Convid-19 continues to feed pandemonium in Brazil
By Marques Travae
Sometimes I have to wonder if the reason that things people say offend people are 1) the way they it, 2) they don’t like the person, 3) the things said go against popular opinion 4) the person is actually right but people can’t see it at the time.
Of course, there are several other reasons I could cite, but I’ll leave it at the four I just listed. This is what comes to mind in keeping up with the comments and responses of President Jair Bolsonaro to the panic caused by Covid-19. As I am a person whom tends to think against the grain myself, I always try to deal with the things Bolsonaro says from a calmer perspective. This is not to say I agree with 50%, 25% or even 10% of the things this man says. I’ll just say that, as difficult as it may be to believe, there are times that you can actually learn things, even from those you dislike immensely.
In my own social and political development, I have come to understand that many things I believe simply won’t mix well with what most people think. I remember some years ago after Barack Obama was serving his first term as the President of the United States that it was almost impossible to speak critically of the man within the black community. As most circles I ran in were considered leftist, when I would raise questions and make more critical points about Obama, I was often greeted with silence and crooked eyes.
It was if I was speaking against Jesus….By the way, speaking of Jesus…
Naw, not here, not now…
Anyway, let me stay on topic. Some of things I’m heard Bolsonaro say over the past three weeks or so come across to me as political suicide. When I consider the things he has said, I am reminded of why I could never be a president and have had to slowly back away from social movements I believed in once upon a time. I often say, the further down the rabbit hole you go, the more people you lose. And most social movements these days, as progressive as they claim to be, can’t deal with some very simple truths, which is why I can’t really deal with them anymore.
“What does this have to do with Bolsonaro?”, you might ask. Well, the things he’s uttered since the coronavirus panic has escalated also fall under several different categories. Some are 1) ridiculous, 2) maybe true, although he shouldn’t say it, 3) exagerration, 4) contradictory, 5) conspiratorial (which I am to a certain degree) 6) insensitive. It’s up to the reader to decipher which is which.
I’ll just say, given the history of gaffs, actions and verbal offensives coming from this man, one day these things may come back to bite him in the long run. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen videos of Brazilians in cities across the country banging pots and pans outside their windows calling for Bolsonaro’s ouster. It makes me wonder, how many of these people beating these pots and pans outside now were beating the same pots and pans against Dilma Rousseff in the protests that eventually led to her impeachment several years ago? And how many of them voted for Bolsonaro in 2018? And better, knowing what this man was capable of saying, if many of these people voted for him, why are they reacting to him now? What were they thinking in 2019? You get what you voted for!
And since Bolsonaro took office, the international press have been revealing to the rest of the world what the former military man is all about. And it hasn’t been pretty. If you’ve paying any attention to the situation, it’s easy to see how Bolsonaro has made himself a pretty easy target for criticism.
This past Tuesday, the Brazilian President lashed out at the press, blasted governors across the country and again referred to Covid-19 as nothing more than “hysteria” and “a little cold”. As his words go totally against what the world is feeling right now, and what health specialists and political leaders are advising, the views of Bolsonaro have caught the ears of the international press.
The Guardian of Great Britian called Boslonaro’s comments “incendiary”. “The speech was terrible for many critics of Bolsonaro who believe that his response to the coronavirus will be the end of his political career,” read an excerpt from one article. The newspaper also took issue with something that I also found to be outlandish: Bolsonaro claiming he wouldn’t be affected by the virus because of his athletic history. Really? I won’t really touch on that statement, but I just suppose he didn’t hear about the NBA athletes who were confirmed to have Covid-19 leading to the cancellation of the basketball league’s season.
The New York Times, has pointed out Bolsonaro’s desire to downplay the severity of the virus, saying: “Bolsonaro has faced growing criticism for his careless attitude towards the virus, which he considered a ‘fantasy’ and a ‘a little flu’, despite having infected more than 300,000 people worldwide and killed tens of thousands.” Since these statements have begun to make frontpage headlines, I find myself pondering, if the President is so unconcerned about the severity of Covid-19, why does he keep appearing in public wearing a mask? Just wondering…
Argentina’s Clarín noted growing protests against Bolsonaro’s stance in the form of the aforementioned loud beating of pots and pans coming from homes of cites across Brazil. “While Bolsonaro was speaking, huge pots against him occurred in Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Recife, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and São Paulo, according to different reports made to Clarín. The protests were accompanied by shouts of ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ (get out Bolsonaro),” read a snippet from a recent article in the newspaper.
According to Spain’s El País, Bolsonaro exemplifies a policy of “institutional abandonment” that seems to be the modus operandi across the spectrum of Latin American leaders that have the potential of making the coronavirus issue even worse. El País covered the “political fight” between Bolsonaro, São Paulo governor João Doria (PSDB) and Rio de Janeiro governor Wilson Witzel (PSC), who have implemented cautionary procedures in response to the crisis. For País, the President seeks to minimize the risks of the pandemic.
“And the risks are huge. Official statements – more or less forced – that he has sufficient resources to fight the tsunami are difficult to accept,” the article goes on to say, pointing to Bolsonaro’s reaction as the worst of all South American leaders.
Last Sunday (22), Bolsonaro again downplayed measures to restriction of population circulation and economic activity taken by the two governors. For the President, these actions are deceptive and as such, people would soon discover this on their own. “Soon the people will know that they have been deceived by these governors and by a large part of the media in this issue of the coronavirus,” said Bolsonaro when interviewed by the TV Record network. He continued, “I hope they don’t come to blame me out front for the millions and millions of unemployed in my person.”
Calling the cautionary measures taken by several governors “irresponsible”, the President says that, “at the moment, (his) greatest concern is with people’s lives, as well as with the unemployment”, which he says is being driven by the actions on the part of these governors. When asked specifically about the quarantine state implemented by Doria in São Paulo, Bolsonaro called the governor a “lunatic”. Doria in turn took to social media to respond, saying: “@jairbolsonaro calls coronavirus a fluke and I’m a lunatic? Lead your country, president. Do your part. The governors of Brazil are doing theirs.”
The media giant CNN, which recently debuted with its Brazilian edition, compared the Brazilian President to Mexican leader Andres Manuél Lopez Obrador and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega in terms of underestimating the possible disaster that could come in the wake of the health crisis. Already having dealt with outrageous statements coming from the former Rio deputado (congressman), Brazilians are getting fed up with the extremist leader.
For The Washington Post, Bolsonaro’s manner of dealing with the crisis is similar to that of American President Donald Trump, who also seems more concerned with the economic ramifications of the pandemic rather than its affects on the population. Similar to Bolsonaro’s calls to get back work, Trump has said that he plans to return the US to its normal routine by April 12.
In the Brazilian President’s own words, these types of health concerns tend to happen, and while he maintains that “more important than the economy is life”, he stresses that “we cannot extrapolate in the dose, with unemployment where it is, the catastrophe will be greater.”
“Both Trump and Bolsonaro are frustrated with the measures being taken in their countries to contain the spread of the virus. They fear the impacts of these policies on the economy and their political futures,” read a recent article in the newspaper.
The words, stance and minimizing of the crisis had lead to the widespread belief that Bolsonaro is incapable of leading the country during this time of crisis, which in turn have led to calls for impeachment. Bolsonaro has dodged rumblings for his removal for several months, but with his continuous denial of the severity of this problem, the idea of his removal is no longer far-fetched.
Brazilians have already dealt with a number of political scandals involving Bolsonaro’s also politician sons (see here and here) and the fact that his administration hasn’t been able to deliver a recovery to the country’s stagnant economy and troublesome unemployment, and now, with the President ignoring the advise of the World Health Organization in the face of Covid-19, both those in his corner and opponents are starting to question the sanity of their leader.
In an intense meeting, Minister of Health Luiz Henrique Mandetta questioned if the government was prepared for “the worst-case scenario, with army trucks carrying bodies through the streets? With live transmission over the Internet?” Vast social inequalities that have long been swept under the rug by the media are getting to the point that they can no longer be ignored and with the rising threat of Covid-19, poor residents of the favela slums are beginning to take to the streets against the ineffective measures of the government. Bolsonaro’s political opponents, the PT (Workers’ Party), has issued a complaint against the Bolsonaro to the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) for “irresponsible” and “criminal” conduct in his inability to address a threat that “exposes the physical and mental integrity of the Brazilian population to serious harm.”
Is there any wonder why there is such alarm? Below is a list of statements made by Bolsonaro since the emergence of the Covid-19 crisis:
January 26: “We are concerned, obviously, but it is not an alarming situation”
February 27: “We’re having a coronavirus problem, the whole world is suffering.”
March 6: “The moment is one of unity. Although the problem may get worse, there is no reason to panic.”
March 10: “Obviously we have a crisis at the moment, a small crisis. In my opinion, much more fantasy, the issue of coronaviris, which is not all that the mainstream media is communicating or propagating throughout the world.”
March 11: “What I’ve heard so far (is that) other flus have killed more than this one.”
March 16: “If I got infected, is that right? Look, this is my responsibility, nobody has anything to do with it.”
March 20: “After the stab, it won’t be a little flu that will knock me down.”
March 21: “I recognize the seriousness of the moment and the fear of many Brazilians about the threat of the coronavirus. The government continues to work hard and will take all possible measures to contain the transmission of Covid-19.”
March 23: “People’s lives come first. Now, one detail: the dose of the medicine cannot be excessive so that the side effect is more harmful than the virus itself. This is the heart of the issue.”
March 24: “Because of my athlete’s history, if I was infected by the virus, I wouldn’t have to worry. I would feel nothing or it would be, at most, affected by a little flu or a little cold.”
March 24: “A few state and local authorities must abandon the scorched earth concept, the ban on transportation, the closure of trade and mass confinement.”
March 25: “What they’re doing in Brazil, a few governors and a few mayors, is a crime.” “Other viruses killed much more than this one. There was no such commotion.”
March 27: “Some will die, I lament, that’s life. You can’t stop a car factory because you have deaths in traffic.”
Keep in mind, these statements have been made as the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in Brazil have increased with each passing week.
Needless to say, disappointment, discontent and concern are in the air in Brazil and it’s no secret. For example, a recent YouTube video released by TV Brasil Gov of Bolsonaro’s address to the nation on the coronavirus provided evidence of the country’s rejection of its leader’s attitude. At one point, the video had garnered 89,000 “likes” and “154,000” dislikes. Another poll showed that the live broadcast had been watched nearly 4 million times by Wednesday, March 25th at 12pm. By that time, the video had been evaluated 529,000 times, with 175,000 likes and 354,000 dislikes. Even more telling is that the difference between dislikes and likes spiked 5.2 times between the hours of 9pm and 1am.
At this point, Bolsonaro’s future seems tied to his response to the public pandemonium being driven by the virus and his ineffectiveness could lead to untold consequences for the Brazilian people. In addition to all of this, politically speaking, it is important to remember that Bolsonaro has no base in Brazil’s Congress. In November of last year, Bolsonaro disaffiliated himself from his PSL party putting himself in the position of being the first Brazilian president to occupy the office without a political party since the country’s return to democracy in 1985 after 21 years of a dictatorship.
So given all of these facts, one has to wonder if Bolsonaro be able to survive the politically suicidal path that he seems to be on. A nation and its future are watching…
With information from Brasil 247, Veja, Blog de Jamildo