Consisting of over 200 million people, the population of Brazil is enormously diverse in many ways, most crucially economically. Whilst wealthier neighbourhoods can afford to adhere to state laws to control Coronavirus, poorer neighbourhoods have had such measures brutally imposed upon them by drug cartels, more concerned for their sources of income than peoples wellbeing.
Various measures introduced by individual states have been undermined by President Jair Bolsonaro, who told citizens to carry on living as normal. At a rally on 10 May – as Brazil became the third most affected country in the world – Bolsonaro claimed he had universal support for his approach: “We have the people on our side, we have the Armed Forces on the side of the people, in the name of law, order, democracy, and freedom … and most importantly, we have God with us,”
“We have the people on our side…”:
The President’s approval rating has dropped significantly since he took office in January 2019 and in early May reached an all-time low of 27%. One of the sharpest drops was recorded after Bolsonaro responded to being challenged over sharply rising COVID deaths: “So what..! I lament it …what do you want me to do?”
“…we have the Armed Forces on the side of the people…”
Brazils’ top General (Edson Leal-Pujol) recently came out on the side of the people, calling the pandemic “one of the greatest challenges in our history”. He defended social isolation measures. Bolsonaro, an ex-Army Captain, is now trying to remove him. He wants to install someone more on board with his suspected ambitions of recreating a military dictatorship similar to that which ruled Brazil between 1964-85, which he and Vice President Mourão (a retired General) have continually praised.
“…in the name of law, order, democracy, and freedom”
At the rally, hundreds of far-right protesters gathered to protest against the quarantine implemented by the Law with chants and signs of “Military intervention with Bolsonaro“, “Out with Congress“, and “Supreme Court saboteurs”. Bolsonaro insists these protests were spontaneous, but the Supreme Court is investigating members of Congress suspected of involvement, including Bolsonaro’s own sons. His former Justice Minister, Sergio Moro, recently alleged that the President politically interfered in law enforcement institutions (to gain influence over such). Federal Police are investigating Bolsonaro and sons for a multitude of other alleged crimes.
“… most importantly, we have God with us,”
Although Brazil is traditionally a country of great religious diversity and tolerance, in 2017 Bolsonaro stated: ”God above everything. There is no such thing as a secular state. The state is Christian, and any minority that is against this has to change, if they can”
Overall, Bolsonaro’s rally speech demonstrated Bolsonaro’s desperation to appeal directly to voters as he loses support from Congress and Senate, Legislature and Judiciary, the Press and even his former political party (PSL), the leader of which (’Major’ Olimpio), even recently went so far as to predict: “I see a 50% likelihood of Bolsonaro not making it until the end of his term” . Bolsonaro’s extraordinary latest response, on 5 June, is to stop publishing figures for COVID deaths and infections in Brazil.
by Jeremy Maher, Co-Environment Officer, Islington North and who recently returned from Brazil and is a member of Finsbury Park Ward