Crimes Against Humanity: The Chaos of COVID-19 Mishandles and Destabilizes Brazilian Democracy

Brazil is the only country in the world that has been devastated by COVID-19 to a similar extent as the U.S.—its COVID-19 death rate of over 600,000 currently ranks second highest in the globe. Deliberate, state-sponsored misinformation, the debunking of science, and government recklessness in favor of a political agenda have exacerbated the suffering and losses of the Brazilian populace. One man lies at the heart of it all: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

  On October 26, seven out of the eleven senators who comprised the inquiry committee investigating the government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic voted to formally charge Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, filing additional charges against two companies and 77 other individuals. Following the submission of the 1,288-page report, which marked a culminating submission following six months of investigation, senators cheered after the vote to press for action against the corruption that cost thousands of Brazilians their lives. However, despite widespread support for political repercussions against Bolsonaro, no further action is expected to be taken. The Attorney General’s desk, upon which the report landed, belongs to Augusto Aras, an ally of Bolsonaro. At present, a criminal runs free.

Nonetheless, in the wake of the reports, Bolsonaro’s political optics have all but nosedived. On October 31, the president made global headlines after his security detail allegedly assaulted Brazilian reporters covering his trip to Rome for the G20 summit. At the summit, news reports and photographs show the president as an isolated figure, whose mishandling of the country’s brutal pandemic has been labelled as a “genocide.” Missing from an official picture taken with global heads and facing protests in the streets, it is obvious that his critics exist far beyond the borders of Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s political isolation also gestures towards a blatant fact: his record as president is far from glowing. Since Bolsonaro took office in 2018, Brazil has seen double digit inflation, increases in hunger and inequality, and international criticism over its role regarding the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest. 

Exacerbating his political unpopularity is his association with the former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose dangerous playbook Bolsonaro imitated closely. Both leaders fervently denied the severity of COVID-19, sowed doubt about vaccines, and pushed unproven remedies such as the antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine and dewormer ivermectin. Trump and Bolsonaro pushed public health misinformation at the cost of thousands of lives. 

Their political resemblance does not stop there. Bolsonaro has recently moved to make unsubstantiated claims that his 2018 election victory was tainted by voter fraud and that the election should have substantiated his victory by a greater margin. He has gone as far as to lobby for Brazil’s anti-tampering electronic voting machines to be removed in favor of old fashion paper ballot voting.

So uncanny is the political resemblance between Bolsonaro and Trump that the former has been nicknamed the “Trump of the Tropics.” Trump himself acknowledged a political ally in Bolsonaro—near the end of his term, the outgoing American president gave a resounding endorsement to his Brazilian counterpart. This praise evidently drew Bolsonaro into further imitation, for the Brazilian president has already started to claim that political adversaries may attempt to remove him from office by committing voter fraud in the upcoming general election. Mirroring Trump, Bolsonaro has also refused to relinquish his office if he loses. “I have three alternatives for my future,” he said: “being arrested, killed, or victory.”

  Yet, Bolsonaro seems to be laying the groundwork for anything but the third; new polls show that his popularity is sinking and predict a win for Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Indeed, public fury and political animosity towards Bolsonaro’s political despotism has culminated in a tide of anti-Bolsonaro activism. Already, thousands have taken to the streets in protest and called for his removal from office. 

Exactly one year away from the end of his term, and with general elections in October, Bolsonaro’s prospect of reelection looks grim. Over 100 requests have flooded the Chamber of Deputies petitioning for his impeachment. A new poll shows that 61 percent of Brazilians believe that his administration has been adverse, up from 23 percent in the first days of his presidency.Bolsonaro’s crimes against humanity are more proof of the anger, frustration and betrayal that the Brazilian people feel in response to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While further action from the Bolsonaro administration is unlikely, there have been discussions to move these accusations to Brazil’s Supreme Court and the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Although it does not turn back the clock, the Brazilian people hope to one day see justice for the crimes committed against them.

By: Dominique Williams