This article was first published on 3 May 2021 in Portuguese by Brasil247. You can read the original here. The English translation is by the author.
As the number of cases and deaths by COVID-19 soars unchecked throughout Brazil, we see President Jair Bolsonaro ramping up his threats to democracy. Likewise, the Brazilian government’s attacks on other countries, notably China, are escalating.
The slow vaccine roll-put – 15.7% of the population has received the first dose and 7.5% both doses – is due to the shortage of imported vaccines. In addition, the active pharmaceutical ingredient (AFI) used by local vaccine manufacturers is imported from China. So it appears bizarre and incomprehensible that the President, his three sons, and his Finance Minister, as well as other members of the government, persist in their almost daily attacks on China.
These attacks, as well as being based on proven lies, have undermined diplomatic and commercial relations with China, currently Brazil’s largest international partner. China in turn reciprocates, delaying exports of the vital AFI ingredients to Brazil. China is also the main supplier of other items used in the prevention of the disease, such as PPE (surgical masks, gloves, aprons, syringes, among many others), and in its treatment, such as breathing equipment and medication used in intubation procedures.
Thus, in addition to internally practicing a necro-policy that is leading its citizens to death, the Brazilian government, in an apparently disconnected and irrational attitude, also practices a suicidal foreign relations policy.
Trump, Biden and Bolsonaro
While President Biden has announced that the US will send 10% of its stocks of vaccines to other countries, The Washington Post on 30 April published a story whose headline foresaw the likely consequences for Brasil: ‘Bolsonaro insulted most of the world. Now Brazil needs its help’. There is no doubt that Brazil, if it comes to be considered for a part of this vaccine stock, will certainly be at the bottom of the list.
Bolsonaro and his sons always offered servile support to Donald Trump. Commenting on the attack and the invasion of the US Congress by a group of fanatical Trump supporters, when the House was ratifying Joe Biden’s election, Bolsonaro appeared to justify that action by repeating the lie that there was fraud in Biden’s election! Not satisfied, the Brazilian President delayed sending a message congratulating the president-elect for several weeks, while continuing to provide support for Trump’s allegations of fraud.
An analysis made by the science journal Nature on 4 May, shows the extremely high cost that two countries in particular are paying in human lives lost to Covid-19. The cases analyzed, not surprisingly, are those of Brazil and India. In both, according to the article, the respective leaders failed to follow the recommendations of the scientists. This, in turn, delayed the procurement of vaccine stocks, thus causing unnecessary deaths that, adding the two countries’ figures, already total at least 660,000.
The character of the Bolsonaros
What can explain the actions and speeches of President Bolsonaro, his family members, and almost his entire cabinet? Only a combination of the following factors comes to mind.
First, there is a total and absolute disregard for human life. Bolsonaro has repeatedly shown this in the way he speaks about ethnic minorities (indigenous people and the quilombola slave descentants); the changes he has made in the law to allow easy access to firearms; his anti-science statements about Covid-19 as well as the deaths caused by it– ‘It’s just a little flu’, ‘So what? I am not a gravedigger’, ‘Only the pussies are afraid of the disease’, to name but a few.
The second factor is the infamous relationship that Jair Bolsonaro and his sons have long maintained with the Rio de Janeiro militias – criminal gangs formed mostly by former police officers. During Bolsonaro’s term in government, the militias have gained control of 57% of Rio de Janeiro’s territory!
This entente between the Bolsonaros and these criminal organizations is illustrated in stark detail by the carnage that took place last week in the Jacarezinho community in Rio de Janeiro, home to nearly 40,000 people. In this, the most lethal killing spree in the long history of the city’s police violence, 28 people were killed in what is already called ‘The massacre of Jacarezinho’, a description widely echoed by the national and international media. Just one of the dead was a police officer killed during the attack. The other 27 were allegedly drug traffickers. As the truth begins to emerge, we find out that only 4 of the dead were wanted for crimes, 2 did not have any police record, and 12 had previously committed some minor drug-related felony.
It is worth bearing in mind that the Jacarezinho massacre clearly contradicted the Brazilian Supreme Court’s decision that police operations in such communities should only be carried out in extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, this lethal action was preceded by a meeting, which took place the day before the killings, between Bolsonaro and Claudio Castro, Governor of Rio, who is in charge of the police. Moreover there is an ongoing territorial war in Rio de Janeiro. This war has, on one hand, traffickers linked to organized gangs and, on the other, the militias, linked to the police, both equally criminal and murderous. Finally, Jacarezinho was a community under the control of a gang called Comando Vermelho and was therefore a territory not yet controlled by the militias.
Is the president mad?
There is a third factor that has attracted comment on since Bolsonaro appeared in public life more than three decades ago, but apparently had not been taken seriously. This is his increasingly evident mental disorder, already analyzed by medical experts and described as a case of severe psychopathy. With respect to this, two recent announcements should be mentioned: a medical studies course will be given by psychiatrists that will analyze the mental health of world leaders, including the president; and a speech made by Deputy Fausto Pinato, who, paradoxically, belongs to the one of the parties allied to the president in the Chamber of Deputies, in which he stated that Bolsonaro may have a serious mental condition and suggested that he be suspended from duty pending medical treatment!
Last week also saw the beginning of a Congressional Inquiry (CPI) to investigate responsibilities for the high death toll by Covid-19. This was met, predictably by a furious reaction from the Bolsonaro government. It is no surprise that the President himself is showing escalating signs of mental unbalance.
That the Jacarezinho massacre may, therefore, have been used by Bolsonaro and his faithful ally Governor Claudio Castro as a “smoke screen” to deflect the focus of the CPI of which Bolsonaro and his ministers are so terrified, is not a hypothesis to be disregarded. It would be, for Bolsonaro, just another step in his necro-policy.
It lies therefore in the hearts, minds and hands of the senators and deputies to prevent the assassination of Brazil by its own President.
Main image: from video by The Intercept.
Alvaro Penteado Crósta is Professor at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and Researcher at the Brazilian National Council for Research (CNPq). He was Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UNICAMP (2013-2017), and Director of the Geosciences Institute (2005- 2009). He is a full Member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.