Almost two hundred economists and bankers in Brazil have asked President Jair Bolsonaro for stronger measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which is sweeping the country. Through a letter released this weekend, the experts – among them former presidents of the central bank with different governments and the partners of Itaú, the largest private bank in the country – demand respect for science and proper government management, which does not deny or minimize the risk of contagion or the scale of the crisis. They also recommend confinement and a coordinated national action to stop the galloping deterioration of the Brazilian economy and health, when the country adds almost 300,000 deaths.
The signatories touch on a sensitive point, turned into a battlefield: the relevance or not of the confinement or closure of economic activity, one of the containment measures that according to its critics would most affect the economy. “The controversy surrounding the economic impact of social distancing reflects the false dilemma between saving lives and ensuring the livelihood of the vulnerable population,” the text says. “In fact, preliminary data on deaths and economic performance suggest that the countries with the worst economic performance had more deaths from COVID-19. Experience has shown that even the countries that initially chose to avoid closure ended up adopting it, in various ways, given the worsening of the pandemic ”, they point out, mentioning the case of the United Kingdom.
Recommendations to the president are not lacking in the letter, although his name is not mentioned. Bolsonaro has campaigned since the beginning of the pandemic against the restriction measures and even his contagion did not change his mind. Their argument is that the invitation to stay at home is a disaster for the economy and that citizens are going to die more from hunger than from COVID-19. His last attack was to question three states in the Supreme Court because they decreed a confinement. The president has also been appearing in public without a mask until a few weeks ago, hinting that they were useless and were actually doing more harm than good.
Pedro Moreira Salles and Roberto Setúbal, from the Board of Directors of Itaú bank – the largest private bank in Brazil – signed the document, which will be formally sent to the president of the Federal Supreme Court, the Ministry of Economy and the Parliament. The letter emphasizes that the lack of confidence and the unpredictability of the situation are holding back the economic recovery.
The tone of the letter is urgent: for a mass vaccination, which is delayed; for social distancing campaigns and the use of masks, as well as for the granting of a credit line to small businesses that have gone into debt in the vicious circle that the pandemic has created in Brazil. The country is experiencing an explosive wave of infections and deaths this month, with full hospitals and the imminence of a health collapse that has even reached São Paulo, the richest city in the country and with the most health structure.
The average daily deaths, around 2,300, is double that of last year, and can reach 3,000, a figure admitted by the Ministry of Health itself. “We are on the verge of an explosive phase of the pandemic and it is essential that from now on public policies are based on data, reliable information and scientific evidence,” the signatories highlight, noting that the “recession” of the moment will not be overcome ” as long as the pandemic is not controlled by the competent action of the federal government ”. “[El Gobierno] under-uses or misuses the resources at its disposal, ignoring or neglecting the scientific evidence in the design of actions to face the pandemic ”.
The idea for the manifesto came from a WhatsApp group of economists especially concerned about the situation. In two weeks they achieved the adhesion of the two hundred signatories. The letter has become an instrument of extra pressure on President Bolsonaro and marks the distance of the economic sector from his style of government. “It is an illusion to think that the economy will explode ignoring the isolation measures,” says Marcos Bonomo, one of the editors of the text, in a telephone conversation with this newspaper.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.