- BBC World News
With Brazil breaking a record for deaths from coronavirus and its role in the health crisis questioned, President Jair Bolsonaro sought to reassure his followers.
“They have created panic, haven’t they? The problem is there, we regret. But you can’t panic,” Bolsonaro said, criticizing the press in front of a group of supporters on Wednesday.
These comments came after Brazil recorded its daily record of deaths from covid-19 on Tuesday and before it broke it again on Wednesday, with 1,840 lives lost in 24 hours.
The South American giant is the second country in the world with the highest number of deaths from the pandemic (259,271 until this Thursday), only surpassed by the United States.
However, Bolsonaro himself has generated fright in different areas of Brazil with his recent gestures about the virus, the economy and democracy.
Here are three recent examples:
1. Criticisms of the mascarillas and confinement
In the talk with his followers on Wednesday, Bolsonaro criticized the restrictions ordered in different states of the country in the face of the increase in covid-19 infections.
“Are people going to die of hunger, of depression?” He asked.
“As far as it is up to me, we will never have lockdown (lockdown). Never, a policy that did not work anywhere in the world, “he said at another time despite the fact that those measures helped contain infections in various countries.
Last week, the president had questioned the use of face masks which science also promotes as a key to preventing the spread of the virus.
Bolsonaro argued, citing an unspecified German study, that the masks “are harmful” for children and cause inconveniences such as headaches and “decreased perception of happiness.”
The increase in the contagion curve in Brazil is attributed to more contagious variants of the virus, which generate fear of a collapse of the healthcare system from some states.
In São Paulo, the most populous state in Brazil and with an average of one request for hospitalization every two minutes, Governor João Doria announced the closure of non-essential activities as of Saturday.
Doria is one of 19 Brazilian state governors who signed this week a letter to express your “concern” in the face of criticism that Bolsonaro made of them for their responses to the health crisis.
“In the midst of a pandemic of a proportion perhaps unprecedented in history, aggravated by a powerful economic and social crisis, the federal government seems to prioritize the creation of confrontations,” the governors maintained.
In turn, the state secretaries of Health issued another letter stating that “the absence of a unified and coherent national leadership has made it difficult to adopt” measures against covid-19.
With less than 4% of the Brazilian population vaccinated against the virus, the secretaries also pointed to “the slowness in the supply of vaccines” as an obstacle to reversing the situation.
2. The intervention in Petrobras
On the economic level, one of the most controversial actions of Bolsonaro as president has been his interference in the state oil company Petrobras to replace its president with a retired army general.
This caused panic in the markets, where the value of Petrobras shares plunged 21% on February 22, a loss equivalent to US $ 18 billion on the stock market.
Although the price of shares in the company, one of the largest in Latin America, was later partially recovered, Bolsonaro’s measure was read as a sign of increased interventionism economic in Brazil for political reasons.
“The business community, which was very important for Bolsonaro’s victory, begins to be more critical of him, not so much because of the tragedy of the pandemic but because of these measures he took on the economy, moving away from a liberal agenda that was always difficult. for him and increasingly entering an interventionist vision, “says Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, to BBC Mundo.
The change in Petrobras was also seen as a movement pre-election of a president preparing to seek a second term next year and facing a prolonged economic crisis.
Brazil’s GDP had a historic fall of 4.1% in 2020 and economists consider the recovery to be compromised this year, due to the worsening of the pandemic.
The president was particularly concerned about a recent spike in fuel prices, which, in turn, upset the truckers union, which in 2018 paralyzed the Brazilian economy with a strike.
Bolsonaro announced on Facebook the departure of the president of Petrobras, Roberto Castello Branco, and his replacement by General Joaquim Silva e Luna.
Although the change will take place on March 20, the president immediately suspended taxes on diesel and cooking gas.
The Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, acknowledged that the substitution in the oil company had a “bad effect” from an economic point of view.
Guedes, seen as an increasingly dubious guarantee of the reform agenda in Bolsonaro’s government, warned that Brazil may soon resemble Argentina or Venezuela if it makes poor economic decisions.
“To become Argentina, six months; to become Venezuela, a year and a half. If it is done wrong, it goes fast. Now, do you want to become Germany, the United States? (It takes) 10, 15 years in the other direction”, Guedes said in a podcast recording released Tuesday.
3. The militarization of civil power
The change in the Petrobras presidency also caused consternation as another sign of the militarization of Brazil’s civil power under Bolsonaro.
The President, who is a former Army Captain, has designated active or retired members of the Armed Forces in key government positions, from the chief of staff to the Ministry of Health in the midst of a pandemic.
Nine of the 21 Brazilian ministries are commanded by the military, who increased their presence in the government by 33% until July and held about 2,500 positions, according to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
This is seen by some as a risk to democracy Brazilian.
Edson Fachin, minister of the Supreme Federal Court, the highest court of justice in Brazil, said last month in the same newspaper that “the remilitarization of the civil government” is “a worrying symptom.”
After noting that since 1988 the Brazilian Armed Forces acted within the limits of their powers and subordinated themselves to the civil power without interfering in government tasks, Fachin warned that “crossing that line can be a threat to democracy.”
Bolsonaro has on different occasions expressed nostalgia for the military government that Brazil had from 1964 to 1985.
“Some believe that I can do everything. If everything depended on me, this would not be the regime in which we would be living. And despite everything, I represent democracy in Brazil,” the president said during a military event at the end of February.
“Together with our Armed Forces and other government institutions, we will do everything to comply with our Constitution, to make our democracy work and our freedom is above all,” he added.
Santoro evaluates that “the military has a very strong political loyalty to Bolsonaro and when Bolsonaro cannot find a civilian specialist to do what he wants, he knows that he will have a general to fulfill that task.”
“Presidents who have this type of profile like these extreme crisis situations,” he says. “They like that political atmosphere of all or nothing, of the big bets.”
Now you can receive notifications from BBC News Mundo. Download our app and activate them so you don’t miss our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.