As Covid-19 cases skyrocket in Brazil, Bolsonaro’s reckless attitude has been met with widespread protest. Now is the time to push for change, writes Claudia Webbe MP, vice-chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative. (24/04/2020)
Far-Right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is facing growing opposition to his calamitous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, both in Brazil itself and internationally.
This dangerous stance has involved him saying coronavirus was “just a little flu” and media hysteria — and taking an even more extreme stance than Donald Trump in expressing his disdain for the World Health Organisation’s advice on social isolation to contain the virus.
He has has regularly mocked health experts, including his own health minister, who he has now sacked.
He also launched the “Brazil Can’t Stop” campaign, astonishingly saying: “The best remedy for the disease is work. If someone can work, they have to go back to work… You can’t hide. It’s not okay to be quarantined at home, who knows for how many days.”
This week, in an interview with the Guardian, former President Lula joined this growing chorus of voices urging for an approach that puts public health and peoples’ lives first and follows leaders of opposition parties who recently united to demand Bolsonaro goes.
Lula — who former president Obama once termed the most popular president in the world — says that Bolsonaro is leading Brazilians “to the slaughterhouse.”
“Unfortunately I fear Brazil is going to suffer a great deal because of Bolsonaro’s recklessness … I fear that if this grows Brazil could see some cases like those horrific, monstrous images we saw in Guayaquil,” added the leader of the Latin American left, referring to recent scenes in Ecuador where corpses have literally been piling up in the streets.
The aforementioned opposition parties’ statement meanwhile cites Bolsonaro as “a public-health problem” and “the biggest obstacle to making urgent decisions to reduce the spread of contagion, save lives and guarantee the income of families, jobs and companies.”
Opposition to Bolsonaro doesn’t just come from the political left either. The right-wing governor of Sao Paulo, the country’s most populous state, has said that Brazil is at war with both the coronavirus and the “Bolsonaro-virus.”
As Covid-19 cases have risen, from a few hundred in early March to nearly 6,000 by April 1, to 38,654 (with 2,462 recorded deaths) as of April 20, Bolsonaro’s reckless attitude and behaviour have been met with widespread protest, with residents shouting and banging pots from windows and balconies across the country.
Progressive forces around the world must stand in solidarity with these protesters and with Brazil’s indigenous peoples, for whom highly infectious diseases pose a devastating threat — particularly under a President whose actions since assuming office have been so hostile to them.
And it is not just indigenous communities of course which have suffered so much under Bolsonaro, who only won office because Lula (who was ahead in all polls) was barred from standing, in a continuation of the 2016 right-wing coup in the country.
Bolsonaro has implemented harsh austerity measures and criminalised those who have been resisting them.
He is also openly homophobic and refuses to take action to tackle climate change or protect the Amazon, the lungs of our planet, from deforestation.
It was therefore no surprise to see his son — who plays a prominent political and media role in Brazil — recently join Trump in fanning the flames of hatred against Chinese communities across the world, in a transparent effort to seek to whip up anti-Chinese hysteria to distract from the country’s growing internal problems.
This is an international crisis and we must stand with all those fighting for a response to it everywhere that saves lives and puts public health first — as clearly outlined by the World Health Organisation — including those demanding this in Brazil.
As Lula said: “The truth is Bolsonaro doesn’t think about the impact his destructive acts have on society. He’s reckless.”
Just as we speak up against Trump, we must speak up against Bolsonaro.
Lula also believes that in 2022 Brazil can elect a progressive president, “committed to human rights and respects them, who respects environmental protection, who respects the Amazon … who respects blacks and the indigenous [and] who is committed to the poor of this country.”
Let’s hope he is right for the future — not only of Brazil, but the whole of Latin America and the world.
Claudia Webbe is MP for Leicester East — @ClaudiaWebbe.