Brazil’s 600 thousand deaths: the crisis of representative democracy in a country of fake news

Brazil, October 8th, 2021 – Under the guidance of a president who continues to ignore health protocols and incite crowds during a pandemic, Brazil has officially reached the milestone of 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 this October. In his 2 years in power, Jair Messias Bolsonaro has been accused of being in denial. However, further analysis […]

Brazil, October 8th, 2021 – Under the guidance of a president who continues to ignore health protocols and incite crowds during a pandemic, Brazil has officially reached the milestone of 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 this October. In his 2 years in power, Jair Messias Bolsonaro has been accused of being in denial. However, further analysis show that COVID-19 played a central role in the Bolsonaro government’s strategy to implement a policy of death and exclusion. Bolsonaro didn’t just simply deny the existence of a pandemic, it can be said that the President was. and continues to be COVID-19’s ‘propaganda boy’, a virus activists and disseminator that brought about the crisis of democracy in the country through his fiery and radical speeches that have fueled the spread of false information and complete disregard for human rights.

The current government’s rise to power was facilitated largely by Jair Bolsonaro’s “myth”. A character who is a spokesperson for a Christian God and the traditional Brazilian family, and who evokes order and patriotism, seeking to restore a country filled with uncertainty and systemic corruption. The President is in a political alliance with center and right-wing parties, in addition to its obedient ministerial leadership. His family reveals itself as the focal point in the government’s corruption scandals. These factors paved way to a sequence of approved laws, signed decrees and controversial reforms with the consent of the legislative parliament.

In this context, public institutions, civil society organizations and activist leaderships that look after the democratic rule of law and human rights have become the target of political attacks, ranging from physical and/or online hate attacks to restriction of spaces of representation and citizen participation. There exists a political project which focuses on the expansion of inequalities, “fake news” and removal of rights from entire populations, among which, the most affected were already in a vulnerable situation, such as the black, quilombola, indigenous and LGBTI+ populations.

In this regard, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) publishes this editorial letter to ask the international community for a joint statement urging the Brazilian State to provide clear and transparent information, and respect for the independence of federal entities and institutions, as well as the Universities, Federal Police and Supreme Court for the free exercise of freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Constitution, and for an impartial investigation process into the Bolsonaro government. After all, what are the interest of an authoritarian President who imposed government secrecy of up to 100 years to his vaccination card and to his children’s badges about their access to the Government head office?

Below is an updated overview of the acts of power that are triggering the crisis of representative democracy in Brazil, in which 600,000 lives have been lost to COVID-19. Brazil is the nation with the second-highest mortality rate, and occupies the 62nd place in the global ranking of application of vaccines against the coronavirus(1). Until now, 44.61% of the Brazilian population has been fully immunized.

CPI of COVID-19 – Established in April 2021 and with a deadline for completion in November this year, the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI in Portuguese), headed by the Federal Senate, aims to investigate irregularities in the Bolsonaro government’s policies to combat the pandemic in the country. Since its inception a series of scandals has been uncovered, including a major corruption scheme in the purchase of vaccines 1000% more expensive. In addition, the government also acted so that the private health operator `Prevent Senior´recommends the ´Covid Kit`, which contains a package of drugs that have been proven to be ineffective for the treatment of COVID-19, making its patients human laboratory experiments for the Federal Government’s lucrative and hidden interests. It was also proven that in the first year of the pandemic 120,000 lives could have been saved had Brazil followed effective public health and world health protocols.

In addition, the study also brought to light the focus of racial, class and gender inequality in pandemic-related deaths. Among preventable deaths, it was found that the black population was severely affected, having a 17% higher risk of dying in the public network. Therefore, the CPI is revealing the intricacies of necropolitics that it has underlined before every nation that “death is also hospital discharge”.

2022 Elections and Judicial Inquiries – The Bolsonaro government’s plan for reelection follows its manipulation during the pandemic, the populist appeal and disrespect for democratic institutions. The President launched voracious attacks against the Brazilian electoral system, campaigning for the return of the printed vote and, despite losing the appeal, continued to attack the legitimacy and reliability of Brazil’s current election model. However, to guarantee his re-election, Bolsonaro continues to pass laws and decrees that remove rights from the population and benefit political and private sectors of society, in other words, the economic elite.

Some examples include: The Electoral Fund, which provides for the parties’ budget to carry out electoral campaigns and , despite vetoes, can withdraw R$3.5 billion from health in 2022; The Mini Labor Reform, which makes working conditions even more precarious and makes labor justice inaccessible for the workers; The anti-terrorism law, already approved in the Chamber of Deputies, which provides for the creation of a secret police for Bolsonaro and the approval of the exclusion of illegality of public security agents, a fact denounced by civil society as a license to kill. This law has even been criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who considered its text a threat to human rights activists and civil society entities; and the Land grabbing project, favoring deforestation and impunity for environmental crimes – this bill is one of the subterfuges of the rural caucus for the occupation of public lands.

Despite all these schemes to stay in power, Bolsonaro is investigated in five inquiries which are ongoing at the Supreme Court (STF – its acronym in Portuguese) and at the Superior Electoral Court (TSE – its acronym in Portuguese). From the fake news inquiry to irregularities in the purchase of Covaxin vaccines, government allies are also being investigated for attacks on democracy and state institutions. In addition, his sons; Carlos, Eduardo and Renan Bolsonaro, and his wife Michele Bolsonaro, are also being investigated for various crimes, among which are suspected of leading a criminal organization to passive corruption. During this period, Bolsonaro once again acted against the transparency of information and authorized a secret budget for 2022, in which it maintains in its power the release of resources in exchange for votes in the legislative house.

Protests for Bolsonaro’s impeachment and the undemocratic protests –With a growing rejection of the current government, demonstrations erupted across the country in favor of impeaching Bolsonaro. Even some parties that campaigned in favor of the election of the President, organized themselves into acts calling for the end of the government. With the motto “Vaccine in the arm and food on the plate”, civil society organizations denounce the racist and genocidal barbarism allied to the current dismantling of public policies. The economic crisis, aggravated by high food prices and inflation, together with the increase in vaccination, have encouraged more people to take to the streets in protests calling Bolsonaro Out. The last demonstration took place on October 2, 2021 and managed to bring together various sectors of society. There are more than 123 requests for impeachment presented that attribute crimes to the President, in addition to several accusations to international bodies and even in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), for crimes against humanity and genocide.

However, between the fall of his popularity and the current crisis of his government, Bolsonaro has not renounced the media strategies of abuse of power and authoritarianism. He challenged legal institutions by inciting protests on September 7th, Brazilian Independence Day, where anti-democratic demonstrations took place in which the people, inflamed by the President’s warlike and despot speech, exalted disobedience to justice through military intervention and against the STF. Still, other anti-democratic demonstrations were ignited with the support of some truck drivers which also intended to massively paralyze some of the country’s highways on the same date. However, fearing reprisals, Bolsonaro sent an audio message asking them to put an end to the attempt. As the situation only got worse, a few days after his attacks on democracy, the President issued a media note attempting to pacify tensions, proposing a truce between the country’s institutions of power. Whether an irony of fate or a camouflaged electoral move, the statement released was written by Michel Temer, former president of Brazil.

Bolsonaro at the UN – In addition to being the only unvaccinated G20 leader present at the 75th UN General Assembly, Bolsonaro, in his opening remarks distorted facts and spread false information. In an illusory communist attack on the country, the President cried out in the name of God in a secular country and claimed there was no corruption in his government. He defended his ineffective early treatment for COVID-19 and opposed the health passport and concealed data on deforestation in the Amazon, even ignoring the consequences of the pandemic on indigenous peoples and territories. As if that wasn’t enough, some members of the President’s entourage were diagnosed with COVID during the trip, including the Minister of Health, Marcelo Queiroga. The minister had a week earlier suspended the national adolescent vaccination strategy, making it difficult to provide doses in several states. Even so, on the recommendation of Anvisa(2), those infected during the trip had to undergo isolation in New York, at the expense of the Brazilian taxpayers.

Hunger and Unemployment – Food and nutritional insecurity has grown exponentially in the country due to the crisis caused by the pandemic and the high rate of unemployment and informal work. According to the National Survey on Food Insecurity held in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic, 43.4 million Brazilians do not have enough food and 19.1 million (9% of the population) are starving. An example of this bleak and severe scenario recently reported in the media is the distribution of remnants of meat and bones for the hungry population and without any financial resources. In this way, it appears again that the current political project dialogues with necropolitics by allowing hunger to reach these levels, especially affecting the black population. While the population is starving, the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, disdains the rise in inflation, and the results of his economic policy are reflected in the rise in prices of basic food and cooking gas.

Environment: Thesis on the  Marco Temporal (Time Limit) and Ricardo Salles’ Dismissal – The Marco Temporal interpretative framework  goes against the rights of Brazilian native peoples. According to this thesis, indigenous populations are only entitled to the lands they occupied before the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution. However, there are still isolated peoples, those who were expelled from their territories and lands acquired and recognized as having indigenous rights after 1988. Thus, the review of the demarcation of indigenous lands serves the interests of the agrobusiness sectors, land grabbers and miners, in search of extractive and commercial exploitation. In August of this year, more than six thousand representatives of 147 peoples from the country camped in Brasília, to accompany the judgment by the STF. Despite all the indigenous mobilization that took large proportions even on the international scene, the judgment, which was tied at 1×1 between the rapporteurs, was suspended at the end of September without a deadline for resumption. It is worth remembering that even though it is a racist and discriminatory thesis, what is widely discussed about the Marco Temporal is the indigenous territorial issue.

Among the agendas of the environment, the then Minister of Environment, Ricardo Salles, became the target of investigations for involvement in a scheme of illegal timber import between support for changes in environmental rules. Accusations include corruption and favoring burning in the Amazon, and other various environmental crimes in levied against Salles. As soon as he became a defendant, Salles asked to be removed from office and was dismissed. The operation triggered by the STF also determined the removal of the President of IBAMA (3), Eduardo Bim, on suspicion of irregularities.

This editorial seeks to fulfill the mission of Race and Equality, of denouncing human rights violations in Latin America. Our work in Brazil recognizes that the crisis of representative democracy combined with political interests, further deepens socioeconomic inequalities. The circulation of disinformation and fake news needs to be addressed urgently, as they serve to expand a polarized political debate in which there is the criminalization of poverty allied to racist, anti-LGBTI and sexist discourses and violence. The pandemic slaughter has already cost 600,000 lives, many of which could have been preventable, but will it be that, in the face of so many accusations, Bolsonaro’s Brazil will reach the deplorable mark of 1 million deaths? We hope not.

  • Data from September 13, 2021
  • Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency
  • Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources

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