By Claudia Webbe MP
As of June 20 it was reported that Brazil had seen 49,090 deaths from Covid-19, with 1,038,568 cases. This horrific number means Brazil now has the second highest death toll and the second highest number of cases in the world from COVID-19 behind the USA.
Brazil has some 210 million inhabitants making it the sixth most populated country in the world. There is great concern amongst experts that the peak has not yet been reached, and that official figures continue to under-report the real extent of the spread of the pandemic.
Despite these devastating figures Brazil’s far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro, continues to regularly play down the risks of the pandemic and its human cost – instead focusing his attention on attacking what he terms ‘media hysteria.’
Early in the crisis he dismissed coronavirus as “just a little flu” and at one point even suggested, without any evidence, that Brazilians may have a natural immunity to the disease.
As the death toll has grown there has been no change of course from Bolsonaro from his deeply reactionary policies that are inflicting so much pain on Brazilians.
Rather than taking action to protect public health, the far-right President has consistently refused to advocate or implement the necessary ‘lockdown,’ social distancing and other measures advised by the World Health Organisation, and which have been taken by any country or region that has had any success in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Instead, last week Bolsonaro took the opportunity to follow Trump’s lead by threatening to withdraw Brazil from the World Health Organisation, accusing the UN agency of “ideological bias.” Astonishingly, given his Government’s terrible handling of the pandemic, he motivated his attack on the WHO by saying “we don’t need outsiders to give us clues about health in here.”
With his policies leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths, Bolsonaro has seen his approval ratings slump as opposition grows to his disastrous handling of the pandemic.
A recent poll conducted by the Brazilian institute Datafolha showed his disapproval ratings up by five points to 43 percent – the highest it has been since the beginning of his government in January 2019.
Additionally, the poll found that “the part of the population that never believes President Jair Bolsonaro’s statements has increased from 38 to 44 percent”, and that 37 percent of those interviewed believe Bolsonaro “never behaves as a president should.”
This growing opposition is not just reflected in opinion polls.
Around the world we have seen social media videos of daily pots and pans protests from peoples’ balconies in Brazil demanding that Bolsonaro goes. The Workers’ Party (PT) and other progressive political parties have launched an impeachment bid. Indigenous communities, joined by NGOs and others internationally, have launched appeals for urgent action to stop the deadly spread of Coronavirus to the Amazon and other areas where there is little or no provision for health emergencies. We have seen Black Lives Matter, pro-democracy and other movements erupt in protest against a range of Bolsonaro’s reactionary policies.
As is to be expected from a President who has regularly expressed his admiration for the country’s former military dictatorship – which killed, tortured and injured thousands of people between 1964 and 1985 – Bolsonaro last week went on the offensive against these growing opposition movements.
In particular, he lashed out at Black Lives Matter protesters.
No doubt stirring up his violent far-right activist base, Bolsonaro said “We are witnessing groups of marginal terrorists who want to break Brazil… They are threatening us,” and went on to argue that the protesters “are marginalized people, terrorists, pot-users, unemployed people” who “want to break Brazil.”
Like Trump, Bolsonaro is clearly scared of the power of these movements to transform society and challenge injustice.
Indeed, Bolsonaro recently said of Trump that “He is my friend, he is my brother…. I send a hug to Trump. Brazil wants to deepen our relationship more and more [and] I push for his re-election.”
These comments reflect how reactionary hard and far right-wing forces are building strong links internationally. This includes Trump and Bolsonaro but is also very much a growing factor we must consider here in Britain.
These same hard and far-right forces also advocate similar policies internationally when it comes to dealing with the Coronavirus crisis and its impact – putting the interests of private profit before people and health.
And they are following the same scapegoating tactics to escape blame for the consequences of these disastrous policies, targeting black and migrant communities.
But they are also facing a growing global rebellion against their twisted priorities, with the Blacks Lives Matter movement at its heart.
As this resistance builds, we must also urgently build international links if we are going to successfully meet the challenges we face.
And as part of this we must build international solidarity with those in the frontline in the battles against the far-right across the globe and struggling for a different kind of society and world, including those heroic people fighting in Brazil.
Claudia Webbe is the MP for Leicester East and Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative. You can follow here on Twitter here and Facebook here.
Claudia is chairing a meeting in solidarity with Brazil with speakers including Dilma Rousseff, Jeremy Corbyn and Glenn Greenwald on June 24 at 7pm. Register and details here.