Covid-19: Bolsonaro’s lack of control is Brazil’s best chance

Bolsonaro’s attempt to copy Trump’s coronavirus response is failing – this is good for Brazil.

by Brian Mier

Pepe Escobar has written a lot about this but, geopolitically speaking, Brazil has become a kind of battlefield in the full spectrum war between the United States and China. We had a Coup d’Ètat in 2016 in which legitimate, democratically-elected President Dilma Rousseff was removed, for ostensibly committing a budgetary infraction that was not an impeachable offense, that involved no embezzlement of funds and that was legalized by the Senate the day after she was removed from office. Since then the rule of law has deteriorated in Brazil. In 2018 former President Lula, who was leading all polls for president with double the support of his closest rival, was arrested and removed from the presidential race in a lawfare operation that the Intercept has now revealed, through leaked Telegram social media conversations between the public prosecutors and the judge who presided over both the investigation and the case, was based on completely fabricated charges. An hour before they went into the final hearing the prosecutors joked with each other about how they knew they didn’t have any evidence against Lula but that, with Judge Sérgio Moro on the bench, it didn’t matter. We also know from these leaked conversations and also from public records, that the United States Department of Justice was involved the entire time. So the result of this is that we have a neofascist President, Jair Bolsonaro, operating like a US puppet ruler. His reaction to the coronavirus crisis is based on copying what Donald Trump does and says. So, as Donald Trump has said that Coronavirus is nothing but a little flu and insinuated that we can’t destroy the economy for the sake of people’s lives and things like that, Bolsonaro, almost as if he were reading off a script, repeats same comments and makes the same insinuations to the Brazilian people. As in the United States, where you have a kind of system where individual states have a lot of autonomy on how they can react on health issues, in Brazil we have a lot of push-back from the governors against Bolsonaro. This has even happened from people in his own government like Health Minister Luis Mandetta (who was fired the other day) who repeatedly contradicted what Bolsonaro said to the Brazilian public. Bolsonaro has repeatedly – almost every night now – come on the air and said that people should ignore the state and municipal government’s isolation orders. This has weakened the response in different states at implementing self isolation. Right now, nationwide, about 50% of the population is respecting isolation guidelines. This includes 3 states which don’t have any kind of lockdown in place, which are run by governors who are ideologically aligned with Jair Bolsonaro.

So we have a situation now, in which I think it would be really hard to analyze Brazil’s coronavirus response at the country level – I think you have to analyze it state by state. Every state is responding in a different way. We have a huge variation ranging from the case of Santa Catarina, which has lifted the quarantine orders and has important cities where mayors are ignoring the governor and maintaining lockdown orders, like Florianopolis, to states like Rondonia, which doesn’t have any lockdown in place, to states like Maranhão, which has a communist governor who set up the first free testing station in the nation when they still only had two confirmed cases. Maranhão has set up fever measuring checkpoints at all roads coming in and out of the state and in the airports, and a couple of days ago, Governor Flavio Dino worked around the Brazilian federal government and the US government and snuck 146 ventilators and 30,000 masks from China in via Ethiopia. The US is engaged in so much piracy right now, basically siezing and stealing any shipment of ventilators they can find moving around Latin America, that he had to do this secretly via Ethiopia.

So we have huge variances state by state. I live in São Paulo where we have a right wing governor, João Doria, who has broken ties with Bolsonaro. To his credit he has fought back every step of the way against Bolsonaro’s coronavirus orders. We have a lockdown in place and, in the city of São Paulo they’ve built 3 field hospitals. Most of the international media Anglo media is ignoring the fact that Brazil has a functioning public health system with universal access and a network of publicly funded scientific research and public health institutes called Fiocruz, which was just designated by the WHO as one of the world reference organizations in the fight against Coronavirus. Fiocruz produces its own medications and vaccines and is the WHO designated coronavirus reference center in the Americas besides the CDC. So what we have is a mixed situation with varying results at the state level. It’s unfortunate that the Bolsonaro administration has chosen to copy the coronavirus response from the nation with the worst handling of the crisis – the US – instead of the nation who has handled it the best – China. However, the fact of the matter is that, unlike the United States, people with no health insurance don’t have to worry that they might go into bankruptcy if they go into a hospital for treatment. Unlike the United States, undocumented workers don’t have to be afraid of being deported if they walk into a hospital. Both the US and Brazil are governed by clowns who are spreading conspiracy theories about coronavirus and urging people to disobey quarantine recommendations. So, even though Bolsonaro may try his best to copy his idol Trump, Brazil is probably still better off than the United States in terms of response to the pandemic, despite its neofascist clown president.

The proceding text is an edited transcript of Brian Mier’s presentation during the online seminar entitled, How China defeated the coronavirus: lessons for the world, hosted by John Ross and available for viewing here.


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.