The Governors vs Bolsonaro: An interview with Brian Mier

On the one hand the media is saying, “oh look at this crazy Bolsonaro, he’s insane, look what he is saying about coronavirus,” but he is really just transmitting the goals of international capital. This is the same thing Trump is doing, and it’s just things being said by the Lt. Governor of Texas and Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. The capitalists want people to just treat this like it is a cold and let people die off in the name of the economy. So what he is saying really isn’t that crazy – it’s like he’s reading off of a script – it’s just evil.

The following transcript is from a radio interview with Brasil Wire co-editor Brian Mier conducted by Sean Blackmon and Jackie Luqman on Thursday, March 26. It has been edited for readibilty.

Sean Blackmon: Welcome back to By Any Means Necessary on Radio Sputnik in Washington DC. I’m you host, Sean Blackmon, here with Jackie Luqman and as always we are connecting the political, social, economic issues that are shaping the world around us.

Today we are talking about the coronavirus in Brazil and how that is playing out under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, and we are joined for this conversation by Brian Mier, journalist and editor of the book Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil.

You know Brian, there are some who have called Jair Bolsonaro the Trump of the tropics and certainly there has been a kind of closeness and kinship between Bolsonaro and Donald Trump and it seems as though Bolsonaro has really been mirroring a lot of Trump’s narratives and tactics in response to the spread of coronavirus in Brazil in terms of basically dismissing the seriousness of it and really railing against lockdowns and other sorts of safety measures. So I would like to begin by getting your opinion of Bolsonaro’s response to the coronavirus and how you think that’s impacted the people of Brazil.

Brian Mier: Bolsonaro is like a more fascist version of Trump. He literally made his career inside of a fascist military junta that practiced widespread torture and had extermination groups. And he’s called for killing all of the leftists in Brazil and things like that, so he’s kind of like a more violent version of Trump. In regards to the coronavirus crisis, his sons are very close to Steve Bannon and they are very close to this kind of internet guru named Olavo Carvalho, a Brazilian who lives near Langley Virginia and transmits all of this nonsense on the internet. He is a flat earth supporter and he just had his YouTube channel pulled temporarily for saying coronavirus doesn’t exist and he’s hand picked several of Bolsonaro’s cabinet members so he is a very dangerous guy.

Initially, on March 10, Bolsonaro announced to the nation that coronavirus was nothing but a light flu. He said that Brazilians shouldn’t worry about it, that the media was creating this fantasy around it to scare people and that it was essentially fake news. And then, as a lot of people know, he went up to Mar a Lago with a team of people on a government jet. They visited Trump and the mayor of Miami. The mayor of Miami got coronavirus. At least 13 people who were on that flight with Bolsonaro got coronavirus, and Bolsonaro himself tested positive, then tested negative, then they held him in quarantine [pending a 3rd test]. He left quarantine to go outside and hug and handshake 272 anti-Supreme Court protesters during this fascist street protest. That in itself is a crime of responsibility that qualifies him for impeachment – you can impeach someone over that in Brazil – and an impeachment motion has been drawn for that. And it looked like he was backing down a little bit because his Health Minister, who also caught coronavirus, along with General Augusto Heleno, his top military aid who oversees 16 ministries including intelligence and the President of the Senate – they all caught coronavirus.. His Health Minister was making some sensible suggestions and the governors really stepped in and started ordering lockdowns and things like that so it looked like Bolsonaro  was backing down but then the night before last he went on TV again, started yelling at the governors and telling them they had to end the lockdowns and open schools up again, open the shopping malls and the stores, and he said that the coronavirus was just a minor flu. Then this morning he issued a presidential decree enabling churches to reopen – he’s mainly referring to evangelical churches that are the ones interested in doing this.

I live on the periphery of São Paulo in this kind of working class neighborhood and now my evangelical neighbors have their kids playing outside my window this morning. It was like he sent a green light to the evangelical population that everything’s fine and that all of the doctors and public health officials and people like that are just lying.

Jacquie Luqman: That lack of clear, cogent thinking – even responsibility – is amazing. These administrations are just mirroring each other in their irresponsibility – the Trump administration here and Bolsonaro’s administration in Brazil – and Bolsonaro himself said he was impervious to the virus due to his athleticism. And certainly his belief is that, along with the evangelical community, that they are impervious to the virus because of their faith, having said that it is all a satanic plot in a message to the country. But I am wondering, Brian, what happens amidst all of this when members of the evangelical community and others who are following Bolsonaro’s lead do get infected and do die? What happens, not just with public safety but also with the impeachment process that you just mentioned?

Mier: Well first of all I’m not a fortune teller but I would think that there could be a lot of social unrest and a mob mentality against evangelicals if they start going to church and passing the virus onto their neighbors. We are not really in uncharted territory as far as what is happening right now. We can look at 2500 years of writings about what happened during plagues around the World. And there has been a lot of mob hysteria once people start getting infected. So I think it’s actually pretty dangerous for the evangelical population to start going to church and act like nothing is wrong. Because as you mentioned, when people start dying this could really blow back against them. As far as the impeachment process goes, it’s hard to say because on the one hand there is this growing backlash against Bolsonaro among the traditional right wing, middle class that helped put him in office. Today the Folha de São Paulo, the center-right, kind of slightly farther right wing version of the New York Times in Brazil – the biggest paper in Brazil – ran an editorial saying that it was time for him to resign. And the biggest business publication, O Valor, ran an article called, “The resignation letter.” There have been nightly protests in middle class neighborhoods for the last 9 nights in a row where everyone comes out on their balconies and bangs pots and pans and yells, “out with Bolsonaro.” So he’s lost a core constituency. In addition, his son’s picking a fight with China which infuriated the Chinese and has lost him the support of the traditional rural land owners, the plantation owners who have basically been running Brazil for 500 years – this rural land owning class is turning on him as well. The only people who are still supporting him seemingly are these evangelical Christians – not all of them obviously but some of their leaders. So there are a few different impeachment processes drafted and earlier this week the president of Congress said he’s not going to move forward with them because it’s a jinx. Every Congressional leader who has submitted impeachment papers in the last 20 years has ended up in jail. But people think he is just kind of hedging and joking but at the same time that this impeachment process seems stalled, there is more and more pressure from the military against him, and O Valor today ran this article speculating that they might be making some deal in which he resigns in exchange for amnesty for his 3 sons, who are involved in all kinds of felonies including alleged involvement in the assassination of city councilwoman Marielle Franco, which apparently was ordered by a militia leader who’s wife and mother worked in Flavio Bolsonaro’s state congressional cabinet for 10 years. So there is this going on and it’s up in the air because at the same time,  people were saying this kind of stuff about Trump too during the first year after he took office. “Trump’s about to step down. Trump’s about to fall.” Maybe having this evil clown in power who appears to constantly almost be being forced out of office is a kind of new normal in these clown regimes like those of Boris Johnson, Trump and Bolsonaro. Because I was up in the US last year of for a month at my mom’s and they watch MSNBC every night. If you watched that last year you would have thought Trump was about to be impeached and thrown out of office. So it’s kind of hard to say if Bolsonaro is really going to fall. In the late 1920s and 1930s, the German bourgeois allowed Hitler to take power thinking that he was a clown who would be easy to manipulate and once he had served his use to the bourgeoisie they would be able to remove him from power and they couldn’t. So now that I see all of these bourgeois Brazilian polite conservatives banging their pots and pans I am beginning to think that maybe the same thing could happen with Bolsonaro. Maybe he is just going to consolidate his power right now.

Blackmon: I think there is definitely a threat of that and I think you actually touched on something that I wanted to get into, Brian, and that is the political ramifications for Bolsonaro because even some of the governors who are otherwise supporters of his have been very resistant to what he has been putting forth in terms of the coronavirus. I believe both heads of the congressional houses in Brazil have criticized him. I think even one governor in the southeastern region has threatened to sue the federal government if they try to put an end to coronavirus safety measures. And so on the one hand it seems as though Bolsonaro may be trying to consolidate power while on the other, might be eroding serious, substantial elements of his traditional support base.

Brian: You are 100% correct. It’s up in the air right now. I feel like it could go either way but you are absolutely right about the governors. Yesterday all 27 governors met in a teleconference without Bolsonaro and 25 of the 27 governors decided to ignore Bolsonaro’s instructions and continue with the lockdowns. The only two that are not doing lockdowns are way up in the Amazon and they are allies of Bolsonaro. But the two biggest governors now leading this kind of fight against Bolsonaro in the media are two right wing governors who rode to power on his coattails – the narcissistic former Trump Apprentice reality TV star João Doria in São Paulo and governor Witzel in Rio whose nickname is Auschwitzel because he has ordered police to go into the favelas and kill people with snipers – the police killed 1800 people in Rio de Janeiro last year. They have now both split from Bolsonaro. Doria ran on a campaign for governor in 2018 calling himself “BolsoDoria”. They were two of his biggest allies and they are fighting with him openly right now. So I just feel that thank God that the governors control most of the public health systems in Brazil because that is the only thing really saving us from a total catastrophe right now. Brazil’s public health system has been gutted since the 2016 coup but it is still an operational, functioning public health system and they have some very good scientists and public health officials involved in it so luckily the governors are fighting Bolsonaro. If Bolsonaro could overpower the governors right now it would be an unmitigated public health disaster.

Blackmon: I definitely think so and I can’t help but feel, Brian, that a lot of what we are seeing from Bolsonaro, a lot of the forces that really helped bring him to power in terms of foreign capital and these other powerful countries around the world that really helped lift him into the presidency,  similarly to Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, is that it’s clear that Bolsonaro’s chief concern is the economy here. We are talking about someone who has literally been going out and touching people in large groups so obviously the safety of the Brazilian people is not terribly high on the Bolsonaro agenda despite his pronouncements.

Mier: Yes. And you know what? If you look at the 500 year history of Brazil the safety of the people has never been much of a concern, although before Bolsonaro and the 2016 coup there were major advances made in terms of public health. Brazil was one of the best countries in the world in responding to the AIDS pandemic – it broke the international patents on antiretroviral medications and it’s infection rate per capita was around a quarter of that of the United States so they know how to handle pandemics. But there is a great article that I translated and published in Brasil Wire yesterday called Worms feed on corpses about exactly what you are saying. On the one hand the media is saying, “oh look at this crazy Bolsonaro, he’s insane, look what he is saying about coronavirus,” but he is really just transmitting the goals of international capital. This is the same thing Trump is doing, and it’s just things being said by the Lt. Governor of Texas and Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. The capitalists want people to just treat this like it is a cold and let people die off in the name of the economy. So what he is saying really isn’t that crazy – it’s like he’s reading off of a script – it’s just evil.


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.