Sabotage and Denial: Brazil’s Disastrous Coronavirus Response

The following interview with Brasil Wire co-editor Brian Mier was conducted by Şerbet Sağlam for the Turkish newspaper Gazete Duvar.

Şerbet Sağlam: In the last year, the number of daily cases and death rate in Brazil has increased dramatically in particular in April 2021. How does government manage the pandemic? What happened in April as we witnessed rise of deaths, especially of children?

Brian Mier: Our President, Jair Bolsonaro, seems to be the last World leader who still continually denies that Covid is a problem, who still claims – with no scientific data to back him up – that chloroquine cures Covid 19 and that masks and lock-down measures are unnecessary. So all measures that have been effective in any way in combating the pandemic have come from governors and mayors, many from opposition parties to Bolsonaro. But, unfortunately, our neofascist President has made threats against local officials for instituting partial lock-down measures and has continually sabotaged efforts by governors to purchase more vaccines. Unfortunately, the dramatic rise in deaths in Brazil – nearly 100,000 in April alone – seems to be connected to new mutations of the virus, especially one which started in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Half the people who were interned in ICU unites during the month of April were under the age of 40. This new mutation seems to be killing young people just as effectively as the original Covid-19 killed people over the age of 70.

Şerbet Sağlam: Vaccination has become a big issue for some countries like Turkey and India. Brazil has started vaccination, what is the vaccination situation?

Historically, Brazil has had one of the best vaccination programs in the world. This is shown by statistics regarding annual flu deaths. Due to its free public vaccine program, Brazil has averaged less than 1000 flu deaths per year for the last 20 years, whereas in the US, these numbers have averaged around 30,000 per year during this period. During the last year of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva’s government, they vaccinated 90 million people against the flu, with vaccines produced in Brazil, in 60 days. Unfortunately this is all water under the bridge now as the Brazilian President has actively worked to sabotage the national vaccine program.

Şerbet Sağlam: Like Turkey, Brazil has also preferred vaccines from China. But in addition to that Brazil has rejected Sputnik V, Russia’s vaccine. What kinds of vaccines are available? Do people access them easily?

Brian Mier: Unfortunately, the Bolsonaro government, including Economics Minister Paulo Guedes, has been treating the vaccine emergency as a geopolitical issue. Therefore, despite the fact that 90% of vaccines administered in Brazil have been the Chinese/Brazilian developed Coronavac – a partnership between Brazil’s Butantan Institute and the Chinese company Sinovac – members of Bolsonaro’s team continue to spread misinformation implying that it is somehow inferior. Regarding Sputnik V – after a consortium of left wing governors from the Northeast, negotiated directly with Russia for the purchase of 67 million doses, the Bolsonaro government worked to cancel the order, without showing how it could provide anything in its place. Later, it came out that the US government sent an envoy to Brazil in 2020, specifically to convince the Brazilian government to not purchase Sputnik V.

Şerbet Sağlam: Is there any economic relief for people of Brazil during the pandemic? Does the Bolsonaro Government support people to handle the economic pressure of the pandemic?

Brian Mier: In 2020, due to pressure from the opposition parties in Congress, the Bolsonaro government agreed to give between R$600-R$1200 to poor families during the pandemic. In dollar terms this would be the equivalent of $120-240/month. Unfortunately, after the program expired and families received nothing for the first 3 months of 2022, the government lowered its payments to R$150-R$300 (US$ 30-60). To put things in perspective, the minimum wage in Brazil is R$1000/month.

Şerbet Sağlam: Last year Bolsonaro called the governors tyrants due to their lock-down measures to curb the virus spreading. Are there any changes in his attitude, are there any lock-down or curfew measures to prevent virus spreading?

Brian Mier: It does not look like he is changing his position on this at all – to the contrary, his threats are becoming worse.

Şerbet Sağlam: Lastly, Bolsonaro first said “Covid 19 was a basic flu”, then he said “the vaccine (from Pfizer) will transform people into crocodiles”. What is your opinion about the president’s accroach to the virus and vaccines?

Brian Mier: I believe that he has been deliberately encouraging a culling of the elderly population so that his government can save money on social spending. The Brazilian Landless Workers Movement estimates that the Bolsonaro government is now saving around $120 million/month on federal pension payments due to the number of senior citizens who died from Covid 19 last year. Furthermore, and aid to Bolsonaro’s Economics Minister Paulo Guedes was caught on tape last year talking about how much they would save on social spending if 100,000 seniors died. This is the only explanation I can think of as to why a president wold deliberately encourage the dying off of 400,000 of his citizens. The only other explanation I can think of is that Jair Bolsonaro and his Cabinet Ministers like Paulo Guedes are insane.