Consequences for Bolsonaro?

Report raises questions about accountability for pandemic policies

The Brazilian senate recently approved a call for the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, to be criminally charged for his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Could other leaders face similar repercussions? (Wikimedia Commons)

Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil since January 2019, is an extreme political figure. He is an admirer of the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a misogynist and a science denier. Most recently, his disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to calls for him to face criminal charges.

As of Oct. 29, 607,462 Brazilians have died of the virus. This is equivalent to 2,838.69 deaths per million people. While this is one of the worst rates in the world, many other countries are not far off. The United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Italy have had 2,238.94, 2,064.52, 2,234.63 and 2187.22 deaths per million people, respectively. In fact, six US states have worse death rates than Brazil: Mississippi, Alabama, New Jersey, Louisiana, New York and Arizona.

Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and the efficacy of vaccines. As Matheus Coelho, a Brazilian conductor studying in Manitoba, points out, Bolsonaro’s track record of spreading misinformation is long.

“He encouraged people to agglomerate, to not use masks, to take ineffective medicine, ignored the offer of vaccines, discouraged people (from taking) the vaccine shots by spreading fake news and its origin and so on,” he says in a statement to The Uniter.

“If a president is doing that, obviously the democracy is weak, since it is not preventing him from committing so many crimes,” Coelho says.

In an attempt to hold Bolsanaro accountable, a committee of Brazil’s senate recently approved a report that calls for him to be indicted for nine crimes related to his handling of the crisis.

Regiane Garcia, a research associate with the University of Winnipeg’s Global College, is from Brazil.

“In terms of people actually being punished, I am not entirely sure, since there is the legal situation and the politics behind the legal situation,” she says. “From this report, we have enough evidence to impeach (Bolsonaro), but (not) the political support.”

Brazil’s political landscape is complex, with 24 different parties having at least one seat in the Chamber of Deputies and 16 parties having at least one seat in the Federal Senate.

“In the short term, the president, who I would love to see punished severely, I don’t think will be affected,” Garcia notes. She adds that some individuals might be scapegoated and face accountability.

Regardless, she believes that accountability for the mishandling of the pandemic is crucial. Many deaths could have been avoided, and such accountability would also prevent Brazil’s leaders from continuing their disastrous policies.

While Canada has had better outcomes than the aforementioned jurisdictions, many have called for greater accountability for our political leaders and public-health officials over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While elections are the primary mechanism to hold politicians accountable in Canada, the country may see attempts to establish further accountability mechanisms. For example, Alberta’s NDP has called for an all-party committee to examine the provincial government’s handling of the pandemic.

Coelho urges Canadians to learn from the Brazilian situation.

“Be careful with politicians who threaten democracy, mainly those with fascist tendencies,” he says. “Also, trust in science!”

Published in Volume 76, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 4, 2021)

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