Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a tour in Rio de Janeiro with motorcycle supporters. (Photo by Alan Santos/Planalto Palace)
RECIFE, BRAZIL – Elected in 2018 and breaking a nearly 20-year hegemony of central governments led by left-wing parties, Jair Bolsonaro’s administration in Brazil has suffered repeated attempts to sabotage its plans. Among Bolsonaro’s main objectives are the tightening of abortion, expansion of the ownership and possession of firearms, privatization of state companies, acceleration of public works, among others.
However, dissatisfied with the decision of most of the society, the leftists seek to disrupt Bolsonaro’s administration by various means, whether with fake news in the press, lawsuits to prevent the execution of provisional orders from the president, among others. With a majority of ministers appointed by former left-wing presidents, the Supreme Court in Brazil has interfered with Bolsonaro’s various measures, harming his government and causing public dissatisfaction.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, Bolsonaro and his ministers sought actions to reduce the effects of the Chinese virus, especially in the economic area. In April 2020, the National Congress approved, and the president sanctioned the Emergency Aid law, which paid nearly 100 dollars to more than 40 million Brazilians amid the social isolation of the pandemic. The payment for the program was equivalent to 10 years of the most famous leftist program, the “Family Assistance”.
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At the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020, the Supreme Court annulled President Jair Bolsonaro’s autonomy and authorized governors and mayors to enact quarantine without the need for a federal government decree. Bolsonaro has always been against the lockdown, as he understands that closing the economy would cause even more serious problems for the low-income population. “Hunger kills more than the virus,” the president said in 2020.
Bolsonaro, in practice, only had the autonomy to carry out three actions: 1) send medication to states and municipalities; 2) send money; 3) suggest measures to open trade without the governors and mayors having the obligation to follow. The president has earmarked about $37 billion for states and municipalities to mitigate the effects of covid-19.
Several governors and mayors got involved in corruption scandals by diverting public money sent by the federal government to help reduce the death rates caused by the Chinese virus, which has already exceeded 510,000 fatal victims in the country. The Federal Police has carried out continuous operations to combat corruption in the country.
Some politicians are already being prosecuted or losing office because of corruption in the pandemic. Elected in 2018, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, from the Christian Social Party, lost his mandate on charges of money laundering, passive corruption, and criminal organization. According to the Federal Police, Witzel led a scheme to embezzle capital for the construction of temporary hospitals.
In the state of Amazonas, Gov. Wilson Lima, also from the Christian Social Party, was accused of purchasing respirators unsuitable for human use purchased from a wine shop. Lima was prosecuted but didn’t lose his mandate and remains under investigation.
In the state of Pará, Gov. Hélder Barbalho, from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, was accused of fraud and overpricing in the purchase of respirators purchased in China through a Brazilian company.
A bizarre situation happened in the city of Recife, state of Pernambuco. During the administration of Mayor Geraldo Júlio, from the Brazilian Socialist Party, 500 respiratory equipment inappropriate for human use were purchased. The respirators were not legally certified having been tested on pigs and purchased at a veterinary shop involved in tax fraud.
The Federal Police started “Apnea Operation” and discovered that around US$ 2.2 million were paid by the city to the company that could not supply the equipment, through a bidding waiver mechanism, which is when the government can incur new expenses without looking for another price in competing companies.
The former Health Secretary of Recife, Jailson Correia, was one of the main targets of the investigation, having his cell phone seized by the Federal Police during the operation. The Federal Public Ministry filed a complaint against him and other employees of the socialist mayor.
Guns and population control
During his campaign, President Jair Bolsonaro has always made his position in favor of releasing weapons to civilians truly clear. In 2005, the left-wing government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers’ Party, did not respect a referendum in which the population expressed its desire to preserve the right to buy weapons. Lula’s government continued to control the purchase of weapons by civilians, which led to a brutal increase in crime in the country.
Jair Bolsonaro has always sought since the beginning of his government to bring lighter rules so that the simplest citizens could acquire a weapon to defend their family. Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro always defended civil liberties and took a stand against the policy of lockdown and quarantines, saying that forcing people to stay at home would not solve the Covid issue.
In addition to the negative economic impact, Bolsonaro also criticized the dictatorship imposed by governors and mayors, whose lockdown prevented the population from opening their businesses during the pandemic. In May 2020, after the controversial departure of former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who left the government falsely accusing President Bolsonaro of trying to negatively interfere in the Federal Police, a Supreme Court Minister Celso de Mello ordered the publication of a video of the ministers’ meeting with the president.
In this video, unaware that it was being recorded, Bolsonaro argues that the population must acquire weapons to defend themselves from the State.
“It is extremely easy to impose a dictatorship here in Brazil, very easy. The people do not have weapons and are being forced by the State to stay indoors. That is why, Minister of Defense and Minister of Justice, I want the people to arm themselves. Because a firearm is the guarantee that you won’t have a son of a b*tch to impose a dictatorship here”, said Bolsonaro.
In the video, the president also says that if he were a dictator, he would disarm the population. “All dictators disarmed their people. And that is why I want the people to have guns, because I don’t want a dictatorship here” he said.
In April of this year, President Bolsonaro issued a new decree authorizing citizens to own up to six firearms. However, three left-wing parties sued the Supreme Court and Minister Rosa Weber vetoed parts of the new decree.
President Jair Bolsonaro has received great support from the population, with frequent mobilizations of motorcyclists across the country and groups of supporters that crowd airports to welcome him when the president travels to another state. Currently, the government is facing a strain on the Federal Senate, with a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission designed to investigate the actions of the federal government in combating the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Commission is composed mostly of leftist oppositionists and some of them involved in corruption schemes, such as senator Renan Calheiros, from the Brazilian Democratic Movement, who responds to eight Supreme Court investigations on suspicion of corruption and money laundering.
The government of President Jair Bolsonaro had a wrong articulation in the Senate, which allowed the Commission to be made up of leftists. In addition, the government suffers from a communication problem, having difficulties in dialoguing directly with the population due to the absence of a communication plan and an effective crisis management.
*Brazilian journalist and political analyst. Talk to Fernando on Instagram: @fcastron