(Opinion) Brazil and it's two sanitary crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and the Bolsodemic
Written by: Giovana Rabello
From: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Edited by: Anna Kissajikian
"Little flu." "In my understanding, the destructive power of this virus is overestimated." "If you become a crocodile, it's your problem." "You need to stop being a country of queers." "Bring the hysteria to a halt." "Maybe [the pandemic] is even promoted for economic reasons." "If you become Superman, if some women grow beards or if a man starts talking in a high-pitched voice, [the vaccine laboratory] has nothing to do with that."
You are probably familiar with at least one of these Bolsonaro quotes.
After dissatisfaction with the corruption scandals by the national workers' party engendered a wave of populism that hit the shores of the tropical country, the dichotomy between fundamentalism and progressivism in Brazil and the tendency to bend strictly to one of these facets of morality has bolstered polarisation. Therefore, hindering inter-party compromises and leading the population to elect, in 2018, the retired army captain Jair Bolsonaro for the role of president, trusting that his ardent rhetoric against corruption would bring the national economy back to its feet. A series of events that followed caused Bolsonaro's popularity to plummet, yet it is indisputable that his negationist posture after the pandemic had stricken was what catalyzed the fierce dislike from the Brazillian people. However, the situation does not stop here: the president is now threatening to impede elections from occurring in 2022, hence threatening the guarantee of national democracy. But how did we get here?
Firstly, Brazil's social abyss is one of the most concerning around the globe: it is the nation with the 9th greatest Gross Domestic Product (GDP), yet still has 25% of its population living under the poverty line. In light of the squalid conditions which the country's economic lower quartile is subjected to, such as an irregular house settling, lack of basic provisions, and a precarious public system, the coronavirus, arriving in March 2020, soon emanated through the country, spotlighting the lack of resources in public facilities and the country's long ago frayed social fabric. Yet, inequality is not the only killer. The institutional paralysis, engendered by president Bolsonaro played a paramount role in increasing the national death toll; declining to impose lockdown restrictions, he left quarantine decisions to be taken at a local executive level, hence causing each state or, in some cases, even each city, to agree on their own regulations, thus driving the country into a miscellany of laws and deteriorating domestic cohesion.
Acts of authoritarianism worsened the situation even further. Adopting an antagonistic stance in relation to his own Health Minister, Bolsonaro commenced promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine, a drug whose efficacy is unproven in the scientific realm. Approximately a year ago, evidence of censorship foreshadowed the threat to its own democracy that Brazil is now facing; in order to prevent "hysteria", the government stopped publicizing daily death tolls and case numbers, alleging that these had been falsified by media outlets. The Supreme Court subsequently ordered the Minister of Health to resume posting and finally, the population received access again to daily information on the virus' propagation.
Still, 2021 accentuated even more ignominy. With the vaccines only arriving in Brazil in March, it was discovered that the government refused to purchase Pfizer's vaccine in the previous year at half the price; hence, discarding the opportunity of having doses delivered in December and avoiding further economic degradation. In addition, the president is now being investigated for overlooking irregularities in contracts and corruption from government officials concerning the purchase of Covaxin, produced by the Indian company Bharat Biotech. Nevertheless, Bolsonaro's moral mortification goes far beyond the corruption scandals that are starting to be underscored in vaccine purchases. Although as of now vaccines are widely provided in metropolitan areas, ethnic minorities such as Native Americans who are more vulnerable to Bolsonaro's inflated negationist rhetoric due to settlement isolation and lack of access to education, are now being convinced that vaccine shots can indeed elicit negative and long-lasting effects, hence leading to tribe refusals for immunization against the virus.
Finally, despite becoming havoc's amphitheater because of institutional repudiation of the pandemic, Brazil also faces severe threats to its democracy. Throughout the last months, Jair Bolsonaro has concentrated his efforts in spreading ultra-nationalist ideals through motorcycle parades in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where supporters agglomerate into groups wearing military attire, carrying Brazillian flags, and displaying hate symbols for communists. Claiming that the results from polls by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics were fabricated, Bolsonaro started fiercely advocating for the dismissal of electronic voting machines in the forthcoming elections, to be replaced by voting on paper. The phrase "either we have clean elections, or we don't have elections" now tantalizes Brazilians at every turn, who fear the possibility of a military coup. Despite the Supreme Court's investigations concerning Bolsonaro's actions and the likelihood of impeachment, Brazil suffers a second sanitary crisis: the Bolsodemic.