Brazil suddenly became the third country in the world, after the United States and Russia, by the number of people infected with the new coronavirus. Here, by May 22, more than 310 thousand cases of infection were recorded, more than 20 thousand people have already died. Moreover, according to foreign experts, the current epidemic in Brazil may be 15 times higher than the official. Today, Brazilians and the whole world recall how Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaru, a former paratrooper from the time of the dictatorship, until the last believed in the dangers of a new coronavirus and constantly ridiculed the quarantine measures taken by governments of other countries.
Donald Trump, whom Jair Bolsonaru always called his idol, said on May 20 that he intends to ban the entry into the United States for all arrivals from Brazil: “I do not want sick people to come here and infect our citizens.”
Over the past months, Jair Bolsonaru has downplayed the danger of a new coronavirus in all appearances, calling it “little flu” (gripezinha). He commented on the recent aggravation of the situation: “I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?” At the same time, the Brazilian president continues to gather rallies of his supporters, the same “covert dissidents,” and publicly insists on the early weakening of existing quarantine measures. Bolsonaru is still convinced that the economic damage from them is much worse than the disease itself. “The strongest will survive, and the weakest who are destined to die, let them die,” he said recently. And he coughed badly.
The governors of the state of Brazil, which is a federal republic, have considerable power and can make their own decisions related to quarantine restrictions. Most of them constantly criticize Jair Bolsonara – however, everywhere rigid quarantine was not introduced in the country. Instead, the governors, fearing pressure from the capital and supporters of the president on the ground, imposed quarantine only in individual cities or altogether shifted responsibility for these decisions to city mayors and district administrations.
Jair Bolsonaru, in addition, suddenly became an ardent supporter of the massive use of antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which have serious side effects, for the treatment of patients with COVID-19, despite warnings from experts and doctors. “We are at war. Worse than defeat would be the shame of abandoning the fight, even hopeless,” Bolsonar tweeted, commenting on his decision about the drugs. He added that his mother is 93 years old, and he always holds a box of chloroquine at hand if she suddenly needs it.
At his direction, the acting Brazilian army general Eduardo Pajuel, appointed by the interim minister of health, approved several times the rewritten protocol for the nationwide use of this drug, after two previous ministers, doctors of education, refused to do this and were forced to resign due to pressure from side of the president.
According to the latest data, the state of São Paulo was hit the most by the epidemic today, where only 74 thousand cases were detected according to official data. It is followed by the states of Ceara and Rio de Janeiro, where about 32 thousand people are infected. In addition, the new coronavirus hit particularly hard on the indigenous peoples of remote Brazil, mainly in the Amazon. Calculations and testing here (as, indeed, everywhere in the country) are difficult to carry out, but it is known that in the city of Manaus, the capital of the Amazon region, the number of deaths has tripled. Of particular concern is the rapid spread of coronavirus in the area of the border junction of Tres Fronteiras, in the upper reaches of the Amazon, where the borders of Brazil, Colombia and Peru converge.
An expert in Latin America, a political scientist and sociologist discuss the epidemic in Brazil and the behavior of its president in an interview with Radio Liberty. Tatyana Vorozheykina:
– How to explain the stubborn stubbornness and bragging of Jair Bolsonaru, who can already be recorded in the world leaders of the current “cove dissidents” who deny danger? In Europe, there is only one such Alexander Lukashenko. Let him not give a damn about most of his own people, but he doesn’t even wear a mask himself, laughs at this, kisses his fans. Is he afraid that this contradicts the macho leader political brand he built? “If it seems that I am being careful, I will lose my masculinity, everyone will see that I am weak”?
– Undoubtedly, this is his personal “masculine” complex. Actually, on this macho agenda, he won the presidential election – on hatred of women, sex minorities and so on. Bolsonaro continues the policy of denying disaster, and it is absolutely monstrous for his country. State governors, mayors of major cities impose isolation rules, quarantine, and the president scolds: “No, it’s just a flu.” Moreover, it threatens a military coup against its opponents in Congress and the Supreme Court! This situation gives rise to a completely wild situation for the majority of the population : State authorities that are directly confronted with the epidemic say one thing, and Bolsonar the exact opposite.
But why else does he do it? I think, and for absolutely prudent political reasons. Because Brazil is a country in which at least half of the population cannot be left in quarantine. People will starve to death! And Bolsonar appeals to this not without success. He and his supporters are shouting that a drop in the economy and a decrease in the level of employment will kill more people than the coronavirus, and on this basis they demand the lifting of quarantine bans imposed by governors. It’s hard to believe, but in Brazil two ministers of health, members of the government, resigned in a month. They were under tremendous pressure to weaken the quarantine – while the statistics on morbidity and deaths in Brazil are monstrous, and this is not counting those who cannot be counted.
But this is really true – that half of the population of Brazil, like in Mexico, cannot help but go out on a daily basis, because they live off of the fact that they earn every day. And naturally, the longer the quarantine lasts, the more supporters Bolsonara will conquer. And he, of course, understands this. And in the next election, he will get the votes not only of the middle class who supported him in 2018, but also of the poor, as their “protector.” “The state governor of São Paulo and the mayor of the agglomeration of São Paulo defend the supposedly white, wealthy middle class who can afford to sit at home, but Bolsonara, he seems to be poor. Although, if you look at the audience that surrounds him at his meetings, you won’t find any black people there. The current president of the country is supported mainly by whites. And in Brazil, racial and social differences quite clearly coincide: the poorer the population, the darker it is in terms of skin color.
So this is a mixture of everything – and the fact that Bolsonar came to power precisely as a “macho who never gives in”, and political calculation. His supporters are sure that “all this” cove “is designed to bring down the country’s economy, and then, just like not so long ago against Dilma Rousseff and against Jair Bolsonaru, to begin the impeachment process. And we will not give offense to him because he’s going to rebuild our completely corrupt political system, to expel leftists, liberals, blacks and so on from it. ” Therefore, this is not just a property of character, it is politics, and quite prudent, in my opinion.
– Brazil is a state with a gigantic territory and population, according to the latest unofficial data, almost 215 million people. Is it possible to believe official statistics on COVID-19 from there? Given the existence of millions of famous beggarly favelas in megacities or the presence of hundreds of remote national communities, where no one can, of course, make any calculations, and in general often has no access to any medicine?
– In countries such as Brazil, generally in most Latin American countries, any estimates are relative. Yes, there are these urban favela slums, and the inner regions of many states of the northeast, and the Indian communities of Amazonia, where, let’s say, the doctor’s foot never set foot. The current Brazilian statistics, on the one hand, are terrifying, on the other hand, probably also incomplete. But there is no feeling that the authorities knowingly lie on this score, since there are a lot of victims. I don’t think that in Brazil today you can blame someone for hiding information about the epidemic. Another thing, of course, is that nobody knows about many deaths, and that people die without any medical help at all. According to the prefect (mayor) of São Paulo Bruno Covas, beds in intensive care wards in this most developed city in the country are occupied by 90 percent. This is where the best medicine is in Brazil! Of course, this is all the main “merit” of the current political leadership.
– How fatal is the danger of COVID-19 for the existence of the indigenous Indian population of the country, primarily in the Amazon? History remembers the horror that the Indian peoples of Latin America suffered after its “discovery” by Europeans, who brought with them, for example, smallpox, typhoid and measles.
– Two important factors should be noted here. Firstly, this is the destruction of their habitat, which, with the coming to power of Bolsonar in 2018, sharply intensified and accelerated. And secondly, of course, the isolation of life in these communities, their remoteness from urban civilization and modern medical services. As far as I know, there is no separate “cove statistics” for the Indian population. Moreover, the Brazilian Ministry of Health first asked all services that calculate the incidence of coronavirus in different states to indicate skin color and race of infected, hospitalized, and deceased. But the presidential administration canceled this instruction! Undoubtedly, the Brazilian state of Amazonas is today one of the most affected by the epidemic, and of course, there are sharp outbreaks of COVID-19 in Native American communities. And yes, everyone remembers that these peoples in Latin America have already gone through outbreaks of infections brought from the Old World after the arrival of the Spaniards and the Portuguese. Some of these diseases forever reduced the number of individual Native American peoples at times.
Another important point, which is very much talked about: the destruction of the Amazonian forests for the production of export agricultural products illustrates the civilizational impasse, which, in the words of one scientist, faced the “cowboy civilization”, which considers all resources inexhaustible, and the “civilization of astronauts” who understand that in their “spaceship” the resources are finite. The approach of the Indian peoples to their environment as the ultimate resource that needs to be protected is confronted with the traditionalist approach to the nature of the turn of the 19th – 20th centuries. This is a very multifaceted problem. Answering directly to the question, I will say: of course, the indigenous peoples of all of Latin America are now in great danger. Especially in combination with the ongoing destruction of their natural habitat.
– Brazil is not a very poor state, like Russia, if we talk about the budget. Why are such horrors happening now there everywhere – confusion, lack of doctors, equipment, masks and other things, even places in cemeteries and funeral homes? Still, the sudden blow of the coronavirus is only a failure of the authorities, or, as they say, the “national character” also played a role?
– Firstly, I repeat, the reason is this wild cognitive dissonance experienced by an ordinary, not very educated citizen of Brazil, when the state authorities tell him one thing, and the president of the country is exactly the opposite. Fortunately, Brazil is still a truly federal republic, and the fact that the epidemic did not reach even more people should be recognized as a merit of state and city authorities. The second reason is social. This is a wild inequality. Those who live in impoverished towns and districts, as a rule, do not have access to quality medical care. Accordingly, in the poor quarters of large cities, in the poor states of the northeast and northwest, everything is so tragic and chaotic.
I believe that, of course, the main fault lies with the authorities. I am not at all inclined to blame the national character for anything; this is generally a difficult thing to define. But, of course, in Brazil, as well as in Spain or Italy, people who meet you kiss, hug, always celebrate with huge companies, this is a national habit, today it is dangerous. And those who have ever seen Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro favelas, with their wild crowding, of course, imagine what kind of “social distance” there may be, what kind of “quarantine” there is. As acknowledged, again, by the mayor of Sao Paulo, more and more infected are detected precisely on the periphery of the city. This gigantic agglomeration, more than 20 million people live there, and it is on the “black”, poor outskirts that there are more and more foci of infection. If the center of this huge city is still somehow under control, because there is a very good, indeed, health care system, then the farther from it, the worse the situation.