Despite having one of the world’s best infrastructures for distributing vaccines, Brazil has floundered in its rollout of coronavirus immunization. Much of this can be explained by the federal government’s lack of interest in vaccinating the population — led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. In fact, instead of getting jabs in Brazilian citizens’ arms, Mr. Bolsonaro simply wants to arm them.
Since taking office, President Bolsonaro has been transparent about his intentions of loosening Brazil’s gun ownership laws. In his view, “freedom” — read, owning a firearm — is the most important thing for human beings.
On Saturday, as cities around Brazil risked stopping vaccination campaigns due to a lack of supplies and the national coronavirus death toll approached 240,000 — it has now surpassed 242,000 — Jair Bolsonaro issued four decrees to facilitate citizens’ access to firearms and ammunition.
Opposition figures called the president’s moves disastrous, claiming that Mr. Bolsonaro intends to raise his own militia of fervent supporters equipped to pull off a coup d’etat, if necessary.
No doubt enthused by pro-Donald Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, President Bolsonaro may intend to have a similar armed force at his disposal come the 2022 election.
Indeed, gun ownership is so widespread in Brazil that the state’s monopoly on force is steadily dwindling. The firepower possessed by urban paramilitary mafias and organized crime groups far outweighs that of the military police. Citizens are now purchasing more ammunition than all of the country’s police forces combined.
Meanwhile, armed or not, the Brazilian population is far from seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Vaccines, not bullets, will help eradicate Covid-19. But President Bolsonaro doesn’t see it that way.