Between the 1960s and 1990s, when much of Latin America was ruled by military dictatorships, there was a common trait between the region’s autocratic rulers. Conflict, hardship, and crisis were concealed, creating a parallel reality to transmit to the outside world which suggested that all was well, the economy was constantly under control, and problems were non-existent.
In this process of controlling the narrative, dictatorships persecuted, arrested, tortured, and killed their detractors. Nowadays, such regimes no longer exist in Latin America and fabricated government narratives are harder to swallow, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of social media. But yet, Brazil is still being gaslighted by its president, standing atop a pile of 300,000 bodies, victims of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jair Bolsonaro is no dictator. Unlike the list of 20th century autocrats he has professed admiration for — such as Alfredo Stroessner and Augusto Pinochet — he doesn’t rule by decree. Congress and the Supreme Court provide some level of checks and balances, and while the president would love to seek and destroy his political opponents, he doesn’t have the power to do so.
But the coronavirus pandemic gave us an indication of what a Bolsonaro dictatorship would look like. On Tuesday, as Brazil recorded over 3,000 Covid-19 deaths in a single day, the president addressed the nation on television and issued a speech worthy of military autocrats of old. Bolsonaro claimed he had never disparaged coronavirus vaccines, nor downplayed the severity of the disease, and urged that “we are doing what we can to save lives.” All of these statements, however, are lies.
With 300,000 Covid-19 deaths in Brazil, the spread of the virus shows no signs of slowing down, especially if the Bolsonaro government continues to stand in the way of lockdown measures and tout unproven — and potentially dangerous — coronavirus treatments. A crisis for all Brazilians and the global population, but not for Jair Bolsonaro. Instead, his message is simple:
Smile and wave, nothing to see here!