During a live Facebook broadcast, President Jair Bolsonaro doubled down on his stance against restrictive measures to fight the coronavirus. He said people were led into a state of “hysteria” and then threatened to fire some of his cabinet members.
“When it was time to pick the cabinet, I made some mistakes, and some have already left. For them, what’s important is staying in power and doing the things that happened in previous administrations,” said the president. “Some in my administration, something went to their heads. They were normal people, and suddenly became ‘stars’ who talk nonstop and there are provocations. Their time hasn’t come, but it will. My pen is powerful and it will be used. I’m not afraid to use my pen — and it will be used for the good of Brazil, not my well-being.”
While the president didn’t mention any names, his tirade seemed to be directed squarely at Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta — who has been preaching the opposite from his boss when it comes to Covid-19. The minister has said that Brazilians must follow social isolation guidelines and has alerted people to the severity of the coronavirus. According to the latest Datafolha poll, Mr. Mandetta enjoys much higher levels of popularity than Mr. Bolsonaro. (76 percent of Brazilians approve of the minister’s handling of the crisis, while the president’s rate on that subject is only 33 percent.)
Tensions have reportedly mounted within the administration. Weekly magazine Veja reported that Mr. Mandetta and the president had a heated phone conversation. “You’ll have to fire me, Mr. President,” the Health Minister reportedly said, after Mr. Bolsonaro suggested he should step down. From that point on, things would have soured even more, with the Health Minister saying the president would be solely accountable for all Covid-19 deaths — and that the country should prepare for scenes of Army trucks carrying bodies if quarantine were relaxed.