Brazil in worst of both worlds during Covid-19 pandemic

. May 08, 2020
Brazil in worst of both worlds during Covid-19 pandemic Despite lockdown, street market in Belém opens normally. Photo: Marcelo Seabra/Ag.Pará

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We’re covering how half-hearted social isolation could lead Brazil to a full-scale lockdown. The president storming the Supreme Court. And far-right groups with paramilitary discourse make a call to arms.

Postponing full-scale lockdown is a risk for Brazil

Brazil seems to be fulfilling the prediction that it would quickly become the world’s new Covid-19 epicenter.

According to official Health Ministry data, the total number of cases sits above 135,000, with deaths approaching 10,000. However, it has become a scientific consensus that figures are grossly under-reported, with some estimates putting the actual number of infections between 1.6 and 2 million.</p> <ul><li>Brazil lacks political coordination to implement the only known medicine against the coronavirus: social distancing. That is the result of constant struggles between a president who denies the virus&#8217; severity, state governors who — for the most part — support quarantines, and mayors who are under direct pressure from productive sectors and lean towards more liberal rules.</li><li>After a promising start in March, popular support for stay-home guidelines has waned and isolation rates dropped from 62 to 42 percent between March 22 and May 5.</li></ul> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">VIDEO: Bolsonaro&#39;s response to <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Covid19</a> as deaths pile up <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The Brazilian Report (@BrazilianReport) <a href="">May 1, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The current situation places Brazil in the worst of both worlds: the infection curve continues to rise, and the economy remains closed.</p> <p><strong>Lockdown.</strong> Three states where the healthcare system is operating close to capacity have already implemented some sort of lockdown in their state capitals — with two more starting today and tomorrow. These measures, however, have been unsuccessful so far. In the northern city of Belém, a traditional street market remained packed. In Rio, the same thing happened in the neighborhood of Campo Grande, which posts the city&#8217;s highest number of Covid-19 deaths.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2300729" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p><strong>Churches.</strong> In a decree, President Jair Bolsonaro classified churches and temples as &#8220;essential&#8221; establishments, which can operate normally during quarantines. Experts warn that these sites might have become transmission hubs. São Paulo&#8217;s Universal Church of the Power of God had over 3,000 people at one service last weekend — when preacher Valdemiro Santiago compared the coronavirus to a demon, selling a bean seed &#8220;which can heal people&#8221; for BRL 1,000.</p> <p><strong>Early attempts.</strong> The eagerness to reopen the economy is making the outbreak worse. In the southern city of Blumenau, cases doubled just days after commerce was reopened. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, Governor Wilson Witzel loosened quarantine in 30 cities with zero cases. A month later, 22 of them have registered 83 cases and five deaths.</p> <p><strong>Bottom line.</strong> As Sergio Cimerman, head of Brazil&#8217;s Infectology Society, put it: &#8220;The lockdown is the consequence of our actions.&#8221;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Sided by business owners, Bolsonaro storms Supreme Court</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="576" src="" alt="bolsonaro supreme court" class="wp-image-38516" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1280w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Jair Bolsonaro storms the Supreme Court building. Still via G1</figcaption></figure> <p>In a rare scene, President Jair Bolsonaro — flanked by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and a dozen businessmen —&nbsp;crossed Brasília&#8217;s Three Powers Square on foot yesterday and paid a surprise visit to Supreme Court Chief Justice Dias Toffoli. The president&#8217;s move was an attempt to share any responsibility for the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus with other branches of government. &#8220;We have a problem that is worrying us more and more: unemployment, and the fact that the economy might not work,&#8221; said Mr. Bolsonaro. True to form, the president had the meeting broadcast live on social media.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>&#8220;We can stay put across the street waiting for the court&#8217;s decisions — which sometimes are good, but at other times we don&#8217;t agree with,&#8221; said the president.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Answer.</strong> The visibly uncomfortable Chief Justice said that, as a federation, the power to enforce social isolation rules lies with states and municipalities. That&#8217;s what the court ruled in recent weeks.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s move was seen as an attempt to push the Supreme Court up against a wall. It makes a toxic political climate even worse.</p> <p><strong>Concern.</strong> The president knows that his popularity — which has taken a hit —&nbsp;hinges on the economy. And that prospects are dreadful at the moment. &#8220;Ultimately, that will decide whether or not he keeps his support base,&#8221; said Mauricio Moura, chief executive officer of polling company Ideia Big Data, to our Explaining Brazil podcast.&nbsp;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3644899"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Camping against democracy</h2> <p>Yesterday, reporter Renato Alves showed how <a href="">Brazilian far-right movements are launching strategies to create social unrest</a> and stir up violent protests. A group called &#8220;Brazil&#8217;s 300,&#8221; a reference to the Battle of Thermopylae between Sparta and Persia, has set up camp near the Congress building in order to put pressure on House Speaker Rodrigo Maia to resign. Now, they are openly calling for a potential invasion of the Congress building and the Supreme Court.</p> <ul><li>In <a href="">one video</a> (in Portuguese), a militant calls supporters of President Bolsonaro to join the group in Brasília and &#8220;end the malfeasance that has ruled Brazil for 35 years by that evil house, the Supreme Court.&#8221; The 35 years he mentions is the time Brazil has been a democracy after the end of the military dictatorship.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Dismissed as inconsequential radicals, these groups have managed to surreptitiously draw massive followings and are ramping up their efforts to worrisome levels.</p> <ul><li>“The far-right has managed to create a <a href="">propaganda machine</a> associating its ideology to ‘neutral’ subjects, such as anime, make-up, or videogames. Not directly, but using these networks’ ecosystems,” wrote anthropologist Orlando Calheiros. Just last week, the president&#8217;s youngest son, Jair Renan, was banned from videogame streaming platform Twitch for using his channel to propel Covid-19 misinformation. He had over 50,000 followers.</li></ul> <p><strong>Inspiration.</strong> As we wrote, &#8216;Brazil&#8217;s 300&#8217; is led by a former senior official at the Human Rights Ministry who goes by the name of Sara Winter (a reference to British Nazi supporter and member of the British Union of Fascists, Sarah Winter), who has links to neo-Nazi groups.</p> <p><strong>Military.</strong> These groups are backed by many <a href="">low-ranking military officers</a> and their families. And one of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s allies has already said they would fight tooth and nail for him. Literally.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Congress.</strong> House Speaker Rodrigo Maia has been reluctant to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Jair Bolsonaro — which has led a group of congressmen to open a parliamentary hearings committee to act on accusations that President Jair Bolsonaro tried to meddle with federal probes. One such initiative is being put forward by communist Congressman Orlando Silva and <a href="">reportedly</a> has 100 of the 171 signatures it requires to be set up. How many signatures these requests receive will work as a whip count to measure how feasible <a href="">impeachment</a> would be.</li><li><strong>Justice.</strong> The Workers&#8217; Party asked the Supreme Court to prohibit an anti-quarantine motorcade scheduled for today by supporters of President Bolsonaro&nbsp;— and to arrest the organizers. Justice Celso de Mello, however, has dismissed the request, saying it would infringe upon people&#8217;s freedom of speech, adding that any illegal demonstrations shall be punished, however.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Culture.</strong> In a manic live interview to <em>CNN Brasil</em>, Culture Secretary Regina Duarte attempted to play down the state-sponsored torture that occurred under the military dictatorship. &#8220;Humanity doesn&#8217;t stop dying. Stalin, how many deaths? Hitler, how many deaths? I&#8217;m light. I&#8217;m alive, we are alive, let&#8217;s stay alive. Why look back?&#8221; Ms. Duarte took office earlier this year, after her predecessor was fired for publishing a video <a href="">in which he paraphrased Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels</a>.

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