How Bolsonaro plans to force Brazil back to work

. May 12, 2020
Essential jobs: the next cultural war in Brazil Photo: VladisloveM/Shutterstock

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We’re covering Jair Bolsonaro’s latest decree on “essential activities.” The investigation into the president’s alleged meddling with the Federal Police. And São Paulo’s disastrous attempts to avoid a full-scale lockdown.

Essential jobs: the next cultural war in Brazil

Gyms, beauty parlors, and barbershops are now considered “essential activities,”

according to a <a href="">decree</a> issued by President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday evening. This means that such establishments would be allowed to open, even during quarantine measures in Brazilian states. The move blindsided Health Minister Nelson Teich, who heard about it from reporters, during a press conference. &#8220;That was announced today?&#8221; he said, in disbelief. &#8220;It didn&#8217;t go through us, it&#8217;s not our responsibility. This is a decision from the president.&#8221;</p> <ul><li>Experts piled on the president for his decision. Gyms, beauty parlors, and barbershops are places that offer an enhanced risk of Covid-19 contamination: gym equipment is shared between all members, while hairdressers and barbers must break with social distancing to perform their services.</li></ul> <p><strong>Context.</strong> Since the beginning of the pandemic, Mr. Bolsonaro has clashed with governors over the necessity of quarantines. He has lobbied for reopening businesses, while states are increasing restrictions — with a handful of metropolitan areas going under full lockdown.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The Supreme Court ruled last month that states and municipalities have the jurisdiction to decide on social isolation measures. Mr. Bolsonaro is trying to circumvent this power by allowing a growing number of services to operate under any circumstance.</p> <ul><li>Last week, the president had already included all industrial segments and civil construction on the list of essential activities.</li></ul> <p><strong>Legal battle.</strong> The issue could end up in the Supreme Court. While the court ruled in favor of state and municipal autonomy in April, precedents say that only applies in matters which have not been regulated by the federal government, as <a href="">wrote</a> lawyer Dalton de Miranda, a legal representative of the vegetable oil industry. This could once again put the government at odds with the Supreme Court.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Federal Police probe: latest testimony favorable to Bolsonaro</h2> <p>Monday saw the first round of testimony in the probe into President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s alleged illegal meddling with the Federal Police. Investigators listened to former Federal Police Chief Maurício Valeixo, whose firing sparked the entire crisis.</p> <p><strong>Context.</strong> On April 24, former Justice Minister Sergio Moro resigned from the cabinet, saying Mr. Bolsonaro wanted to handpick the Federal Police Superintendent in Rio de Janeiro and have a trusted ally as head of the corporation —&nbsp;&#8220;someone from whom he could get information on &#8216;relevant&#8217; investigations.&#8221; The Prosecutor General&#8217;s Office placed Mr. Bolsonaro under investigation for corruption, obstruction of justice, and influence peddling.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Effect. </strong>While Mr. Valeixo confirmed Mr. Moro&#8217;s claims, his testimony could turn out to be positive for President Bolsonaro.</p> <ul><li>Mr. Valeixo said the pressure from the government was implied and never direct.</li><li>While he reinforced the notion that Mr. Bolsonaro wanted an ally in charge of the Federal Police in Rio, he couldn&#8217;t offer a reason for that behavior. He did not indulge rumors that the president wanted someone to investigate the state governor, Wilson Witzel, one of his political opponents.</li><li>He also said he is unaware of any Federal Police probe in Rio that concerns the president&#8217;s family.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> In Brazilian law, a clear motive is essential to constitute a crime in this kind of case. While one can condemn Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s actions from a republican standpoint, it is hard to see the president facing an indictment request —&nbsp;unless new, groundbreaking evidence appears.</p> <p><strong>More subpoenas.</strong> Three cabinet members — Security Chief Augusto Heleno, Chief of Staff Walter Braga Netto, and Secretary-General Luiz Eduardo Ramos — shall be heard at 3 pm today. According to Mr. Moro&#8217;s accounts, they witnessed Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s attempts to interfere with the Federal Police.</p> <ul><li>The fact that the Supreme Court subpoenaed the cabinet ministers — even threatening to compel them to appear — raised tensions between justices and the government. And Gen. Heleno made the already toxic relationship even worse. When asked on Twitter about how he would &#8220;properly respond&#8221; to the subpoena, he responded: &#8220;There&#8217;s a right time for everything.&#8221;&nbsp;</li><li>Behind the scenes, Supreme Court justices compared the statement to one made by Brazil&#8217;s second president, Floriano Peixoto, who declared a state of emergency in 1892 to lock up his political enemies. When the Supreme Court was about to rule on prisoners&#8217; habeas corpus cases, Mr. Peixoto said: &#8220;If the justices grant them liberty, I don&#8217;t know who will give them the habeas corpus they will certainly need.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Bottom line. </strong>An environment of mutual mistrust and hostility could have unpredictable institutional consequences.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>São Paulo&#8217;s botched attempts to reduce traffic</h2> <p>With social distancing rates far from ideal, the São Paulo municipal administration has tried to implement other ways to discourage citizens from leaving their homes. But these experimental measures have been one flop after another.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Last week, the city blocked major avenues but was forced to reopen them after inadvertently causing ambulances to become stuck in traffic jams.&nbsp;</li><li>This week, São Paulo implemented a continuous vehicle restriction system, aiming at cutting traffic by half. On the first day of the new rules, however, use of public transport increased significantly, buses, trains, and the subway between 10 and 15 percent busier.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> São Paulo is trying to avoid a full-blown lockdown — but its alternative measures seem rushed and ill-prepared. They end up putting people at more risk by taking packed buses and trains.</p> <p><strong>Bottom line.</strong> Politicians don&#8217;t want to bear the political costs of a lockdown — especially with President Jair Bolsonaro constantly antagonizing the strategy. But unless more drastic measures are enforced, Brazil will remain in the worst of two worlds: its economy cannot function, but people are still out spreading the virus.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-map" data-src="visualisation/2360213" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Jobs.</strong> The Economy Ministry reported that over 784,000 Brazilians filed for <a href="">unemployment benefits</a> during the month of April. This represents a 22.1-percent bump from April 2019, and almost 40 percent more than the total requests in March. Over two-thirds of claimants came from the services and commerce sectors. Meanwhile, the government reported that over 6.2 million workers were included in a government program to allow for salary cuts and reduced working hours during the pandemic.</li><li><strong>Hunger.</strong> The Covid-19 pandemic will accentuate inequality in Brazil and could push around 5.4 million people — equivalent to the entire population of Norway — into extreme poverty. That would bring the total of Brazilians who live with USD 1.90 or less per day to 14.7 million, or 7 percent of the population. Brazil, which left the World Food Program&#8217;s <a href="">Hunger Map</a> in 2014, is set for a shameful return.</li><li><strong>Drugs.</strong> Nearly all economic sectors have reduced their activities — but not the illegal drug market. Cocaine seizures in Brazilian ports have reportedly grown 10.5 percent between February and April 2020, in comparison to the same period of last year: from 12.4 to 13.7 tons seized by Federal Police agents. As reporter Lucas Berti has shown, <a href="">drug and alcohol consumption has gone up</a> during the pandemic, as people seek coping mechanisms to deal with the disruption of their routines.</li><li><strong>Marriages.</strong> May is known in Brazil as &#8220;Brides&#8217; Month,&#8221; and is the most popular time for couples tying the knot. In 2020, however, the BRL 17-billion marriage industry (which had been posting annual growth rates of 25 percent since 2013) has been forced into a halt&nbsp;— and an association of event companies predicts that revenue will drop by at least 30 percent in 2020 — that is, a fall of BRL 6 billion. That will have a severe ripple effect on thousands of small businesses who form part of the industry — such as caterers, gift producers, or dressmakers.

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