Teich chose not to be Bolsonaro’s Sisyphus

. May 16, 2020
Health Minister under Jair Bolsonaro: a Sisyphean job Health Minister under Jair Bolsonaro: a Sisyphean job

The myth of Sisyphus is one of the well-known stories in Greek mythology. The Corinthian king was described by Homer as the wisest and most prudent of mortals — but other tales portrayed him more as a highwayman or rogue than anything else. His wit allowed him to chain Death when it came to claim him — and, when he was finally taken to the underworld, allowed him to convince Hades to allow him to return home. He nearly successfully cheated the gods, but they discovered his deceit and punished him by forcing Sisyphus to complete the endless labor of rolling a great stone to the top of a mountain, only to see its falling back of its own weight.

</p> <p>As French-Algerian writer Albert Camus explains in a <a href="">1941 essay</a>, it was an &#8220;unspeakable penalty, in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.&#8221; Mr. Camus describes the futility of the endeavor. &#8220;At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain.&#8221;</p> <p>For Camus, what makes this myth tragic is the fact that Sisyphus is fully conscious that his torture is not the physical labor of rolling the stone to the top —&nbsp;but rather knowing that it will inevitably roll back to the plain. &#8220;Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?&#8221;</p> <p>Oncologist Nelson Teich — who finally decided to <a href="">quit the Health Ministry after only 28 days</a> — was nearly a sort of Brazilian Sisyphus.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="684" src="" alt="Nelson Teich resigns as Brazil's Health Minister after less than a month" class="wp-image-39435" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Former Health Minister Nelson Teich. Photo: Alex Pazuello/Semcom </figcaption></figure> <p>His boss, President Jair Bolsonaro, has forced the Health Ministry to change its protocols regarding the controversial antimalarial drug chloroquine. With no proven efficacy against Covid-19, the medicine will not be a game-changer in the fight against the worst pandemic of the past 100 years. Scientific evidence suggests some promising results in limited tests —&nbsp;but experts advise caution, as high dosages could be <a href="">linked to higher death rates</a>. Instead, it will serve as another weapon for Mr. Bolsonaro to <a href="">attack social isolation measures</a>.</p> <p>The ink in Mr. Teich&#8217;s resignation letter was barely dry when the president&#8217;s Chief of Staff, Walter Braga Netto, announced that chloroquine will become an essential resource distributed to hospitals. Until Friday, the drug was only administered to severe patients.</p> <p>&#8220;Life is made of choices. Today, I chose to leave,&#8221; he said, in his last press conference as Brazil&#8217;s Health minister.</p> <p>Like Sisyphus defied the gods, Mr. Teich&#8217;s caution around chloroquine defied the head of state. The burden of denying science was too much for him to carry, even if it would allow him to continue spearheading the Covid-19 fight. But maybe the gods were right: there is no punishment as being forced to perform futile and hopeless labor.

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Felipe Berenguer

Felipe Berenguer is a political analyst at Levante Ideias de Investimentos

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