Explaining Brazil #161: Little transparency around presidents’ health

President Bolsonaro has recently been discharged from the hospital. While he was in, however, conflicting reports about his health made the Brazilian public suspicious

Last week, Brazilians woke up to the news that President Jair Bolsonaro had checked into a hospital in Brasília, suffering from abdominal pain. Multiple reports gave conflicting accounts about the president’s health — including social media posts from Mr. Bolsonaro’s own sons. Was the president O.K? Was he going to need surgery? When was he getting out? The press and the population were left almost completely in the dark.

And it reminded us that when it comes to presidents’ health conditions, transparency is scarce in Brazil.

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  • Andre Pagliarini was a visiting assistant professor of modern Latin American history at Brown University in 2018–2019 and is currently a lecturer at Dartmouth College. He is preparing a book manuscript on 20th-century Brazilian nationalism.

Background reading:

  • Jair Bolsonaro’s health issues appear to be linked to his 2018 stabbing during the presidential campaign. The incident was the last in a long line of violent acts against prominent politicians in Brazil that year.
  • Brazil was shocked by a rise in political violence ahead of the 2018 election, but figures show that the 2020 campaign may have been even bloodier.
  • Throughout history, presidents who have suffered health crises — even in the mass media era — have tended to conceal their condition, thus fueling conspiracy theories.
  • In the first couple of months of his presidency, Jair Bolsonaro was submitted to multiple surgical procedures and, as usual, was less than forthcoming about the true state of his health.
  • Last year, Mr. Bolsonaro contracted the coronavirus. The way in which he disclosed his diagnosis was nothing short of a media spectacle, in a push to make political gains out of his infection.

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