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Brazil’s Justice system could be the next Covid-19 victim

. Mar 26, 2020
justice system TJ-SP, São Paulo's highest state court. Photo: TJSP

Brazil is in its second week of social isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so far recording 62 deaths and almost 2,500 infections. Some states have already put their citizens under quarantine and forecasts for the country’s economic future are bleak. The prospect of recession and widespread bankruptcy has led Brazil’s Justice system to fear a new problem on the horizon: a huge influx of administration pleas from business owners.

Last year, requests for court-supervised reorganization fell 1.5 percent. This year, cases continued to decrease until March, but the Covid-19 pandemic and state-wide lockdowns are likely to cause requests to boom.

This alerted the

Justice system, which fears a flood of requests during and after the public health emergency. Judge Daniel Carnio Costa, a specialist in <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2020/03/por-coronavirus-justica-decide-que-assembleia-de-credores-da-odebrecht-sera-virtual.shtml">court-supervised reorganizations</a>, explains that the effects of the pandemic on the Brazilian justice system will be comparable to that of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/03/15/brazil-healthcare-system-prepared-covid-19-pandemic/">crisis about to hit the country&#8217;s health apparatus</a>.</p> <p>Several cases are set to arrive in a short time, and the system will be unable to serve everyone. &#8220;We are going to need bold temporary emergency measures to protect companies because, without them, the consequences will be severe, without collapsing the Justice system,&#8221; said Mr. Costa.</p> <p>To avoid this chaotic scenario, he suggests the prior settlement of these cases, as has been done in Europe, to lengthen the demand curve and cause requests to arrive more slowly, allowing time for the Judiciary to respond to all of them. &#8220;We need to filter this demand because if it is much higher than our capacity, nothing will work,&#8221; he concludes.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1690150"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>States on lockdown</h2> <p>In São Paulo — the country&#8217;s most populous state and where the overwhelming majority of deaths have been registered — <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/26/governors-in-brazil-on-a-collision-course-with-president-bolsonaro/">non-essential services have been closed</a> until the beginning of April.</p> <p>Other states, such as Rio de Janeiro, have explored the closure of roads and airports. These measures have been widely criticized by the federal government, however, which sees them as fuel for a hysteria that only exists in the eyes of the president and big business owners. Doctors and scientists defend the actions taken so far by state and municipal authorities, reinforcing that social isolation is the best way to slow the growth of the pandemic.</p> <p>These warring points of view have pitted state governors against Jair Bolsonaro. <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> has already shown that politicians in Brasília have begun discussing a potential impeachment, and the country&#8217;s leading newspaper <em>Folha de S. Paulo</em> ran an editorial on Thursday entitled &#8220;<a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/opiniao/2020/03/presidente-retire-se.shtml">Mr. President, step down</a>.&#8221; According to São Paulo Governor João Doria, state administrators haven&#8217;t had a collective meeting with President Bolsonaro for 15 months.</p> <p>On Wednesday, after a meeting between the federal government and state executives from the Southeast region, tensions increased further. In a heated slanging match, Jair Bolsonaro accused Mr. Doria of using the pandemic as a political platform for the 2022 presidential elections.</p> <p>Later in the day, Goiás Governor Ronaldo Caiado — a former Bolsonaro ally — <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/03/25/crisis-unfolding-bolsonaro-loses-support-from-powerful-ally/">cut ties with the government</a> in protest of his comments on social isolation.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="story/228914"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Economy v. Science</h2> <p>Fighting in the president&#8217;s corner are big business owners who have been <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/08/10/big-business-jair-bolsonaro/">supporting Mr. Bolsonaro since the election campaign</a>. Among them is Luciano Hang, owner of the Havan department store chain and a belligerent exponent of the president&#8217;s political platform. Mr. Hang supported the prospect of suspending employees&#8217; salaries during the crisis.</p> <p>The statement was made to support a provisional decree issued by the federal government that opened a provision for companies to suspend their workers without pay for four months. The proposal was received so poorly that Jair Bolsonaro went back on it later the same day.</p> <p>So far, the Brazilian government has presented timid initiatives to help the population economically. The Brazilian Development Bank announced an <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/03/17/brazil-throws-money-at-covid-19-but-will-the-plan-work/">injection of BRL 55 billion in aid</a>, but BRL 20 billion of that total had already been allocated previously to solve other problems. And of the BRL 147 billion promised by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, BRL 31 billion was already foreseen in legislative grants and advance expenses by the federal government.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s stubbornness is explained by the federal government&#8217;s inability to help the population. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic became the most talked about topic in newspaper headlines and social media, expectations about GDP growth for 2020 were already being altered negatively. </p> <p>As things stand, the government <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/19/latin-america-sliding-deep-recession-say-banks/">predicts miniscule growth for the year</a>, but is expected to alter its projections to recessive levels soon. Banks and analysts are already seeing the writing on the wall and predicting economic contraction in 2020.

 
Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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