Much-awaited video exposes gross mismanagement in Bolsonaro government

. May 22, 2020
The much-anticipated footage of a Bolsonaro cabinet meeting has been made public. What can be made of this raw display of Bolsonarism? The polemic April 22 cabinet meeting. "I want the people to arm themselves!" Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

For an entire week, Brazilians were on the edge of their seats, waiting for the release of footage of an April 22 cabinet meeting. According to former Operation Car Wash judge and ex-Justice Minister Sergio Moro, the video would expose that President Jair Bolsonaro wanted to illegally meddle with the Federal Police. Supreme Court Justice Celso de Mello — who ordered the video be made public — was reportedly “incredulous” with its contents. Now that the video is out, what can we make of it?

The explicit display of Bolsonarism on video is damning, but not necessarily in regard to the investigation into the president. Mr. Bolsonaro’s quotes related to meddling in the Federal Police were already public knowledge, and they will be commented on later. However, there were other segments that did not sit well with defenders of democracy,

such as the president lamenting the fact that Brazilians are not armed to their teeth.&nbsp;</p> <p>We should warn that much of the language used by President Bolsonaro and the cabinet is explicit, and will not be censored.</p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p><em>&#8220;That&#8217;s why I want, Justice Minister and Defense Minister, for the people to arm themselves! That&#8217;s the guarantee that there won&#8217;t be a son of a bitch to impose a dictatorship here! It is easy to impose a dictatorship! Very easy! A piece of shit mayor passes a shitty decree, handcuffs </em>[people who don&#8217;t comply with stay-home rules]<em>, and leaves everyone at home. If they were armed, they&#8217;d be on the street.&#8221;</em></p></blockquote> <p>This is not merely another instance of Jair Bolsonaro being Jair Bolsonaro. On May 7, reporter Renato Alves showed that a faction of his supporters&nbsp;— who have links to neo-Nazi groups — are <a href="">raising money &#8220;to Ukraine Brazil,&#8221;</a> a reference to the 2013 Euromaidan far-right protests in Ukraine. One could easily infer that the president wants to incite armed insurrection against rebelling state governors.</p> <p>But more shocking than anything that was said, was what was not discussed: the Covid-19 pandemic. At the moment the meeting was taking place, 43,079 Brazilians had already been infected by the coronavirus —&nbsp;with 2,741 casualties (today, the <a href="">total tally</a> reached 330,890 infections and 21,048 deaths). But actions to curb the outbreak were only briefly mentioned by <a href="">then-Health Minister Nelson Teich</a> —&nbsp;without any specific information.</p> <p>As a matter of fact, the pandemic was even described as a positive opportunity&nbsp;by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles. He mentioned taking advantage of the media focus on Covid-19 to &#8220;run the cattle herd&#8221; through the Amazon, &#8220;changing all the rules and simplifying standards.&#8221;</p> <p>While many absurdities were said, Mr. Salles&#8217; line was perhaps the only one that government members would refuse to say out in the open. Just a few days ago, Mr. Salles told our Brasília correspondent Brenno Grillo that accusations that the government encourages land-grabbing and deforestation were <a href="">part of a &#8220;defamation campaign&#8221; by environmentalist groups</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Evidently, that was not the case.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img src="" alt="Ricardo Salles: pandemic is a great &quot;opportunity.&quot; Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR" class="wp-image-40155" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1536w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Ricardo Salles: pandemic is a great &#8220;opportunity.&#8221; Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR</figcaption></figure> <h2>What about the Federal Police meddling?</h2> <p>Another scandalous segment of the video included the already reported quotes from the president, showing his intention to interfere with the Feds. In a strategy to deflate the shocking effect the footage might have, the <a href="">Solicitor General&#8217;s Office had already released the excerpt last week</a>:</p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p><em>“I have the power and I&#8217;ll interfere in all ministries. [&#8230;] I’ve tried to change people from our security in Rio and, officially, I couldn’t. That’s over. I won’t wait for them to f*** over my entire family with shenanigans, or a friend of mine, because I can’t pull someone from security who belongs to the structure and is at the end of the line. That will change. If it doesn’t, then his boss will change. If [I] can’t change his boss, then the minister will change. Period. We’re not playing games here …”</em></p></blockquote> <p>For political scientist Claudio Couto, professor at think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas, there is no smoking gun against the president. &#8220;Logic points towards an attempt to unlawfully interfere with the Federal Police, but it&#8217;s all quite circumstantial. Hardly enough to force the Prosecutor General — who has been aligned with President Bolsonaro —&nbsp;to submit an indictment request,&#8221; he explains.</p> <p>&#8220;The intent to satisfy his personal interests is clear. But the mere expression of intent is not a crime in itself when it comes to Brazilian legislation,&#8221; says penal law expert André Damiani.</p> <p>In regard to the president, the content of the footage won&#8217;t do anything to change anyone&#8217;s mind about him. &#8220;In the president&#8217;s favor is the fact that there is little that was said in private that he doesn&#8217;t say in public. For his supporters, it vindicates their leader. For his detractors, it is further proof of how he doesn&#8217;t meet the standards of his office,&#8221; says Carlos Melo, a political scientist and a professor at São Paulo&#8217;s Insper business school.</p> <p>But if there was no smoking gun, why did the president fight tooth and nail to hide the footage? &#8220;It&#8217;s like with the president&#8217;s Covid-19 tests. He tried to hide them, only for us to discover they had come back negative. That kind of stance helps the government create a narrative that it is unjustly persecuted by the press,&#8221; says Mr. Couto.</p> <h2>Putschist tendencies</h2> <p>Perhaps more troubling than the video itself are the events around it. A group of opposition lawmakers requested that the Prosecutor General should seize President Bolsonaro&#8217;s cell phone to search for compromising evidence in private messages exchanged between him and former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, and members of the Federal Police. The case&#8217;s rapporteur, Justice Celso de Mello, did not promptly dismiss the request, forwarding it to the Prosecutor General&#8217;s Office.</p> <p>In a radio interview, Mr. Bolsonaro said &#8220;nobody will touch [his] phone.&#8221; He added: “[Prosecutor General Augusto] Aras is independent, but I don’t think he will [order the seizing of his phone].”</p> <p>Retired Army General Augusto Heleno — who serves as Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s chief security officer —&nbsp;issued a statement calling the seizing of the president&#8217;s cell phone &#8220;inadmissible,&#8221; and an &#8220;affront to the highest authority in the land.&#8221; He warned that &#8220;such an attitude is a clear attempt to compromise the harmony between government branches and could have unpredictable consequences to national stability.&#8221;</p> <p>As political commentator Reinaldo Azevedo <a href="">wrote</a>, &#8220;when someone with a pen and a keyboard talks about &#8216;unpredictable consequences&#8217; it means one thing — when that someone comes from a corporation with tanks and guns, it&#8217;s something completely different.&#8221;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p><em>Additional reporting by Brenno Grillo.</em>

Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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