Bolsonaro won’t be able to make lemonade of Covid-19 diagnosis

. Jul 07, 2020
Bolsonaro won't be able to make lemonade of Covid-19 diagnosis President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR

For over four months, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro toyed with the odds of catching the coronavirus. He denied the pandemic was as serious as experts had warned, promoting unproven treatments, organizing public gatherings, inciting insurrection against governors who enacted quarantines, and failing to name a permanent Health Minister for over 50 days. Now, after months of reckless behavior, Mr. Bolsonaro became one of the 1.6 million Brazilians to have been infected with the coronavirus.

True to form, the president used the announcement as a propaganda tool. He gathered reporters — who stood just centimeters away from him — and revealed live on television that his test results had come back positive. He then took his own diagnosis as an opportunity to double down on each one of his Covid-19 denialist messages until now. 

</p> <p>He compared the deadly pandemic to &#8220;<a href="">being caught in the rain</a>,&#8221; which can be dangerous for some but is harmless for most. He once again touted antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, despite not a shred of evidence to support his claims that the medicine is a &#8220;possible cure&#8221; for Covid-19. He claimed his symptoms had improved, which he credited to having taken hydroxychloroquine since the night before, saying it had a &#8220;success rate of nearly 100 percent.&#8221;</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro also played down the efficacy of social isolation, suggesting flippantly that everyone will catch the coronavirus at some point. He called the restriction measures employed by state governors and mayors &#8220;exaggerated&#8221; and blamed them for Brazil&#8217;s economic woes. &#8220;You&#8217;ve got to get the <a href="">economy rolling again</a>. The economy is not working, and that leads to <a href="">further deaths</a>.&#8221;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-4391882"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Does Bolsonaro have a plan?</h2> <p>Personal health risks aside, Mr. Bolsonaro will hope to transform his Covid-19 diagnosis into political gain. The situation may hold some loose parallels to 2018, when he was stabbed during a campaign rally and managed to anchor support and win the election.</p> <p>&#8220;If it doesn&#8217;t develop into a serious infection, as we hope it won&#8217;t, he would instantly become the poster boy for his own message. In his mind, he would be&nbsp;living proof that he was right all along,&#8221; says political scientist Cláudio Couto, of think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas.</p> <p>That is a high-risk-low-reward strategy, though.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;There is no way he can make lemonade out of this. It would seem too dismissive of the 65,000-plus people who have <a href="">died in Brazil</a>,&#8221; replies sociologist Carlos Melo, a political science professor at São Paulo&#8217;s Insper business school.</p> <p>Moreover, the current situation is hardly comparable to 2018. The <a href="">stabbing incident</a> helped by forcing his fellow candidates to temper their criticism toward him, and to give him an excuse not to attend presidential debates — during which he underperformed terribly. Hiding his head in the sand is no longer an option.</p> <p>&#8220;The government is in a tough position. It lacks fiscal space to inject money into the economy and save small- and medium-sized businesses and preserve the job market. On the other end, it also lacks the skills to draft and enact successful public policies. The <a href="">emergency aid</a> is a testament to that. Many people received the benefit unlawfully while some of those in need are still waiting to receive the money,&#8221; says Mr. Melo.</p> <p>The emergency aid is what is keeping Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s approval ratings from a dangerous nosedive. But the president has said the wealth transfer program won&#8217;t become permanent, despite the <a href="">massive recession</a> facing Brazil. This could see the far-right leader&#8217;s popularity deteriorate fast.</p> <h2>How the crisis will unfold</h2> <p>Brazil&#8217;s political future remains uncertain —&nbsp;and the pandemic will largely dictate future events. However, some moves are worth paying attention to. The ideological patchwork Mr. Bolsonaro has assembled — which including libertarian economists, hard-line nationalist retired Army generals, agribusiness lobbyists, evangelicals, and anti-globalists — seems to be disintegrating.</p> <p>There is no consensus on how to save the economy. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes has bashed a plan put forward by the military wing based on massive public infrastructure investments. And agricultural sectors are trying to distance themselves from the administration.&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the weekend, Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina said Brazil&#8217;s rural producers don&#8217;t need to destroy the Amazon to make money. Her words come as global investors put pressure on the government for its laissez-faire approach to deforestation. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have formally requested the dismissal of Environment Minister Ricardo Salles.</p> <p>One Brasília insider spoke with <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> about the crisis, saying political actors are gathering to launch a full-scale attack against the government next year —&nbsp;via the <a href="">Superior Electoral Court</a>, where Bolsonaro&#8217;s 2018 presidential campaign is accused of electoral crimes. If the president is convicted, both he and Vice President Hamilton Mourão would be unseated. And if that happens in 2021, after the halfway point of the current term, a replacement would be chosen via an indirect election in Congress.</p> <p>The immediate future of Brazilian politics, however, depends on the health situation of the president and how this coronavirus infection may affect his <a href="">popularity</a>. 

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.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at