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Sacked Health Minister lifts lid on Bolsonaro’s Covid-19 response

. Sep 25, 2020
health minister mandetta bolsonaro President Jair Bolsonaro (left) and former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta. Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR

Acrimoniously sacked as Health Minister in mid-April — and mid-pandemic — Luiz Henrique Mandetta has released a tell-all book covering events between January and April 16, when he was relieved of his duties after prolonged squabbles with President Jair Bolsonaro.

In “Um paciente chamado Brasil” (freely translated as “A Patient Called Brazil”), Mr. Mandetta displays his utter stupefaction with President Bolsonaro’s attitudes during the early weeks and months of the coronavirus epidemic in Brazil — from the conspiracy theories Mr. Bolsonaro used to explain the outbreak, to his denialism of the disease, and “magical” solutions for the virus.

</p> <p>According to the former Health Minister, not only did Jair Bolsonaro publicly belittle the severity of Covid-19, but he also did not show interest in projecting the outcome of the epidemic or issuing protective measures to the population. Neither did he show any empathy for the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/06/06/brazil-cities-with-few-covid-19-deaths-see-ards-deaths-spike/">droves of grieving families who lost loved ones</a> to the disease.</p> <p>&#8220;For [Mr.] Bolsonaro, the solution was always simple: his project to fight the pandemic was to say that the government has the medicine and whoever takes the medicine will be fine. The only people who will die are those who would have died regardless for another reason,&#8221; Mr. Mandetta wrote.</p> <h2>Key takeaways from former Health Minister Mandetta&#8217;s book</h2> <p>The book claims that the president ignored warnings from the Health Ministry, even with concrete numbers displayed to all present at a hurriedly organized meeting on March 28 at Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s official residence. At the time, ministry experts projected a total of 30,000 deaths as a best-case scenario — which Mr. Mandetta called &#8220;overly optimistic&#8221; — and <a href="https://noticias.uol.com.br/politica/ultimas-noticias/2020/09/25/mandetta-alertou-bolsonaro-sobre-180-mil-mortes-reacao-foi-negacionista.htm">up to 180,000 deaths</a> if isolation measures were not put in place. Brazil reached a total of 140,000 Covid-19 victims on Friday.</p> <p>At the end of the meeting in question, Mr. Mandetta says that the president&#8217;s concerns were elsewhere. &#8220;Are you going to praise [São Paulo Governor João] Doria?&#8221; he asked, according to the book. The then-Health Minister then confirmed that he would in fact speak positively about the head of the São Paulo, saying that Mr. Bolsonaro would be on <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/16/chloroquine-unites-bolsonaro-and-venezuelas-nicolas-maduro/">Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro&#8217;s side</a> if he continued to deny the severity of the epidemic. Irritated, Mr. Bolsonaro adjourned the meeting.</p> <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/6ZZeH86TSqcGeZOmJuf8ah" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>Luiz Henrique Mandetta describes another encounter, once again in the president&#8217;s official residence, when Mr. Bolsonaro threatened to &#8220;use his pen&#8221; against cabinet ministers who had &#8220;become stars.&#8221; Days before, opinion polls showed that Mr. Mandetta had higher approval ratings than the president himself. The Health Minister accused Mr. Bolsonaro of being disloyal and threatening him. &#8220;I told him, in my state, if someone says &#8216;your time will come,&#8217; it&#8217;s a death threat.&#8221; President Bolsonaro, he writes, remained quiet while military figures attempted to stop the head of state from firing his Health Minister.</p> <p>The book depicts the moment when President Bolsonaro began <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/04/07/president-jair-bolsonaro-health-minister-mandetta/">contradicting</a> the Health Ministry, speaking out against social isolation and pushing for the adoption of anti-malarial drug <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/16/mandetta-bolsonaro-chloroquine-discourse-meant-reopen-economy/">chloroquine</a> as something of a &#8216;miracle cure&#8217; for Covid-19, despite a lack of evidence of its effectiveness. At one meeting, says Mr. Mandetta, the president suggested that changes be made to the medicine&#8217;s label in order to increase supply. The measure was contested by health regulators.</p> <h2>Onyx devious and Guedes oblivious</h2> <p>&#8220;<em>Um paciente chamado Brasil</em>&#8221; does not focus solely on former Health Minister Mandetta&#8217;s rifts with the president, but also concerns cases with other high-ranking members of the government. At one cabinet meeting, he writes that Economy Minister Paulo Guedes became infuriated upon finding out that medicine prices in Brazil obey a predefined reference table, despite the fact that his department is a part of the council that decides on said fixed prices.</p> <p>A former ally of Mr. Mandetta, Citizenship Minister Onyx Lorenzoni gets his own chapter in the book. </p> <p>When discussing a leaked recording of Mr. Lorenzoni and then-Citizenship Minister Osmar Terra plotting the Health Minister&#8217;s downfall, Mr. Mandetta highlighted a curious fact about Mr. Lorenzoni. </p> <p>During the heyday of Operation Car Wash, Onyx Lorenzoni secretly recorded a meeting among colleagues in the Democratas party — of which Messrs. Mandetta and Lorenzoni are members — in which they discussed anti-corruption measures. He was ostracized by his peers when this came to light, until being restored to the top table with the election of Jair Bolsonaro.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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