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Health Minister Pazuello hung out to dry by his military allies

. Jan 30, 2021
eduardo pazuello health minister pandemic Image: André Chiavassa/TBR

Eduardo Pazuello took office as Brazil’s Health Ministry under the worst possible conditions. It was July 2020, and President Jair Bolsonaro had just jettisoned not one, but two Health Ministers who — as trained physicians — refused to support his delusional defense of unproven treatments to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The president brought in Army General Pazuello, who allies describe as a “good military officer” with a “mission to obey” orders from his superior.

Now, Mr. Pazuello’s future in the cabinet has become very uncertain indeed, as has his military career.

For his alleged role in causing the health crisis in the city of Manaus, Mr. Pazuello has been placed under investigation by the Supreme Court.

The Health Ministry was reportedly warned of an impending shortage of oxygen in Manaus hospitals, which culminated in horrific scenes of Covid-19 patients <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2021/01/14/hospitals-become-suffocation-chambers-amid-oxygen-shortage-in-manaus/">suffocating</a> in intensive care units. </p> <p>As the national face of the health collapse, Mr. Pazuello is set to be made a scapegoat as the administration works to shield President Jair Bolsonaro from any responsibility —&nbsp;even if the general was &#8220;just following orders.&#8221;</p> <p>For this article, <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> spoke with several Health Ministry officials, presidential aides, and high-ranking members of the Armed Forces — some of whom have known Mr. Pazuello for years.&nbsp;</p> <p>All of their accounts come to the same conclusion: Eduardo Pazuello&#8217;s days in the cabinet are severely numbered.</p> <h2>The Health Minister is a man with few allies</h2> <p>President Bolsonaro is being pushed by his congressional support base to appoint a dyed-in-the-wool politician to take control of the Health Ministry. Their <a href="https://www.gazetadopovo.com.br/republica/breves/ricardo-barros-ministerio-saude-pazuello/">name of choice</a> is Congressman Ricardo Barros, who held the post between 2016 and 2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>But no faction of the administration has pushed harder for Mr. Pazuello&#8217;s removal than the government&#8217;s military allies, who sees Mr. Pazuello as a liability for the Armed Forces&#8217; image. Indeed, the military top brass were opposed to appointing Mr. Pazuello as Health Minister in the first place. &#8220;He risks canceling 30 years of efforts to rebuild a reputation that was tainted by the dictatorship,&#8221; says one source.</p> <p>The <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/07/13/military-officers-increasingly-exasperated-with-interim-health-minister/">opposition to Eduardo Pazuello within the barracks</a> is precisely due to the trait that ingratiated himself to President Bolsonaro in the first place: he follows orders with blind sycophancy. In one prime example, Mr. Pazuello&#8217;s ministry recommended that doctors prescribe chloroquine against Covid-19 infections, even though scientific evidence shows it can be risky for patients with heart conditions.</p> <p>That level of devotion is what has kept him in office thus far. But with President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s volatile nature, it is impossible to know how much longer he will ignore calls for Mr. Pazuello&#8217;s head.</p> <h2>Manaus probe puts hit out on Pazuello</h2> <p>For the next 60 days, the Federal Police will investigate whether the Health Minister was in fact aware that Manaus — the biggest city in the Amazon region — was heading toward a shortage of oxygen, and whether he deliberately took no action. He may be charged with malfeasance and misconduct in office.</p> <p>Under normal circumstances, Mr. Pazuello would not lose sleep over such an investigation. After all, Brazil&#8217;s Prosecutor General Augusto Aras has been anything but harsh toward President Bolsonaro, who appointed him back in 2019. However, there is a significant possibility that Mr. Pazuello may be forced to take the fall to protect Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p>Alongside Eduardo Pazuello, another Health Ministry official who could be in the firing line is Mayra Pinheiro, the brain behind TrateCOV, a government app that essentially worked as an automated <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2021/01/21/government-gives-up-on-chloroquine-prescribing-app-for-now/">chloroquine-prescribing machine</a>. Developed as a triage and diagnostic tool for medical professionals, the app allowed doctors to input symptoms and receive treatment recommendations. However, regardless of the patient data given, TrateCOV invariably prescribed unproven drugs chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, and ivermectin.</p> <p>Members of <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> staff filled out the app&#8217;s medical questionnaire, using fictitious names and widely diverse ages and symptoms. All hypothetical patients were recommended the government&#8217;s &#8220;Covid cocktail,&#8221; including one fictitious individual who was only suffering from mild back pain.

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Débora Álvares

Débora Álvares has worked as a political reporter for newspapers Folha de S.Paulo, O Estado de S.Paulo, Globo News, HuffPost, among others. She specializes in reporting on Brasilia, working behind-the-scenes coverage at the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government.

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