The rapid escalation of the coronavirus crisis in Brazil has highlighted the alarming inability of President Jair Bolsonaro to govern the country. His approach to the pandemic has undermined efforts to save lives and has led Brazil into deep socio-economic crisis. Bolsonaro’s position as leader is no longer tenable and he should be impeached.
However, impeachment would come at a cost. The process risks further accentuating divisions in a country already blighted by political and economic turmoil.
The Brazilian president has consistently ignored scientific advice, dismissing Covid-19 as a ‘little cold’ and ‘self-isolation’ as mass confinement. He also openly defied social distancing guidelines in early March, after his press secretary, Fabio Wjangarten, tested positive Covid-19.
Instead Mr Bolsonaro has used the crisis to enhance his populist rhetoric, maintaining that the true viruses lie in the country’s political and legal institutions.
The right-wing populist leader has repeatedly refused to impose a nationwide lockdown and instead has favoured a ‘return to normality’ approach. Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis has not only undermined the advice of his health minister but contradicts the policies of local governments which have asked citizens to stay at home.
Brazil has seen rapid rise in coronavirus cases over the past month, a total now only second to the United States. As of June 4, the figure stands at 584,562. 32,586 Covid-19 deaths have also been registered. However, with insufficient testing in the South American country, it is feared that the true numbers are far higher.
Bolsonaro’s mismanagement of the pandemic is one of a number of crimes of irresponsibility that can be attributed to the Brazilian president. Since his election in January 2019, Bolsonaro has leveraged fear and hatred, inciting attacks on indigenous peoples and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The president is also in the midst of a confrontation with the nation’s Supreme Court who are investigating him on allegations of interference in police affairs. Protestors in Sao Paulo and Brasilia took to the streets over the weekend, urging the military to shut down the Supreme Court and Congress, claiming their actions against the president to be unjustified.
Whilst it is still unclear whether the pandemic will take Bolsonaro down, the crisis has certainly opened the door for his impeachment. Bolsonaro has not only instigated a health crisis but a political one. On March 17, members of the Brazilian parliament introduced a demand for his removal from office, signed by scientists and other public intellectuals.
Bolsonaro’s public support has also plummeted amid the coronavirus crisis. This has certainly raised questions about the future of a leader whose populist appeal rests on a positive relationship with the people. A recent survey by Atlas Politico revealed that half of the Brazilian population are now backing his removal from office.
Whilst Bolsonaro’s impeachment appears inevitable, it is unlikely that such a process will go ahead now. Impeachment is a lengthy process that would only accentuate divisions in Brazil. Instead the country must first unite if it is to overcome the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping across South America. However, Bolsonaro is a populist leader that thrives on division. If the deaths and unemployment caused by Covid-19 continue to rise this could create an even more hospitable argument for Bolsonaro’s politics of fear and unreason.