Photo: Anti-Bolsonaro protest in May of this year. Credit — Parzeus (Wikimedia Commons)
On Oct. 20, Brazil’s “Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry” (CPI) presented the final report of its investigation of sitting far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CPI produced a 1,200-page report recommending the indictment of 66 people, including Bolsonaro and his sons Carlos, Eduardo and Flávio, all of whom hold political office. Nine charges are recommended for Bolsonaro himself, including that of crimes against humanity.
More than 600,000 people have died of COVID in Brazil, a death toll second only to the United States.
The CPI does not have the legal authority to indict, convict or punish. A final vote on their report is expected to take place next week. If approved, its contents will be referred to various authorities that could take further action. Those crimes considered “crimes of responsibility” — offenses related to the duties of political office — could be taken up by Congress and turned into an impeachment proceeding. Ordinary crimes could result in prosecution at the discretion of Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras; however, as president, Bolsonaro can only be prosecuted before Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal.
The release of the report was not without controversy. Two days prior, a leak revealed that the CPI was planning on recommending charges against Bolsonaro of homicide and genocide against Indigenous peoples. Last-minute debates within the commission led to those particular charges being dropped from the final text. These backroom dealings are no surprise given the highly politicized nature of the commission, which included senators from the opposition as well as Bolsonaro’s allies.
Since the onset of COVID-19, Bolsonaro has deliberately hindered the government response to the pandemic by preventing states and local governments from implementing lockdown measures to control the spread of the virus. The government’s refusal to produce a licensed Chinese-developed Sinovac vaccine cost countless lives.
At the helm of global vaccine misinformation and COVID denialism, Bolsonaro promoted the widely discredited claims about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against COVID. In retrospect his 2020 statement that, “only the weak, the sick, and the elderly should be worried” sounds more like a deadly threat than medical advice. A Bolsonaro ally has been quoted as celebrating the pandemic since it has reduced the pension budget deficit due to the massive death toll of the elderly, particularly among the country’s working class.
Predictably, the fascist right wing in Brazil has denounced the entire investigation as a purely political maneuver designed to smear Bolsonaro.
The charges recommended by the CPI reflect the shift in the political climate in Brazil. The left has taken to the streets in consistent and spirited protests against Bolsonaro and his disastrous policies over recent months. In early September protests against Bolsonaro pushed back on his effort to lay the groundwork for a coup. Bolsonaro’s approval rating stands at a meager 25 percent as former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva plans a 2022 presidential run on the Workers Party ticket.
An election victory for Lula — which all the polls are currently predicting — would mark a dramatic turn of events following his unjust imprisonment and the disqualification of his candidacy in the 2018 presidential race, which ultimately paved the way for Bolsonaro’s presidency.
Continued organizing and pressure from Brazilian people’s movements will remain the critical factor in the struggle against the Bolsonaro government.