By Eduardo Davis
Brasilia, Oct 20 (EFE).- Brazil’s second-highest-in-the-world pandemic death toll is due to a “political decision” by President Jair Bolsonaro to prioritize the economy over public health, the Senate panel investigating the government’s handling of Covid-19 said in a report released Wednesday.
The report, drafted by committee chair Renan Calheiros, accuses the right-wing head of state of “crimes against humanity.”
“The president repeatedly incentivized the population to flout social distancing, he opposed the use of masks, promoted agglomerations of people and tried to discredit vaccines,” Calheiros wrote.
“That strategy, based in truth on the idea that natural contagion would induce collective immunity, was the product of a political decision that focused exclusively on a rapid re-establishment of economic activity,” he added.
When the panel began its work on April 27, coronavirus had claimed 391,000 lives. The number of fatalities has since topped 600,000.
Only the United States, with 728,000 deaths, has suffered more from the pandemic than Brazil.
The 11 senators on the committee are set to vote next week on whether to approve the draft report and refer it to the courts.
Under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can authorize a criminal probe of a senior executive branch official or member of Congress.
Calheiros named 65 people, including six current and former Cabinet ministers, as accomplices in offenses such as falsifying official documents, misuse of public funds and imposing a Covid-19 protocol centered on “early treatment” with hydroxychloroquine.
That drug, an established treatment for malaria and some autoimmune diseases, was touted by former US President Donald Trump as a remedy for coronavirus, but its efficacy has yet to be demonstrated in clinical trials.
Three of the president’s sons, Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro, congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Rio de Janeiro city councilor Carlos Bolsonaro, are accused of creating and directing a massive Covid-19 disinformation campaign to reinforce their father’s message.
“Many innocents paid with their lives for the irresponsibility of the government and the president,” Calheiros wrote. “Now the time comes for the guilty to pay.”
Among the witnesses who appeared before the Senate panel was a lawmaker who said he alerted Bolsonaro about apparent corruption in a deal to acquire vaccine from India.
The physician and scientist who runs Brazil’s prestigious Instituto Butantan, Dr. Dimas Covas, told the senators that Bolsonaro’s actions delayed the start of Covid-19 vaccination.
In August 2020, Covas said, Butantan, the largest vaccine produced in South America, offered to supply the Brazilian government with 100 million doses of the Coronavac vaccine, which the institute manufactures under license from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
The proposal included a promise to deliver the first 5 million doses by the start of December 2020.
A day after the offer from Butantan, Bolsonaro vowed that his government would “never” buy a Chinese vaccine and the talks between Butantan and the health ministry remained on hold until the start of January 2021.
The ministry signed a contract with Butantan on Jan. 6 and vaccinations got under way 11 days later. EFE