By Maria Angelica Troncoso
Rio de Janeiro, May 29 (EFE).- Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Saturday to repudiate the government of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro in the country’s first massive protests since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a nod to the pandemic, now in its third wave in Brazil, most participants wore masks while holding up placards highlighting the damage Covid-19 has done in Latin America’s largest nation.
With more than 465,000 fatalities, Brazil is second to the United States in coronavirus deaths, while its 16.3 million confirmed cases have been exceeded only by India, a country with more than six times as many people.
People turned out in more than 200 cities, including all 27 state capitals, for events organized by labor unions, leftist political parties and grassroots groups The only report of violence came from Recife, capital of Pernambuco state, where police used pepper spray and rubber bullets against thousands of protesters who went forward with the mobilization despite a recommendation from the state Attorney General’s Office that it be called off because of the pandemic.
Slogans such as “Bolsonaro Out” and “Vaccines for All, Now” featured in all of the protests.
Activists also expressed demands for more generous pandemic relief payments and an end to the privatization of state-owned enterprises.
Marches took place early Saturday in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Belem and Recife, among other urban centers, while the largest demonstration got under way late in the day in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most-populous city.
Efe saw a mass of humanity fill the city’s main thoroughfare, Avenida Paulista, blocking traffic in both directions.
Around 4:00 pm, people of all ages began gathering at the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, a traditional staging area for protests, before a peaceful procession with musical accompaniment that lasted for more than three hours.
“To be in the streets to struggle is an extreme act to say ‘enough,'” former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s center-left Workers Party (PT) said in a message promoting the day of protest.
Yet the PT governor of Bahia state, Rui Castro da Costa, was among several prominent figures on the left arguing that demonstrations should take the form of vehicle caravans to minimize the risks of contagion.
In Recife, some protesters suffered eye injuries from the rubber bullets fired by police to break up the march and a video posted on social media showed police aboard a vehicle direct pepper spray directly at the face of city councilwoman Liane Cirne, who lost her balance and fell to the pavement.
Pernambuco Gov. Paulo Camara ordered the officers involved suspended pending an investigation.
One aim of the nationwide mobilization was to add impetus to a Senate committee’s ongoing investigation into how the Bolsonaro administration has dealt with the public health crisis.
Even though the odds are against a successful impeachment given the current composition of the lower house, opposition senators hope the panel will uncover evidence of malfeasance that is too egregious to be ignored.
The committee has already heard from witnesses who said that the national government fumbled the response to an acute shortage of oxygen for Covid-19 patients in Amazonas state and that Bolsonaro’s team passed up offers which would have secured millions of doses of vaccine by last December.
Bolsonaro, who dismissed Covid-19 as a “measly flu” soon after the virus was first detected in Brazil on Feb. 26, 2020, has remained an outspoken denialist regarding the pandemic, even after undergoing his own bout with the diseases.
Contemptuous of masks and vaccines, the president has fought with mayor and governors over measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, insisting that “the economy cannot stop.” EFE mat/dr