Brasilia, Jun 15 (efe-epa).- Brazil, second only to the United States in Covid-19 cases and deaths, is seeing its efforts to contain the coronavirus complicated by increasing political polarization, as attested by Monday’s arrest of militant supporters of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for “anti-democratic” activity.
The Supreme Court ordered the activists detained a day after they led an invasion of the congressional chamber and launched fireworks at the building housing Brazil’s highest tribunal.
Among those taken into custody was Sara Winter, self-proclaimed head of a group that calls itself the Brazil 300, though it appears to include only a few dozen people.
Winter, born Sara Giromini, has posted social media images of herself brandishing guns and often refers to Brazil 300 and associated groups as a militia.
“We have the conviction that she is a political prisoner and we will use only legal tools to have her released as soon as possible,” a lawyer representing the 28-year-old Winter said.
The warrants issued by the Supreme Court mandate that Winter and the others be held for five days on suspicion they violated Brazil’s National Security Law by holding rallies advocating a “military intervention” to shut down Congress and the judiciary.
Bolsonaro, a professed admirer of the country’s 1964-1985 military regime, has been present for some of those demonstrations in Brasilia.
Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, one of the most radical members of the administration, joined one of Sunday’s protests in the capital.
Both Weintraub and Winter are under scrutiny by the Supreme Court for their alleged participation in a pro-Bolsonaro “propaganda machine” spreading disinformation via the Internet.
The disinformation campaign is thought to be backed by members of Congress and wealthy business people trying to rally support for Bolsonaro amid mounting criticism of his handling of the pandemic and evidence that he has sought to obstruct police investigations of his family and associates.
Coronavirus has claimed more than 43,000 lives in Brazil and the number of confirmed infections is approaching 868,000, according to the latest bulletin from the health ministry, currently led by Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, a career military officer with no experience in the field.
Pazuello took charge in mid-May, becoming the third health minister in a little more than a month following the successive resignations of two respected physicians who clashed with Bolsonaro over the handling of what the president has dismissed as a “measly flu.”
Though Brazilian health officials say the peak of the outbreak in Latin America’s largest country is still weeks away, all but a few of the country’s 27 states are moving forward with plans to re-open the economy.
Requirements to wear masks in public and other protective measures are in place, but social distancing guidelines are increasingly ignored as people in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other major cities resume riding buses and the metro.
Bolsonaro, who persists in minimizing the threat even though many members of his staff have tested positive for the virus, regularly flouts social distancing guidelines by mingling with his supporters, shaking hands and posing for selfies.
A study published Monday by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo and the Getulio Vargas Foundation projected that the relaxation of restrictions could spur a 71 percent increase in Covid-19 fatalities over the next few weeks in Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s wealthiest and most-populous region.
Sao Paulo state already accounts for nearly 11,000 coronavirus deaths and more than 178,000 confirmed cases. EFE as/dr