Facing Covid-19, Brazil’s Bolsonaro fires health minister who upstaged him

By Maria Angelica Troncoso

Brasilia, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- “A doctor doesn’t abandon his patient.” That was the rationale cited more than once in recent weeks by physician Luiz Henrique Mandetta for remaining as Brazil’s health minister despite constant clashes with President Jair Bolsonaro over how to deal with the Covid-19 coronavirus.

On Thursday, the right-wing head of state decided to oust Mandetta despite – or perhaps because of – polls showing him to be far more trusted by Brazilians in this moment than Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly dismissed Covid-19 as a “measly flu.”

The writing has been on the wall since last week and shortly before his dismissal was announced on Thursday, Mandetta told an interviewer that he was “tired” of quarreling with the president.

The crisis around the pandemic, which has claimed more than 1,900 lives in South America’s largest country, dramatically raised the profile of the technocratic physician.

Mandetta, according to a survey published early this month by Datafolha, has an approval rating of 76 percent, compared with 33 percent for Bolsonaro.

Citing science, the now ex-minister took every opportunity to insist on the need for Brazilians to stay home as much as possible to contain the virus.

Bolsonaro, who has railed at state governors for taking aggressive steps to slow the contagion, repeatedly undercut the message coming from Mandetta, even calling on the health minister to show some “humility.”

Mandetta, 55, got his start as a doctor while serving in the Brazilian army. He later earned a credential in public health administration from Brazil’s Getulio Vargas Foundation before pursuing a specialization in pediatric orthopedics at a hospital in the United States.

His first public post was as health secretary in his native Campo Grande, capital of Mato Grosso do Sul state, from 2005-2010, and he went on to win election to the lower house of Brazil’s Congress, where he met Bolsonaro.

Mandetta managed for a while to balance the task of not upsetting Bolsonaro with acting as the liaison between the administration in Brasilia and the 27 state governments.

While he had some success in that effort, he was never able to get the 65-year-old Bolsonaro to take precautions to protect his own health, even after more than a dozen presidential aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

The president, not content with clamoring to re-open the economy, has seemingly gone out of his way to flout social distancing by calling on his supporters to hold rallies and then joining them on the streets.

The news of Mandetta’s firing came as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Brazil surpassed 30,000 and within hours of the announcement, residents in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other major cities came out balconies or stood at their windows banging pots and pans to protest the health minister’s removal.

Chants of “Bolsonaro out” and “fascist” accompanied the clanging of metal in some locations. EFE


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