By Eduardo Davis
Brasilia, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- President Jair Bolsonaro met with several Cabinet ministers via video link on Wednesday as he settled in for 14 days of quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus, the illness he once dismissed as a “measly flu” that has claimed more than 67,000 lives in Brazil.
The right-wing leader has continued to downplay the severity of the pandemic even though Latin America’s largest country is second only to the United States in Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Besides running the government from his home, Bolsonaro continues to create social media content, posting videos promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus despite an ongoing scientific debate about the anti-malaria drug’s effectiveness against the illness.
“To those who go against hydroxychloroquine, but don’t offer other alternatives, I regret to inform you that I’m doing very well using it and with the grace of God, I will live even longer,” the 65-year-old president said in one clip.
Contracting Covid-19 does not seem to have changed Bolsonaro’s position on how to deal with the virus, judging by his decision Wednesday to veto 14 provisions of a bill passed by Congress with the aim of containing the spread among Brazil’s indigenous peoples, who account for 12,000 Covid-19 cases and nearly 450 fatalities.
The administration said that the measures in question, such as guaranteeing access to potable water and the “free distribution of hygiene, cleaning and disinfection supplies,” would cost too much.
But Bolsonaro’s veto was published at about the same time that a Supreme Court judge issued an order giving the government 10 days to formulate a plan to protect indigenous territories from Covid-19.
The president has clashed repeatedly with the Brazilian Congress and Supreme Court over their undoing of his government’s moves to overrule state governors and mayors who impose restrictions on movement and activity to slow the spread of Covid-19, which has infected more than 1.67 million people in Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s hard-core supporters, often with his encouragement, have organized protests to demand the re-opening of the economy.
They have also called for “military intervention” to shut down Congress and the Supreme Court, a position in line with Bolsonaro’s nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime.
Following a demonstration that culminated with a mock bombardment of the Supreme Court with fireworks, judges ordered the arrest of a dozen high-profile figures representing the most extreme elements among Bolsonaro supporters.
Another source of friction between the president and the judiciary lies in the criminal prosecutions of three of Bolsonaro’s sons: Flavio, a senator; Eduardo, a member of the lower house; and Carlos, who sits on the city council in Rio de Janeiro.
Bolsonaro senior is also under investigation by the Supreme Court for allegedly interfering with the operations of the Federal Police, while the electoral tribunal is looking into accusations that his campaign disseminated “fake news” ahead of the 2018 presidential election.
Under the pressure of the judicial probes and the widening rifts with the other branches of government, Bolsonaro has begun to moderate his tone and seek to reduce his reliance on far-right groups by making overtures to include parties closer to the political center.
The centrist parties have made it clear that the price of their support is a commitment from Bolsonaro to start taking the pandemic seriously. EFE ed/dr