Virus impact on Brazil prolonging confrontation between Bolsonaro, governors

Sao Paulo, May 13 (efe-epa).- With more than 12,400 deaths from the coronavirus so far, Brazil – the Latin American epicenter of the pandemic – is facing the increasing spread of the virus amid significant controversy between state governors and President Jair Bolsonaro, who is exerting pressure on them to reopen gymnasiums and hair salons around the country.

As European countries have begun to bend the curve of Covid-19 cases and deaths downward after months of quarantine, Brazil is dealing with the rampant spread of the virus with substantial daily increases in confirmed cases (177,589) and deaths which are exceeding those in Germany and approaching the number in France.

The resurgence of the disease has put Brazilian states on the spot, many of which are on the verge of having their health care systems collapse, and it has forced the main areas of Brazil – such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – to tighten movement restrictions to try and limit the number of new cases.

These methods have been harshly criticized by Bolsonaro, however, who has been encouraging Brazilians to go back to work to “save the economy,” arguing that unemployment is killing just as many as the virus.

The ultraright leader has put the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro states in his sights, these states being two of the country’s richest and most populous along with being those that have pushed hardest for quarantines, and he has challenged them repeatedly in various ways, thus keeping his political battle with them alive amid the worsening pandemic.

The crossfire increased this week, when Bolsonaro published a decree including gymnasiums, beauty salons and barber shops on the list of “essential services” that must continue operating despite the growing crisis.

The decision was interpreted as additional pressure on the governors, given that the Supreme Court in April confirmed the autonomy of the states and municipalities in deciding what social isolation measures to implement and how long to maintain them.

Both Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria and Rio de Janeiro Gov. Wilson Witzel have followed the ruling of the high court and ignored the presidential decree, thus broadening the gap separating them from Bolsonaro, who seems to be isolating himself politically with his unwavering anti-quarantine stance.

Bolsonaro says that the coronavirus is just a “little flu” that will ultimately affect 70 percent of the population and suggested that even he could have become infected in the “past” amid public pressure to release his several Covid-19 tests, which – he claims – have turned out negative.

After several judicial maneuvers, the Brazilian government on Tuesday evening submitted to the high court the results of the tests performed on Bolsonaro after he made an official visit to the United States.

Besides the coronavirus crisis, Bolsonaro finds himself mired in serious political turmoil sparked by former Attorney General Sergio Moro, who has accused him of trying to politically interfere in the investigations by the Federal Police that could involve his family members.

The AG’s Office opened an investigation that could involve the head of state, whose popularity has taken a decisive hit during the year-and-a-half of his tenure in office, plunging from 56 percent at the outset of his term to 32 percent today.

One of the key elements of the investigation is the video of a meeting Bolsonaro had with a group of cabinet ministers in which, according to judicial sources, the president said he intended to change the leadership of the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro to “protect his family” from alleged “persecution.”

Within those legal proceedings, on Tuesday under a gag order, several government ministers allegedly confirmed in judicial testimony that Bolsonaro had referred to the Federal Police during that meeting.

Nevertheless, the ministers reportedly said that the president wanted to get more information from the Federal Police to streamline government activities and did not request reports on specific investigations.

Bolsonaro, however, categorically denies that he mentioned the Federal Police and on Wednesday asserted that one of the ministers was “mistaken” when providing his testimony.

If the Attorney General’s Office concludes that Bolsonaro exerted illegal political pressure, it could present a formal complaint on the matter to the high court, which in turn could request that the Chamber of Deputies – Brazil’s lower house in Congress – launch appropriate proceedings.

In that circumstance, if a complaint is filed against him, Bolsonaro could be temporarily removed from office for 180 days during which he would be placed on trial and Vice President Hamilton Mourao would take over for him on an interim basis, finishing out the current presidential term, which ends on Jan. 1, 2023, if Bolsonaro were found guilty and summarily removed from office.


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