The grimmest timeline in the history of public health in Brazil emerges from an investigation of directives issued by the government of President Jair Messias Bolsonaro relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a common effort undertaken since March 2020, the Center for Research and Studies in Public Health Law (CEPEDISA) of the Public Health College (FSP) of the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and Conectas Direitos Humanos, one of the most respected justice organizations of Latin America.
Has collected and scrutinized federal and state regulations relating to the novel coronavirus, producing a brief titled Rights in the Pandemic Mapping and Analysis of the Legal Rules in Response to Covid-19 in Brazil. On January 21, they put out a special edition making a strong statement: Our research has revealed the existence of an institutional strategy to spread the virus, promoted by the Brazilian government under the leadership of the President of the Republic.
Obtained exclusively by EL PAIS, the analysis of the production of ordinances, provisional measures, resolutions, normative instructions, laws, decisions, and decrees by the federal government, as well as a survey of the president’s public speeches, draws the map that has turned Brazil into one of the countries most affected by Covid-19 and that, contrary to other nations, still lacks a vaccination program with a reliable timetable. There is no way of telling how many of the more than 212,000 Covid deaths in Brazil might have been avoided if the government led by Bolsonaro had not executed a project to spread the virus. But it can reasonably be said that many people would still have their mothers, fathers, siblings, or children alive today were it not for the existence of an institutional project by the Brazilian government to spread Covid-19.
There is an intention, a plan, and a systematic course of action contained in the government rules and Bolsonaro’s speeches, as the study shows. The results dispel the persistent interpretation that there were incompetence and negligence from the federal government in the management of the pandemic. On the contrary, the systematization of data, although incomplete due to the lack of space for publishing so many events, reveals the government’s commitment and efficiency in favor of the widespread dissemination of the virus over the Brazilian territory, clearly stated as having the objective of restarting economic activity as soon as possible and at whatever cost, says the publication’s newsletter. We hope this timeline provides an overview of a process we are undergoing in a fragmented and frequently confusing fashion.
The research was coordinated by Deisy Ventura, one of the most respected legal scholars in Brazil, a researcher on the relations between pandemics and international law, and coordinator of the doctorate program in public health and sustainability of USP; Fernando Aith, chair of the Department of Policy, Management and Health of FSP and director of CEPEDISA/USP, a pioneering research center on health law in Brazil; Camila Lissa Asano, Program Coordinator of Conectas Direitos Humanos, and Rossana Rocha Reis, professor of the Political Sciences Department and the Institute for International Relations of USP.
The timeline is composed of three axes presented in chronological order, from March 2020 to the first 16 days of January 2021. The first is regulatory acts of the Union, including regulations adopted by federal authorities and agencies and by presidential vetoes; the second, acts of obstruction to the state and municipal governments’ responses to the pandemic; and the third, propaganda against public health, describing it as “a political discourse that mobilizes economic, ideological and moral arguments, besides fake news and technical information lacking scientific proof, to discredit public health authorities, weakening public adherence to health advice based on scientific evidence, and promoting political activism against the public health measures needed to contain the spread of Covid-19.”
The study’s authors note that the publication does not include all the regulations and statements collected and stored in the research database, but a selection of them, to avoid depletion and present the most relevant for analysis. The data was selected from the database of the project Rights in the Pandemic, from the jurisprudence of the Supreme Federal Court (STF) and the Federal Court of Accounts (TCU), as well as official documents and speeches. The axis defined as propaganda also included a Google search for videos, posts, and news.
The analysis shows that the majority of deaths would have been avoidable with a strategy to contain the disease and that this constitutes an unprecedented violation of Brazilians’ rights to life and health. And that this took place “without any of the administrators involved being held responsible, although institutions such as the Supreme Federal Court and the Federal Court of Accounts have countless times pointed out federal administrators’ conscious and deliberate conduct and omissions that clash with the Brazilian legal order.” It also highlights “the urgency of an in-depth discussion of the configuration of crimes against public health, crimes of responsibility and crimes against humanity committed during the Covid-19 pandemic in Brazi
Bolsonaro’s deeds and words are well known but end up being diluted in the day-to-day reality fed by the production of factoids and fake news, in which the war of hatred is also a strategy to cover up a consistent and persistent project that forges ahead as the temperature of exchanges is kept at a high level on social media. The publication of the report causes shock and unease because it systematizes the explicit production of evils put in action by Bolsonaro and his government over almost a year of the pandemic. One of the investigation’s greatest merits is precisely that it has articulated the president’s many official measures and public speeches in the timeline. From this meticulous analysis, the plan emerges with all its phases duly documented.
The analysis also shows up clearly which populations are the major targets of the attacks. Besides Indigenous peoples, to whom Bolsonaro has even denied drinking water, a series of measures have been taken to deny workers the chance of protecting themselves from Covid-19 and isolating.
The government has extended the concept of essential activities to include even beauty salons and has sought to deprive various categories of workers of the right to the emergency aid of 600 reals provided by Congress. At the same time, it attempted to put in place a double standard in the treatment of health workers: Bolsonaro has entirely vetoed a project that offered financial compensation to workers incapacitated as a consequence of their work in containing the pandemic while trying to relieve public sector workers of any responsibility for acts and omissions regarding Covid-19. In short: the hard and high-risk work of prevention and fight against the pandemic is discouraged, while failure to act is stimulated.
By withholding resources appropriated for the fight against Covid, the government has hindered patient care in the state and municipal public healthcare systems. Constant war is being waged against governors and mayors who try to implement measures to prevent and fight the virus. Bolsonaro uses vetoes to cancel out even the most basic measures, such as the compulsory use of masks inside establishments authorized to operate. Many of his measures and vetoes were later overturned by the Supreme Federal Court (STF) or Congress.
This is another important point: the analysis of the data also highlights how much more tragic Brazil’s situation might be if the STF and other bodies had not stopped several of the virus-disseminating measures enacted by the government. Despite the frailty shown by institutions and society, there is a visible effort on the part of the main actors to attempt to neutralize or cancel out Bolsonaro’s actions. It is possible to project how much these efforts, added and associated with a government that was willing to prevent the disease and fight the virus, might have done to prevent deaths in a country that possesses the Unified Health System (Sistema Único de Saúde, or SUS). Instead of this, Bolsonaro has unleashed a war in which a large part of institutions’ and organized society’s energy has been wasted to reduce the damage caused by his actions, instead of focusing on fighting the greatest public health crisis in a century.
Almost a year on since the first case of Covid-19, it is yet to be seen whether the institutions and society not in collusion with Bolsonaro will be strong enough, faced with the map of the institutional actions to spread the virus, to finally put a stop to the agents disseminating the virus.
The use of the state machine to promote destruction has been decisive in bringing about the present reality of more than a thousand graves dug every day for people who could still be alive. More than 60 requests for the impeachment of the president have been presented to the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia (DEM party). At least three requests have been sent to the International Criminal Court linking genocide and other crimes against humanity to the actions of Bolsonaro and members of his government regarding the pandemic. The next few weeks will be decisive for Brazilians to state who they are and how they will respond to future generations when asked what they were doing while so many people were dying of Covid-19.
Set out below are the main points in the timeline of the actions taken by Jair Bolsonaro and his government.
MARCH 1-7, 2020, EPIDEMIOLOGICAL WEEK 10
A small crisis An ordinance from the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) tries to open a loophole for non-Indigenous people to access Indigenous lands, “on an exceptional basis, to undertake essential activities in isolated peoples’ territories. The measure seeks to use Covid-19 as a backdoor to access communities that have never had contact with non-Indigenous people (nor with their viruses and bacteria) or who have decided to live without contact.
This quote is from March 7, during a trip to Miami, Florida, one of the worst-hit states by the pandemic in the US. At least 23 people from the Brazilian president’s entourage were infected during the trip. A quote from March 17, said during an interview with a radio station from Rio de Janeiro. A quote from March 24, uttered during an official statement made on live television. Quote from March 29, said during a walk through the Brazilian capital.
Change Of Minister
Bolsonaro dismisses the health minister during the pandemic. Luiz Henrique Mandetta is a doctor as well as a politician. The main reason for his dismissal is a disagreement over the use of chloroquine and actions guided by the World Health Organization (WHO) advice. According to Mondetta, at the end of March, the president began looking for advisors who would stand beside him in opposing the Health Ministry’s data and strategy: Bolsonarista doctors began to make frequent visits to the Planalto Palac.
Bolsonaro wished to be surrounded by people who would say what he wanted to hear. He was never concerned with proposing chloroquine as a path to health. His concern was always, Let’s offer this medicine because, with this little box of chloroquine in hand, workers will return to work, they’ll be back to production. His project to fight the pandemic is to declare that the government has the medicine and whoever takes it will be fine. The only ones to die will be those who were going to die anyway.
Congress approves the emergency aid of 600 reels, in a parliamentary measure that a majority of those benefited mistakenly associate with Bolsonaro, leading to a rise in popularity for the president. Quote from April 2, said to his followers outside the Palacio do Planalto, the home of executive power in Brasilia.
A Tweet From April 8.
Quote from April 10, during a walk that turned into a large crowd in Brasilia. Bolsonaro went out onto the streets in defiance of the decisions made by some state governors to implement isolation measures and restrict free movement.
Quote from April 12, said during a video conference call with religious leaders to celebrate Easter. Quote from April 20, during a press conference at the Palacio de la Alvorada. This was Bolsonaro’s response to a question about the deaths caused by Covid-19. Quote from April 28, uttered during an interview. Bolsonaro was referring to his second name in response to a question about the number of deaths.
War On The States
Bolsonaro resorts to decrees to boycott the measures set out to prevent and fight Covid-19 in the states and municipalities. With this aim, he expands the concept of what is an essential activity during a pandemic and that can therefore continue to operate despite the increasingly deadly public health emergency. Thus the sectors of construction, beauty salons and barbershops, gyms, and sports centers of all types, besides industrial services in general, all become essential activities.
The president also seeks to exempt public officials from civil or administrative liability for acts or failures to act in the fight against the pandemic. Bolsonaro also vetoes the monthly emergency aid of 600 reals instituted by Congress, not allowing it to be given to subsistence fishermen, taxi drivers, ride-share drivers, school-bus drivers, delivery people, self-employed physical-education professionals, street vendors, street market vendors, waiters, nannies, manicurists, hairdressers and hired teachers not receiving wages. Under the law passed by Congress, these categories of workers would be included in the emergency aid, allowing them to self-isolate to protect themselves from the virus.
The new health minister, Nelson Teich, a doctor, resigns, saying: I won’t stain my record because of chloroquine. General Eduardo Pazzuelo takes over the post on an interim basis. In an official ceremony, the general says that before taking office he didn’t even know what the SUS was, about the Brazilian health system. The ministry becomes increasingly militarized. In all cases of Covid-19, Health Ministry protocol requires the use of chloroquine – a drug that has been proven ineffective against the novel coronavirus.
Bolsonaro launches a war on state governors. The National Health Council (CNS) claims that more than 8 billion reals appropriated for the fight against the pandemic have failed to be sent to states and municipalities, that suffer from the lack of basic supplies, respirators, and hospital beds. CNS launches a campaign with the slogan “Send on the money now!”
Bolsonaro vetoes the mandatory use of masks in shops and industrial sites, churches and temples, schools, and other enclosed spaces hosting gatherings of people. He also bans fines on establishments that don’t provide 70% alcohol hand sanitizer in spots close to entrances, elevators, and escalators.
Bolsonaro vetoes the obligation of establishments operating during the pandemic to supply individual protection face masks to their employees and contractors, free of charge. And he vetoes the obligation to display posters with information on the correct use of face masks and individual protection in prisons and socio-educational establishments.
Bolsonaro vetoes measures to protect Indigenous communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Among these measures: access to drinking water, cleaning and personal hygiene supplies, hospital and ICU beds, ventilators, and blood-oxygenation machines, as well as information materials on Covid-19 and internet service in Indigenous villages. He also vetoes the obligation of the Union to distribute food to Indigenous peoples during the pandemic, in the form of basic foodstuff packages, seeds, and farming tools.
The army pays 167% over the regular price for the main ingredient of chloroquine, justifying its action by saying: Producing hope for anguished hearts”.
Criticizing the militarization of the Health Ministry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Gilmar Mendes, describes the federal government’s response to the pandemic as genocide. We can no longer tolerate what is happening in the Health Ministry. This needs to be stated very clearly: the army is aiding and abetting this genocide. It is not reasonable. It has to end.
Quote from July 30, uttered in the midst of a crowd in Bagé, a city in the Río Grande del Sur state. Bolsonaro, who several days earlier had announced that he no longer had the coronavirus, asked the assembled citizens: “What are you afraid of? Face up to it.”
Attacking the vaccine
Bolsonaro vetoes the entirety of the bill that determines the federal government should pay financial compensation to health workers and professionals who are incapacitated due to their role in the fight against Covid-19.
The Bolsonaro government ignores Pfizer’s proposal. The company had offered to guarantee the delivery of the first lot of vaccines by December 20, 2020. Two months after the offer was made, the Health Ministry refuses a donation of at least 20,000 PCR test kits for Covid-19 made by the company LG International.
A General Heading The Health Ministry
A resolution from the Collegiate Directory of the National Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) further facilitates the prescription of ivermectin and nitazoxanide, so pharmacies no longer need to retain the doctor’s prescription. The drugs are advertised by the government as being effective against Covid-19, but scientific studies show they neither reduce the severity of the disease nor prevent patient deaths. General Eduardo Pazuello is confirmed in the post of health minister.
Bolsonaro says the dimensions of the pandemic have been overstated and lies, saying that chloroquine ensures a 100% cure if taken from the start of the symptoms. He cancels the purchase of 46 million doses of the Chinese vaccine Coronavac by the Health Ministry, saying: “The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig.
What’s The Plan?
Bolsonaro announces he will not take the vaccine and acts to spread panic in the population, alluding to terrible side effects. In response to questioning by the Supreme Federal Court, the Health Ministry presents the National Plan for putting Vaccination into effect. But the government still has no vaccines to offer, nor a reliable vaccination timetable
Eleven former health ministers from different political parties publish an article criticizing the Health Ministry’s disastrous and inefficient conduct regarding the Brazilian strategy for vaccinating our population against Covid-19. There is still no emergency plan for the Indigenous peoples. Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso says It’s shocking that today, after almost 10 months of the pandemic, the Union has still not managed the bare minimum to offer a plan with the essential elements. This situation continues to pose a risk to the life and health of the Indigenous peoples.
Death From Suffocation
The Foreign Affairs Ministry says it has bought two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India. Over the following days, the federal government organizes a major propaganda operation, including a massive effort of dissemination on the news media, as well as stickers attached to an Azul Linhas Aereas company Airbus that would undertake a “historic trip with the slogan: Vaccination Brazil immunized.
We are one nation. Bolsonaro actually sends a letter to the Indian Prime Minister requesting urgency in sending the doses, but India suspends the operation. Faced with the collapse of the health system in Manaus, with patients dying of suffocation for lack of oxygen in the hospitals, the health minister, general Eduardo Pazuello, says. What are you going to do? Nothing. You and everyone will wait for oxygen to arrive and be distributed.
Bolsonaro vetoes part of the Complementary Law no. 177 of January 12, 2020, approved by a large majority in the Senate (71 votes to 1) and the Chamber of Deputies (385 to 18). According to Agência FAPESP, presidential vetoes have diverted 9.1 billion reals in investments in science, technology, and innovation this year, stopping Brazil from developing a vaccine against Covid-19, despite the country possessing sufficient infrastructure and human resources. The academic and business communities mobilize to overturn the vetoes.
A Statement Was Made On January 5, During A Speech Outside The Palacio Do Planalto.
President Jair Bolsonaro falsely said that the Supreme Federal Court forbade the Federal government from acting to manage the pandemic, saying this would be the responsibility of the states and municipalities. But the Supreme Federal Court itself came out to deny the president’s words and said the decision did not exempt him from his responsibility.
Bolsonaro has also repeated that social-isolation measures cannot prevail over the functioning of the economy, or else the country’s general outlook will worsen. The government stresses that the emergency aid package, which ended in December, has provided one of the world’s largest programs of financial help for the most vulnerable in the population.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry says it has supported states and municipalities, transferring resources and goods, and continues to spread the idea that early treatment for Covid-19 with drugs whose efficacy is unproven can prevent the disease from worsening.