São Paulo, Brazil – The Brazilian Senate has launched an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, widely condemned by medical experts as one of the worst in the world.
The country number of deaths from the disease, the second highest after the United States, is expected to exceed 360,000 on Wednesday, with the seven-day average of daily deaths remaining above 3,000.
The National Council of Health Secretaries on Tuesday reported 3,808 deaths and 82,186 new cases.
Bolsonaro, a far-right populist and former army captain, downplayed the pandemic from the start, calling it a “little flu” and casting doubt on the effectiveness of masks and vaccines, and continued to rally against lockdown measures and authorities that implement them.
“Can’t they understand that this policy of shutting everything down, of locking everything up is wrong?” Bolsonaro questioned a crowd of his supporters at the gates of the presidential palace in the capital Brasilia on Wednesday.
That same afternoon, Brazil’s Supreme Court authorized the opening of the Senate investigation, known locally by its Portuguese acronym CPI, in a move hailed by opposition senators.
“The government’s performance in the fight against the pandemic has been the worst it could have been,” Humberto Costa, former health minister and senator for the Left Workers Party, told Al Jazeera.
“Bolsonaro is afraid of the death of the CPI… of the denunciations that will come and of what will be revealed… of the possibility of impeachment and not being re-elected next year.”
Costa said the investigation would investigate allegations that Bolsonaro sabotaged social distancing measures, targeted local authorities trying to implement lockdowns, acted negligently in purchasing vaccines and touted ineffective drugs such as chloroquine. A total of 11 senators and seven alternates will form the committee which will call witnesses to testify.
One of the main objectives will be to find out how the hospitals in the Amazonian capital of Manaus got to lack of oxygen. Another will be the former health minister, General Eduardo Pazuello, against whom federal prosecutors filed a lawsuit on Wednesday for omission during the oxygen. crisis in Manaus.
Senators from the president’s ruling coalition insisted that the investigation not be used for “political” purposes. “We must focus on achieving positive results for our country,” Senator Nelsinho Trad, a Bolsonaro ally, told CNN Brazil on Tuesday.
The investigation could lead to the president’s impeachment or even his arrest, although analysts say these results are highly unlikely, at least for now.
This is in part because senators loyal to Bolsonaro have broadened the scope of the investigation to include Brazilian mayors and governors, which Rafael Cortez, a political scientist at Tendencias Consultancy in Sao Paulo, said could open the door for the merchant. of horses before next year’s election.
The expansion of the investigation is widely seen as an attempt to overload – and therefore dilute – its eventual conclusions.
But Cortez said the CPI could hurt Bolsonaro’s popularity and his chances of re-election next year, especially as large swathes of the electorate are battling growing poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and hunger, as well as discounts on emergency COVID-19 cash payments.
“The most likely scenario here is that the government fails to regain its popularity,” Cortez said.
Despite the pandemic and its aftermath, the president still enjoys significant, albeit weaker and weaker, support both within Congress and the Brazilian electorate.
Datafolha’s latest opinion polls, conducted in mid-March, suggest that 44% of those polled thought the Bolsonaro government was “bad or horrible”, but 30% thought it “good or excellent”.
However, observers expect these numbers to worsen. “If the election were held today, there’s a good chance he will lose,” Cortez said.
Since the Supreme Court of Brazil quashed the former president The corruption convictions of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, it is believed that the popular left-wing leader could face Bolsonaro in 2022. Polls suggest Lula has a strong chance of winning.
Meanwhile, April is already the second worst month in the Brazilian pandemic, with nearly 37,000 deaths recorded on Tuesday, after over 66,000 deaths in March. Recent research from the University of Washington predicted 100,000 Brazilians would die from COVID-19 this month.
On Tuesday, a Brazilian bar commission wrote in a report that Bolsonaro had founded a “republic of death” and committed crimes “of responsibility” and “against humanity” with his response to the COVID-19 crisis.