This is a guest post by Ryan Lloyd, a Visiting Assistant Professor of International Studies at Centre College. His research focuses on comparative political behavior and vote buying, particularly in Brazil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter at @Lloyder2323.
Public health and political crises
The numbers were disastrous. After months of denialism, Brazil had just passed Italy into third place for official deaths related to COVID, and was hot on the UK’s tail, with 35,930–more than 1,000 were dying per day. And despite massive undercounting of cases, it was already in second place with 672,846.
So on June 7, President Jair Bolsonaro took drastic action. He told his health ministry to stop counting.
Since then, the Supreme Court has ordered the federal government to release coronavirus data again, and a consortium of media outlets has banded together to release their own figures, collected directly from state health agencies. Brazil has now passed 1 million cases and 50,000 deaths with no end in sight, two health ministers sacked.
The true number, however, is far worse, with the number of cases being underestimated at least sevenfold, and 2.6% of the population having COVID antibodies, with the percentage in some Northern and Northeastern cities reaching 15%-25%, according to a nationwide study conducted by the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. A military officer is the interim health minister, and he has attributed the North and Northeast’s coronavirus woes to the Northern hemisphere’s winter (they are unequivocally not, not least because the North and Northeast are in the Southern hemisphere and the Northern hemisphere is not in winter).
Meanwhile, a political crisis is adding to the country’s woes. After months of brinkmanship with Congress and the Supreme Court, tensions within Bolsonaro’s own cabinet came to a head with the resignation of his popular Minister of Justice, Sérgio Moro. Moro accused Bolsonaro of meddling in an investigation into his family in Rio de Janeiro, which led to investigations by the Supreme Court and the public release of the videotape of a foul-mouthed meeting in which Bolsonaro threatened to replace him if he did not interfere in the investigation.
This has led to protests and counter-protests despite the pandemic, both against Bolsonaro and against the Supreme Court. In the past week, tensions have risen even further, with Fabrício Queiroz, a family friend who has been implicated in a corruption scheme involving Bolsonaro’s son and criminal militias in Rio de Janeiro, being arrested in a dramatic police raid on Bolsonaro’s lawyer’s home.
Amid all the excitement, as a president with weak democratic commitments encourages confrontations with the other branches of government, one question rises to the forefront: how much support does Bolsonaro have?
One might imagine that the mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and the economy would have hurt him, much less the political conflicts. But if so, how badly? This is an especially important question given the collision course between Bolsonaro and his rivals: if Bolsonaro disobeys a ruling from the Supreme Court, for instance, will he find support in the streets?