– Here is what is going on
“What do you want me to do?” – Asked the president of Brazil, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, when confronted with the country’s record-high coronavirus death toll. Since then, the statistics only grew and Brazil now stands as the soon-to-be country with the most coronavirus cases, surpassing the United States numbers even though the pandemic arrived there much later.
The spread started slow, with only a few wealthy travelers returning home from Italy, Brazil soon surged past Spain, the United Kingdom and Russia as the second highest number of cases in the world. With coronavirus infections growing exponentially and unchallenged, the world’s eyes turned to the country’s leadership for answers. How could it have gotten so bad, so fast?
Even with more than 500,000 recorded cases and nearly 30,000 deaths, Brazil’s own president has refused to wear a mask, constantly attending and supporting large rallies packed with thousands of supporters.
Bolsonaro is quickly losing a lot of the support that rose him to power, but as that happens, political divisiveness crosses the terrain of science and ethics. The people that still support him see it as their duty to challenge health professionals and organizations, making it a point to not social distance and supporting the use, production and investment in hydroxychloroquine even though it has been discarted as a treatment by the World Health Organization.
BRAZIL’S HEALTH SYSTEM IS EXEMPLARY BUT UNDERFUNDED
The general public does not normally associate Brazil with scientific excelence but it needs to be remarked that the South American country has a brilliant history of combating pandemics and developing vaccines.
The universal health care system was adopted in Brazil in 1988, becoming a constitutional right after the end of a 20 year military regime. However, universalized/socialized health care was available many years before, when in 1969, a new Constitution imposed the duty of applying 6% of state’s income into municipal healthcare facilities.
Unfortunately, way before Bolsonaro became president, the Brazilian healthcare system and its scientific institutions did not get the funding they needed. Many of the country’s public health budget was diverged, under lawful loopholes, to private institutions. Without masks, intensive care units, respirators or medicine, healthcare workers and researchers lost a lot of the funding for independent research and the abillity to fully care for their own patients.
THE CURRENT PRESIDENT IS NOT A FAN OF SCIENCE
Because countries all around the world are testing solutions for the coronavirus, we can know the effectiveness of treatments much faster. The hydroxicloroquine does not work. That has been the conclusion of several countries, institutions and specialists working against the virus. A path towards reopenning would necessarily go through massive testing and rigurous social distancing measures. At the moment there is other no treatment for diminishing the number of people who will need respirators but making sure that we massively follow these guidelines. That is what keeps the health system from getting overburdened and lives to be lost unnecessarily both from corona and other problems that cannot be treated as a consequence of the pandemic.
Hidroxicloroquine is good for malaria, and that’s it folks.
The only problem is, the president and his supporters have been investing necessary resources into the production of the drug and not focusing on testing, monitoring and the massive ammounts of underreported deaths.
WHERE DID THIS GUY COME FROM?
The political movement that preceded Bolsonaro being president was one of negating all political structures in place. It started in 201316, one could argue that it was partially inspired by the American ‘Occupy’ movement, and it culminated in 2016, with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the arrest of the previous president, and candidate for reelection, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – ‘Lula’.
In 2013, a protest that started when public transport tariffs were raised opened the streets for groups that hadn’t publicly advocated for their interests since the dictatorship. Articulating protests through social media, neoliberal groups started to form and occupy the streets. Groups like MBL (Free Brazil Movement), Vem pra Rua (Come to the streets) and Revoltados Online (Insurgents Online) started coordinating in online communities on social media political actions advocating for “the beginning of a new right wing in Brazil.” Conversations about corruption
quickly started being associated with the size of the Brazilian state and the left, justifying, in the narrative conducted by MBL, the moment for a right wing turn.
But while neoliberal movements organized through social media, anthropologist Isabela Oliveira Kalil was one of the first to notice that neoconservative movements started using the streets as a laboratory to advocate for their ideas (p.3, 2018). The crowds that took over the streets in 2013 to protest public funds mismanagement were very different from the ones who went on to embrace the labels “conservative,” “ultraconservative,” “interventionists” or even “oppressors” (KALIL, 2018). This second group veered from the original crackdown on corruption and started a critique of “leftists” saying that the real problem was the advancement of communism in Brazil. As the neoconservative movement gained traction on the streets and in social media, Bolsonaro
rose as a potential candidate that could fulfill the agenda of both groups.
For the first time in years, the right wing has taken over Brazil’s highest position and taking Bolsonaro down might mean an uncomfortable conversation for these folks: how to accept that their president has failed?
WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NOW?
A University of Washington study has predicted Brazil could get to 125,000 recorded deaths by August. No one knows what will happen as a response to the rising deathtoll, but the world should keep on looking and overseeing what Bolsonaro does. If we find a solution to combat his practices, maybe we could get a lot of answers on hot to defeat his equally evil twin, Donald J. Trump.