On October 26, a Brazilian Senate committee recommended criminal prosecution against President Jair Bolsonaro for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic and contributing to the country’s death toll, which is second only to the United States.
Whether Bolsonaro will be charged with crimes against humanity, negligence, charlatanism, and misuse of public funds is now up to Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras, a Bolsonaro appointee. But for his part, Bolsonaro is denying responsibility and deflecting blame.
“We know that we are guilty of absolutely nothing,” he said, commenting on the first draft of Senate’s investigation. “We know that we did the right thing from the first moment.”
That claim is misleading. Abundant news reports have tracked Bolsonaro as he made matters worse by attacking face masks, spreading vaccine disinformation and pushing unproved COVID-19 remedies. His government ran short of life-saving supplies and equipment when the hospitals in Brazil became overwhelmed by ill patients, especially among the Amazon’s indigenous people.
Bolsonaro, driven by the idea of reaching “herd immunity” in Brazil, intentionally allowed the coronavirus to spread across the country, and his actions, taken together, led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, the Senate investigation found, as reported by The New York Times.
“Jair Bolsonaro strongly collaborated for COVID-19′s spread in Brazilian territory and, as such, showed himself to be the main person responsible for the errors committed by the federal government during the pandemic,” the Associated Press said, quoting the Senate panel.
As of October 28, Brazil had reported more than 606,000 COVID-19 deaths. That is second highest after the United States, which has reported more than 734,000 deaths. Because Brazil’s population is smaller, however, the country’s per capita death rate is higher than the U.S.
Since the spring, Bolsonaro has confronted mass protests, and his approval ratings have been falling amid inflation and economic woes. Bolsonaro is up for re-election in October 2022.
After launching the investigation six months ago, senators collected thousands of documents, held more than 50 hearings and heard testimony from more than 60 people. Their report provides evidence from high-ranking former and active health officials, government documents, videos and phone transcripts.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bolsonaro chose to follow the advice of what the report calls a “parallel” cabinet that included people whose recommendations went against those of the World Health Organization. The group was “composed of doctors, politicians and businessmen,” who pursued “policies, contrary to the technical guidelines of the Ministry of Health, without having formal investiture in public positions responsible for this function,” the report says.
Bolsonaro used government funds and resources to delay vaccinations, insisting on an “early treatment” strategy that relied on drugs not proven to be effective against COVID-19, the report argues. To provide justification, Bolsonaro sanctioned a study involving 600 patients in the Amazon region in which 200 people died, the report states, and the public was misinformed about the outcome.
To boost the domestic production of anti-malaria drugs for treating COVID-19, Bolsonaro ordered the diversion of funds from other health emergency needs, such as organ transplants, and from hospital supplies, including oxygen and ICU beds, the report states.
Many news outlets reported that Bolsonaro, who had himself been infected with the coronavirus, remained unvaccinated while attending the United Nations General Assembly in September. The senate report says, however, that he ordered a 100-year seal of his vaccination records.
Bolsonaro’s actions led to “the delay in the vaccination campaign, the daily death of thousands of Brazilians, the lack of ICU beds, shortages of medicines and basic supplies such as oxygen, and the collapse of the system of health,” the report says, and many deaths “could have been avoided with a proactive role of the federal government.”
The Senate’s special COVID-19 investigative committee delivered its findings to the prosecutor general’s office on October 27. If the office does not pursue charges against Bolsonaro, the senate committee will consider taking the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, The New York Times reported.
On Tuesday, Facebook and YouTube deleted a Bolsonaro video in which he falsely claimed that U.K. government data proved a link between COVID-19 vaccines and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
“Our policies don't allow claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement cited by Reuters.