Bolsonaro and Trump in Sync, Out of Touch

Both presidents have claimed for themselves total authority, yet no responsibility for their countries’ lackadaisical response to the pandemic.

A volunteer delivers food to poor families in Turano favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in mid-April. (AP file photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

(CN) — With his morbid imitation of Donald Trump, President Jair Bolsonaro is responsible for an incomprehensible response to the health emergency that has engulfed Brazil.

The “Trump of the Tropics” has managed to learn nothing from the failures of Trump, or the missteps of Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. He continues to insist that the measures promoted by the World Health Organization are hurting the Brazilian economy and should be discarded immediately, the same song he has been singing since the Brazilian outbreak in late February.

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker in early April, “(W)hile Trump’s behavior is egregious, that of his chief imitator, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former military officer who has been in office for fifteen months, trespasses most identifiable moral boundaries.”

The two countries in the Western Hemisphere with the largest GDPs, the United States and Brazil are also the two countries with the most disastrous responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Bolsonaro has dismissed the dangers of the virus since the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, he has claimed it can’t harm Brazilians because they’re strong and can’t hurt him because he was an athlete.  

When he dismissed his popular minister of health, Luis Mandetta, for advocating adherence to WHO guidelines, resident of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo banged pots and pans in protest, a common tactic in South America to express displeasure with governments.

Minister of Justice Sergio Moro resigned in protest. Moro was a political ally and former judge who helped Bolsonaro become president by imprisoning and convicting his opponent in the 2018 elections. Former President Inácio Lula da Silva (2003–11) was widely favored to win the presidency again, until imprisoned on a dubious charge of corruption. 

The Intercept published a detailed report on Sergio Moro’s lack of ethics in the Lula case. Based on audiotapes and other leaks, it cited a report in the center-right Brazilian magazine Veja, once a Moro supporter, that said: “Moro abused his judicial function as part of a cabal, commanding the actions of the prosecutors of Car Wash,” Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal.

São Paulo, South America’s most populous city, with 15 million people, has become the epicenter of Covid-19 in the continent. Uncounted thousands are dead and dying and far more have been infected with what Bolsonaro calls “a measly little flu.” Thirteen thousand new graves are being dug to deal with the collapse of the medical system and many more will need to be prepared, according to health officials nationwide.

São Paulo province officials have estimated that 250,000 will die if Bolsonaro is successful in ending the quarantine. In Rio de Janeiro, the beach city on the Atlantic, the outbreak began among the upper classes, who brought Covid-19 back from vacations in Italy and Spain.

Now it is poised to devastate the favelas, the marginal communities built on the hills surrounding Rio. In those communities of tightly cramped poor people, social distancing is not possible. May will be a month of carnage in Brazil, as April was in the United States.

Bolsonaro and Trump are closely aligned, in their political views and style. Within a week of taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro invited Trump to build a military base in Brazil — a contentious and unpopular move in any Latin American country.  In early March Trump hosted Bolsonaro along with 40 military officials and diplomats at his Mar al Lago country club. 

The next day, Bolsonaro met with U.S. Admiral Craig Fuller at the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command, in Doral, Florida, just north of Miami. Agreements were signed to facilitate military trade between the two countries and with NATO, according to reports by Folha de São Paulo, the most reputable of Brazil’s daily newspapers and a critic of Bolsonaro.

Trump and Bolsonaro synced their game plan. Down with quarantine, up with business as usual, let the dead bury their dead.  


Courthouse News correspondent Miguel Patricio is based in El Salvador.

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