Is Brazil Ready To Rid Itself Of The Double Plague-- COVID-19 And Jair Bolsonaro?

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Brazil is on the move! After a year of seeing the U.S. as the country with the most daily new COVID-19 cases, Brazil has finally broken through! On Thursday, Brazil reported 78,297 new cases and 2,207 new one-day deaths, outpacing America's 62,913 new cases and 1,605 deaths. The on Friday, Brazil reported 84,047 new cases and another 2,152 new deaths-- compared to this country's 66,785 and 1,505 new deaths. Brazil will probably never catch unto the U.S. overall-- nearly 30 million cases and 545,544 deaths-- but Brazil has now overtaken India as the country with the second most cases-- 11,368,316 and sits firmly in the #2 slot for overall COVID-deaths: 275,276. Of all the world's big countries, Brazil has been way up on the list of worst hit countries:

  • USA- 90,246 cases per million residents

  • Spain- 68,075 cases per million residents

  • UK- 62,352 cases per million residents

  • France- 61,424 cases per million residents

  • Brazil- 53,220 cases per million residents

  • Italy- 52,580 cases per million residents

And if the fact that the ferocity of the U.S. pandemic can be blamed on one person-- Trump-- it is equally justified to blame Brazil's catastrophe on that country's own version of Trump, fascist president Jair Bolsonaro, who according to Time "has spent the past year dismissing COVID-19 as 'a little flu,' and railing against lockdowns. As recently as Mar. 4 he told Brazilians to 'stop whining' about the country’s deaths from the virus, which have surpassed 270,000-- the second highest toll in the world after the U.S. Bolsonaro has dismissed offers from vaccine manufacturers to buy millions of doses, said he wouldn’t get a shot himself, and joked that Pfizer’s vaccine may 'turn people into crocodiles.'"

Analysts say it is politics, not the growing death toll, that is driving Bolsonaro’s attempt to rebrand his pandemic leadership. Growing pressure from Brazil’s business community to act over the last few months was bolstered this week by the return of a major political rival to the national stage. On Monday, former president Luiz Inбcio Lula da Silva-- the popular leftist who was excluded from the 2018 election because of corruption charges-- had his name cleared by Brazil’s supreme court, freeing him to run against Bolsonaro in 2022. He used his first speech after the verdict to condemn Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. “Do not follow a single one of the president or health minister’s moronic decisions. Get vaccinated,” he told Brazilians on Wednesday.
Lula’s return and other sources of political pressure have changed the calculation for Bolsonaro when it comes to COVID-19, says Gustavo Ribeiro, founder of political news site The Brazilian Report. While the president has not admitted any mistakes or embraced social distancing, his change of heart could have transformative effects for Brazil-- if it continues. “When we’re talking about Bolsonaro everything must come into conditional for him because he shifts and changes at every turn,” Ribeiro says. “But Lula could force him to actually act as the head of state and tackle the pandemic.”

On Wednesday, reporting from Rio for The Guardian, Tom Philips covered Lula's reemergence noting that "The veteran leftist, who led Latin America’s top economy through some of the brightest years in its modern history, was catapulted back on to the frontline of Brazilian politics on Monday, a supreme court judge branding "the anti-corruption operation that forced Lula from that year’s election 'the greatest judicial scandal' in Brazilian history... A poll published on the eve of Monday’s ruling showed 50% of Brazilians might or would definitely vote for Lula at the next election compared with just 38% for Bolsonaro."

Christian Lynch, a political scientist from Rio de Janeiro’s State University, agreed Lula’s resurgence was bad news for Bolsonaro.
“Lula governed this country for eight years-- and it was the most prosperous period in Brazil’s recent history,” he said, predicting a coronavirus-fuelled economic slump would see many voters seduced by the prospect of returning to those halcyon days of poverty reduction and economic boom.
“Bolsonaro represents rock bottom in the recent history of the Republic and he’s going to have to face the candidate who was its zenith,” Lynch said.
...In his 80-minute address... [t]he former president savaged Bolsonaro as a useless “blowhard” who had endangered lives by promoting unproven Covid remedies, questioning the importance of vaccination and vowing not be vaccinated himself. “Do not follow a single one of the president or health minister’s moronic decisions. Get vaccinated,” Lula said.
But he also described a more optimistic path forwards for the country where racism could be “abolished,” the economy boom, the LGBT community and different faiths be respected, women not be “trampled on” and where “young people can wander around freely without worrying about getting shot.”
“This world is possible, absolutely possible, and that’s why I’m inviting you to struggle,” said Lula, who championed science and wore a face mask to the event, something Bolsonaro has repeatedly failed to do.
Despite being in his eighth decade, Lula signaled he was spoiling for a political fight. “I like to joke that I’ve got the energy of a 30-year-old and the drive of a 20-year-old-- maybe that’s why I haven’t been vaccinated yet,” he quipped.
Gaspard Estrada, a Brazil specialist from the Paris Institute of Political Studies, called Lula’s rebound a positive development for those aghast at Brazil’s illiberal tack under Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper who has publicly praised torturers and dictators.
“The Brazilian opposition now has a face and a name and that is Lula,” Estrada said, adding: “What’s at stake now is the future of Brazilian democracy.”