Health inquiry

Bolsonaro faces inquiry into his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 26 April 2021, the Brazilian Senate launched a parliamentary inquiry into Brazil’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a specific focus on President Jair Bolsonaro’s measures.

The Senate was obliged to launch the parliamentary inquiry after a Supreme Federal Court motion requested its creation, de facto limiting Bolsonaro’s allies in Congress from blocking it. Renan Calheiros, rapporteur of the inquiry is a well-known political enemy of Bolsonaro who has labelled the initiative as “the death inquiry” (in Portuguese: CPI da morte).

Although the probe will also look into the transfers of federal funds to states and municipalities, it will mainly concentrate on the promotion of ineffective hydroxychloroquine treatments from federal authorities, the reasons for the dismissal of three health ministers during the pandemic, the health collapse in the Amazon and Bolsonaro’s decision to avoid imposing lockdown measures.

The director of a top lobbying firm in Brazil told us, “This is a huge blow for Bolsonaro, not only due to the potential consequences but also because it will limit his agenda over the next few months and likely the end of his term. Although Bolsonaro gives the impression of jumping from scandal to scandal, he created those debates to shift focus from larger problems.”

A senior political lawyer in Brazil commented, “The findings could lead to potential criminal charges, not only for Bolsonaro but also for others under investigation. It will be crucial for inquiries into key government [or former government] officials such as [former Minister of Health] Eduardo Pazuello, as they will be unlikely to play political games at the cost of facing personal criminal charges.”

“The findings could lead to potential criminal charges, not only for Bolsonaro but also for others under investigation.”

Senior political lawyer, Brazil

As Brazil passed the tragic figure of 400,000 Covid-19 deaths more transmissible variants of the virus continues to ravage the country. The slow purchase of vaccines has limited what could be a faster rollout of the vaccination programme, in a country used to large vaccination campaigns. Thus, Senator Humberto Costa, a member of the parliamentary commission and former health minister affirmed that he expected to find enough “impeachable” material in the investigation.

An angry senior healthcare practitioner in Sao Paulo reported, “We are seeing death numbers starting to fall after the initial vaccine efforts and some stricter lockdowns. However, it is not possible to consider the current outlook as positive, given the high number of daily deaths [over 3,000] that the country is still registering.”

The same source continues, “Regarding the enquiry, from a health-oriented perspective, [rapporteur Renan] Calheiros’ initiative to call the ministers of health [under Bolsonaro’s administration Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Nelson Teich and Eduardo Pazuello] is welcomed. Some of the government’s decisions since the start of the pandemic do not make sense at all from a medical perspective and to hear a former minister of health saying that he was pressured for political purposes sends a very powerful message.”

“Some of the government’s decisions since the start of the pandemic do not make sense at all from a medical perspective.”

Senior healthcare practitioner, Sao Paulo

A lobbyist agrees, “Bolsonaro will most likely avoid impeachment and end his presidential term next year. In electoral terms it is not in the opposition’s interest to bring him down at the moment, as this would potentially imply having vice-president general Hamilton Mourao in office. Mourao is more moderate and could run for election taking advantage of running an election campaign from the presidency. Plus, having a military man in office is not something the opposition wants in a country which experienced military dictatorship. Having said that, the explosive nature of a parliamentary inquiry could bring to reality the most unexpected surprises.”

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