Brazil’s President Faces Criminal Charges over Covid-19 Response

Victor Moriyama/The New York Times

On Tuesday October 19, an eleven-person committee from the Brazilian senate voted 7-4 to recommend that President Jair Bolsonaro be criminally prosecuted for “crimes against humanity” for his response to the pandemic. Dismissing the seriousness of Covid-19 and encouraging mass gatherings in an attempt to achieve “herd immunity,” the senate feels that Mr. Bolsonaro’s behavior is reprehensible and merits criminal liability. Brazilian senator and lead author of the report, Renan Calheiros, said “many of these deaths were preventable . . . I am personally convinced that he is responsible for escalating the slaughter.” If the Brazilian senate votes this week to approve the report, the ball will be in the Attorney General’s court to decide whether to bring the charges against President Bolsonaro.

While the Brazilian senate is not seeking to impeach Mr. Bolsonaro, the circumstances are reminiscent of the impeachment charges brought against former US President Donald Trump just nine months ago for “incitement of insurrection”, wherein a majority of the House of Representatives felt that Trump was responsible for the attack on the US Capitol on January 6. Just as Mr. Bolsonaro tried to convince the public the pandemic was no big deal by calling it a “little flu” and joking that getting the vaccine would turn you into an alligator, Trump attempted to convince everyone that the election was “stolen” from him and that his followers needed to do something about it—one of the main reasons people, and the House, believed he was responsible for the January 6 incident. And of course, while Brazil has Mr. Calheiros leading the charge against Bolsonaro in Brazil, the United States had Nancy Pelosi, who declared to her fellow representatives that she hoped for “a constitutional remedy that will ensure that the republic will be safe from this man who is so resolutely determined to tear down the things that we hold dear and that hold us together.

Despite the support for the charges by the Brazilian Congress, many are skeptical that the report will amount to anything as the Attorney General, Augusto Aras, was appointed by Bolsonaro himself and appears to still be in his back pocket. This mirrors the situation with the Trump impeachment where a Republican majority in the senate proved to be an obstacle, ultimately resulting in Trump being acquitted. It remains to be seen whether Aras will adhere to the wishes of the legislature or will aid Bolsonaro and simply drop the charges.

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