Bolsonaro is endangering Brazil. He must be impeached.
While the novel coronavirus spreads in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has demonstrated an alarming inability to govern the country, undermining the pandemic and efforts to protect and save lives. And as a result of his irresponsible and divisive behavior, he has thrown Brazil into a deep crisis. He must be removed from office.
Brazilians are feeling a lot of anxiety and can no longer bear this lack of leadership. For weeks, they have protested from their homes by banging saucepans and shouting “Bolsonaro out” from their windows. Support for his impeachment has risen drastically, according to Atlas Politico, with almost half of the population backing his removal.
In recent days, Bolsonaro has contradicted his own health experts, calling self-isolation “mass confinement” and covid-19 a “little cold.” He attended a rally and shook hands with supporters on March 15, drawing criticism for encouraging large gatherings. He also told his followers, via social media and official channels, to attend a demonstration on March 25 in support of his administration. And he has been ignoring recommendations to practice social distancing after members of his own staff tested positive for the virus.
Brazilians bang pots and pans to protest Bolsonaro
Brazilians banged pots and pans from their apartment windows March 18 in protest against President Jair Bolsonaro for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. (Terrence McCoy / The Washington Post)
It’s clear Bolsonaro has abandoned his duty to protect the population. He thinks the deadly virus is a media trick. “They spread the sensation of dread," he said on March 24. "The perfect scenario to be used by the media to spread hysteria.”
The spread of the coronavirus could collapse the public health system in Brazil. Thankfully, health-care professionals and local and state governments are mobilizing to respond to cases and asking people to stay home, openly defying a president already calling for a return to “normality” and to work.
Members of the National Congress from different parties have started calling for impeachment. But there is no consensus among the opposition. Some, citing the constitution, argue in favor of mental health interdiction of the president; others say Congress should invoke the social protection provision. Some simply want Bolsonaro to implode, letting him “bleed” until the next election, in 2022.
On March 17, some members of Congress formally introduced an impeachment request signed by scientists, artists, activists and public intellectuals. Citizens and organized civil society have gotten behind the petition to impeach. Since then, close to 1 million people have signed it. It’s clear that, beyond any political calculation, allowing Bolsonaro to stay in power is unsustainable.
Since his election, Bolsonaro has led Brazil by following a fascist playbook, attacking the press and indigenous peoples, eroding human rights protections, and offering apologies for dictatorship and torture. He has gone from breach of decorum to abuse of power to attacks against the constitution. His mismanagement of the coronavirus has only intensified his crimes of irresponsibility.
Impeachment can be a difficult political and legal process. (Brazilians not long ago lived through a politicized and unfair process against Dilma Rousseff that amounted to a coup.) But the case against Bolsonaro is bulletproof. Today he represents an existential threat. There must be both deep political articulation and social legitimacy to carry out his removal, and a transition must be carefully planned.
Brazilians are now rejecting Bolsonaro’s legitimacy. Our political leaders must move forward and vote to impeach him.
Rosana Pinheiro-Machado is an anthropologist at the University of Bath.