Earlier this year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro mocked the claim that his administration’s reckless handling of the coronavirus pandemic—which has entailed everything from straight denialism to promoting a cocktail of miracle drugs—was tantamount to genocide. Well, the Brazilian Senate has now concluded he is guilty of both genocide and regular old mass murder.
According to the New York Times, legislators assigned to the congressional investigation have determined in a draft report that Bolsonaro deliberately let the novel coronavirus rip through the Brazilian population, killing hundreds of thousands, as part of a plan to achieve “herd immunity”—the point where so many people have contracted a pathogen that it struggles to find new hosts who haven’t already fought it off. Herd immunity is a real thing, but throughout the pandemic, right-wingers and quacks alike advocated that the way to get there was sitting by and letting the virus wreak havoc in the meantime. Let corona eat cake, if you will.
The Times writes that the nearly 1,200-page draft report, which could still be modified before its official release, points the finger at Bolsonaro for the death of more than 300,000 Brazilians. That amounts to around half of the estimated death toll in the country. The report also states that Bolsonaro’s administration committed genocide against the indigenous populations of the Amazon rainforest. Hospitals there infamously faced months-long shortages of oxygen for ventilators while Bolsonaro insisted he could do nothing (aside, of course, from helping set the entire region on fire by gutting environmental regulations and enabling criminal gangs to pillage and murder anyone standing in the way of strip-mining its resources).
According to excerpts of the report obtained by the Times and its interviews with two senators on the committee, the report strongly urges Brazilian authorities to lock him and 69 other Bolsonaro administration officials up.
One of the 11 crimes Bolsonaro is personally accused of, according to the Guardian, is charlatanism. The committee found that Bolsonaro continued to push bogus coronavirus treatments like the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the antiparasitic ivermectin as miraculous cures long after scientists knew they didn’t work, with the committee again highlighting a Brazilian Health Ministry-designed app that was yanked in January for almost always recommending such bogus treatments. Lead author and Senator Renan Calheiros told the Times that the committee found Bolsonaro and his cronies wasted countless millions on the drugs while misleading Brazilians about the effectiveness of less politically convenient practices like social distancing and masks.
Bolsonaro has also spread lies and myths about the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines, and he remains one of the few world leaders to be unvaccinated. The report states that the president and his three eldest sons, all Brazilian officials, were the “command nucleus” of a coordinated online disinformation operation involving right-wing pundits, social media personalities, and sock puppet accounts. According to the Times, the network sought to discredit legitimate science about covid-19, push Bolsonaro-friendly policies, and claim the media had fabricated estimates of the true death toll.
“Many of these deaths were preventable. I am personally convinced that he is responsible for escalating the slaughter,” Calheiros told the Times. He added that the murder charge is “by omission,” effectively meaning that Bolsonaro killed hundreds of thousands by abandoning his duties to the public.
The report also dives into the administration’s deal for 20 million doses of an Indian-produced vaccine, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, which federal prosecutors and legislators are currently investigating after whistleblowers alleged it was the product of bribes and massive graft. Prosecutors are looking into Bolsonaro personally on suspicion he deliberately turned a blind eye to wrongdoing at the Health Ministry.
According to the Guardian, the committee found that as Bolsonaro’s administration was delaying a vaccine deal for months and looking the other way from irregularities in the Covaxin deal that emerged, it ignored over 100 emails from pharma giant Pfizer. That company is certainly no angel but was offering to ship millions of doses to Brazil. The Health Ministry is now in talks to buy up to 150 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.
“In spite of all the vaccines that were on offer, the federal government opted not to buy them, a decision that went against all of the scientific studies which demonstrated their safety and efficiency, and against the advice of all of the epidemiologists who declared on a daily basis that only vaccines would save lives,” the report states, according to the Guardian. “… The decision not to acquire vaccines between the months of July 2020 and at least January 2021, which lacked any technical or scientific basis, and flew in the face of recommendations from international health authorities, ended up claiming the lives of thousands of Brazilians who would undoubtedly have made use of such vaccines.”
“The mathematics of the situation was clear: the more infections, the more death. Without vaccines mortality would have been stratospheric, as it turned out to be,” the draft report concludes. “… We will never forget.”
Bolsonaro, who has been in a power struggle with opposition legislators and the Supreme Court for much of his presidency, at the very least has strong odds of dodging any actual criminal charges. The president is now deeply unpopular with Brazilians due to both his handling of the pandemic and a cratering economy, and pro-Bolsonaro rallies in September that critics warned could be a pretext for a coup ended in a de facto stalemate. But Bolsonaro retains enough power ahead of next year’s elections that he may be able to weasel his way out of consequences.
Brasilia-based political analyst Creomar De Souza pointed out to the Times that actually charging the president would require the report’s approval by the Senate, a vote in the lower house of the National Congress (the Chamber of Deputies), and for the attorney general to launch a criminal prosecution. Bolsonaro supporters have enough power in the first to block a majority and control the second, while the attorney general is one of his appointees. Calheiros told the paper if Bolsonaro isn’t charged, the committee will pursue other options including the Supreme Court of Brazil and the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Irapuã Santana, a law professor at Rio de Janeiro State University, told the Times that if charged Bolsonaro will be suspended from the presidency for six months pending a Supreme Court decision. If convicted, he could face a lengthy term in prison and be barred from the presidency for eight years.