Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with ‘crimes against humanity’

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Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with ‘crimes against humanity’ over his handling of the country’s Covid crisis, according to a Brazilian senate report.

A six-month inquiry heard devastating witness testimony from those whose relatives were among the 600,000 Brazilians to have died and from experts who say ineffective medicines were used on ‘human guinea pigs.’ 

The 1,200-page report accuses Bolsonaro of ‘quackery’ for dismissing the virus as a ‘little flu’ and for delays in ordering vaccines – a vaccine which he has refused to take himself because he says he has natural immunity after catching Covid last year. 

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Renan Calheiros, the centrist senator who is the lead author, announced a last-minute withdrawal of ‘homicide’ and ‘genocide’ charges, after some infighting within the panel. 

The inquiry does not have the power to bring charges, but it could have disastrous consequences: the report will be sent to the public prosecutor, the federal court of accounts, and could even be sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where other complaints against Bolsonaro have already been lodged. 

President Brazil Jair Bolsonaro on the phone after a meeting with his Colombian counterpart Ivan Duque at the Palacio do Planalto, in the city of Brasilia on Tuesday

President Brazil Jair Bolsonaro on the phone after a meeting with his Colombian counterpart Ivan Duque at the Palacio do Planalto, in the city of Brasilia on Tuesday

Workers remove the body of a Covid victim from his home in Manaus, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, in May 2020

Workers remove the body of a Covid victim from his home in Manaus, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, in May 2020

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While the accusations are serious, the process may be just symbolic since Bolsonaro enjoys enough congressional support to avoid the opening of impeachment proceedings.

Likewise, Attorney General Augusto Aras, an ally appointed by Bolsonaro, could shield him from any indictment.

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The report could also ask that several ministers be charged, as well as three of Bolsonaro’s sons, including Flavio – who sits on the committee.

‘This report will seem like a sentence, but the government is calm. You can criticise the president’s attitude, but not incriminate him,’ Fernando Bezerra, head of the government’s parliamentary bloc in the senate, told the Uol website. 

It is yet another headache for the president, whose popularity has plummeted to an all-time low and who trails leftist former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in polls ahead of next year’s general election.

The report was originally due to be presented on Tuesday but had to be put back 24 hours, eliciting criticism from Brazilian media, which have already started leaking details.

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Following testimony from several ministers, top government officials, and business and hospital managers, it was the turn of the families of Covid victims to present their statements to the committee on Monday.

Katia Castilho, daughter of a Covid victim, cries as she gives testimony to the committee on Monday at the Federal Senate in Brasilia

Katia Castilho, daughter of a Covid victim, cries as she gives testimony to the committee on Monday at the Federal Senate in Brasilia

Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros attends a meeting of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (CPI) to investigate government actions and management during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Federal Senate in Brasilia

Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros attends a meeting of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (CPI) to investigate government actions and management during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the Federal Senate in Brasilia

‘We deserve an apology from the highest authority in the state. It’s not a question of politics, we’re talking about lives,’ Marcio Antonio Silva, a taxi driver who lost his 25-year-old son to Covid, told the panel, holding back tears.

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‘What we’ve seen is the antithesis of what we expected from the president of the republic,’ said Antonio Carlos Costa, president of the Rio de Paz NGO. ‘We’ve never seen him shed tears of compassion, nor express his condolences for the Brazilian people in mourning.’ 

On Monday, the committee also heard the harrowing testimony of a nurse in Manaus who saw dozens of patients dying and had to take care of her sister’s four children after she also succumbed to the virus.

The committee investigated the government over the crippling lack of oxygen in the northern city of Manaus during the worst moments of the pandemic, and also the delays in buying vaccines, Bolsonaro’s anti-lockdown speeches, and his original belittling of what he called a ‘little flu.’ 

An activist from the Rio de Paz human rights group hangs white scarves representing people who died of COVID-19, in front of the National Congress in Brasilia on Monday

An activist from the Rio de Paz human rights group hangs white scarves representing people who died of COVID-19, in front of the National Congress in Brasilia on Monday

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Demonstrators hold a banner and crosses during a protest earlier this month to pay tribute to Brazil's 600,000 COVID-19 deaths and against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus

Demonstrators hold a banner and crosses during a protest earlier this month to pay tribute to Brazil’s 600,000 COVID-19 deaths and against Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus

Senators subsequently discovered irregularities in the acquisition of vaccines, something that generated strong suspicions of corruption.

Another branch of the investigation focused on the relationship between Brasilia and private health insurers accused of promoting ‘early treatment’ with medications such as hydroxychloroquine, which has been scientifically proven to be ineffective.

One of those insurers, Prevent Senior, is accused of having carried out such treatment on patients without their prior knowledge, and to have put pressure on doctors to prescribe it for ‘human guinea pigs.’

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‘The committee report clearly aims to result in the sanctioning of those responsible, and there are a lot. We cannot allow ourselves to not punish them,’ Omar Aziz, the committee’s president, said on Tuesday. 

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