In early March, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro visited Donald Trump for the fourth time since the beginning of his presidential term in January 2019. As he returned to Brazil, there were 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the large entourage that had accompanied him on this trip to the United States.
Nobody knows whether Bolsonaro had tested positive, as his results were never publicly released. What we do know is that, since coming back to Brazil, Bolsonaro made a strange but strong alliance with the virus. He became, metaphorically, the Virus Man. Brazil transformed into a comics’ plot, where superheroes battle against an unknown and powerful mutant agent.
While he was in the U.S., Bolsonaro’s more fanatic partisans were calling for a series of street protests on March 15. These rallies had an extremist agenda. They were against the Supreme Court, the Parliament (both lower and upper houses), and the mainstream media – all Republican institutions which, according to Bolsonaro’s supporters, are corrupted and obstruct the president from making necessary changes. In a confusing movement, Bolsonaro’s partisans demanded the return of the military dictatorship.
If initially Bolsonaro supported these demonstrations, after being pushed by several political actors, including some of his allies, he asked people to avoid the protests, saying that he respected the institutions and that people should avoid crowds due to the coronavirus.
The damage, however, was already done, as has been the case during his whole term. The president goes public to support an utterly absurd, outrageous right-wing anti-republican item. Then, after being hit by the protests against his agenda, he retreats, saying it was a misunderstanding.
Bolsonaro employed this tactic, for example, with the Amazon fires and the invasion of indigenous lands early in his term. It’s also the case with the health regulations around the coronavirus. His followers listen to his early messages supporting their madness and act accordingly. After he retreats to save face, the destruction has already been done. Chaos is installed, and the country’s republican institutions suffer another blow.
Born of the Virus Man
Upon his return from the U.S., and after having asked people to stay home and not attend the March 15 rallies, Bolsonaro suddenly went to the streets on that glorious Sunday. He shook hands with his partisans in front of the Presidential Palace and grabbed their phones to take selfies, ignoring all recommendations for social distancing. On that day, the Virus Man was born.
Since then, Bolsonaro has continuously acted to contradict every single guideline from his own Ministry of Health, who wants people to stay at home, enforce social distance, and close commerce, schools, and public venues to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
As usual, Bolsonaro shows his juvenile rebellious facet, by defying health authorities, which entice his most extremist supporters. He fights against the state governors who want to implement strict measures to combat the virus’ dissemination in their communities. He goes to his social media channels, saying that people need to go back to work.
Bolsonaro not only tweets fake news but also creates it: his closer officers, including his sons (in what is known as the “hate cabinet”) stage scenes where, in front of the press, pre-arranged “supporters” beg him to go back to work. He goes to street fairs to talk to humble people who are selling their street food. They talk about the need for everybody to go back to work and, of course, he endangers public health by creating crowds around him.
Destruction of the Brazilian State
Since taken up the presidential cabinet, Bolsonaro’s agenda is one of the destruction of the Brazilian state. He has strictly followed the neoliberal ideology of his economy minister, Paulo Guedes. His government has implemented several “reforms” that destroy the small welfare state built by the 1988 Constitution to assist millions of impoverished Brazilians.
In his pursuit of a “minimal state,” Guedes has implemented a speed privatization program of several public assets and passed a pensions reform that is harmful to low-income and rural workers, particularly women.
In its will to destroy all public services, Bolsonaro’s government has drastically defunded public education, including support for scientific research within public universities. These cuts have hit environmental protection agencies hard. This has been a fast process, a trajectory that was leading to the destruction of the Brazilian Republic designed by the 1988 Constitution, towards the society Bolsonaro aspires for: a chaotic community with no central leader, but instead with small armed mobs controlling the people’s lives through force and blackmail.
In the meantime, powerless workers sell their blood to powerful families, while corrupted Pentecostal churches provide the people with a conservative ideology to avoid any criticism or protests against Bolsonaro’s government.
With the arrival of COVID-19, Bolsonaro seized the opportunity to accelerate his societal plans. It looks like the virus, in a unique mutation, took over Bolsonaro’s brain.
In his brain, the virus “knows” that it doesn’t have much time and needs to act faster and faster if it is to destroy as much as it can. Bolsonaro listens to his guest. Transfigured in the Virus Man, he knows that he needs to act as quickly as he can to implement the chaos in Brazil.
Bolsonaro understands that he does not need Guedes and his neoliberal agenda anymore. The coronavirus has provided him a better and faster chance to implement his ideal society that goes far beyond the minimal neoliberal state aimed by Guedes and the Brazilian upper classes.
REUTERS: "Brazil likely has 12 times more coronavirus cases than official count, study finds"
It's clear that official counts that media outlets have been using for their charts – for "confirmed cases" & deaths – are very unreliable: not just for China.https://t.co/VblMPwOXGB
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 14, 2020
“Captain Corona,” another nickname for Bolsonaro, aims for the zero state with no republican institutions at all. He will build a society where the mob groups and the Pentecostal conservative churches reign, supported by the rich families with their private security armed guards.
Mainstream media commentators have already spread their conspiracy theories. Using their interpretive lenses based on the past, they affirm that the army will take over Bolsonaro, that there is a coup d’état going on, and that democracy is at risk. This is far from the truth. There is no “democratic threat” nor risk to this democracy. The Virus Man is worse than a dictatorship.
Republican Institutions and the Virus Man
Bolsonaro has survived within this democracy. He thrives in a parliamentary democracy, where he has been elected and survived well in the past three decades, and where he has arranged parliamentary positions for all his sons. The Virus Man goes further. He wants to eradicate all the republican powers able to question him or able to support people’s education and health. Bolsonaro is “frozen” in his anti-communist ideology learned during his army training.
Republican institutions have reacted against the Virus Man. The Parliament has approved an emergency minimal financial help (around $150 per month) to impoverished families. The Supreme Court has ruled against Captain Corona’s mad actions. However, with him seating at the country’s most powerful chair, combatting the virus is hard.
During the quarantine, many parents are restricting their teenagers’ use of mobile phones to enforce their attendance in homeschooling. Brazil and the world are waiting for the adult to take away Bolsonaro’s phone. Moreover, Brazilians need to become superheroes. They must use civil disobedience to defy their president’s orders, stay home, and support each other during this harsh period, all to avoid the chaos provoked by the Virus Man.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.