Bolsonaro’s heat level: Freezes as necropolitics and scandals burn

+ Bolsonaro is facing a freezing front as political scandals and his necropolitics burn
+ Bolsonaro shows that he’s yet another self-serving politician, despite populist adornments
+ Bolsonaro isn’t adopting social distancing, but is definitely isolating himself

Jair Bolsonaro
Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0 BR)

Why is Bolsonaro freezing?

Answer: As Bolsonaro’s necropolitics become even more evident to the population due to his (un)handling of the COVID crisis, the political crisis intensifies as the Justice Minister leaves his position and accuses Bolsonaro of interfering in Rio de Janeiro’s Federal Police and as his ministers threaten the Supreme Federal Court independence.

As Brazil becomes the new centre of the epidemic, being the second most affected country and with over 34,000 deaths due to COVID – to which the president responded: “I’m sorry, but it’s everyone’s destiny” (G1) –, the political crisis in Brazil added yet another chapter in its story. Sergio Moro, former Justice Minister, decided to leave his position as Moro and Bolsonaro argued over the superintendent of the Federal Police (FP) in Rio de Janeiro. Moro said that Bolsonaro wanted only one superintendent in FP and pushed to get him.

The decision of who runs the Federal Police is up to the Justice Minister and Bolsonaro’s involvement could represent a corrupt practice. This is  evident given the fact that it is probably tied to the investigation by Rio’s FP in the murder of Marielle Franco – former city councillor in Rio, known for her social projects involving minorities, and who was brutally assassinated back in 2018.

Sergio Moro, seen before as a hero on the fight against corruption as the judge that condemned the former president of Brazil, Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, for corruption,  and who has now been branded a traitor by Bolsonaro and his supporters. As a result, Bolsonaro has been trying as hard as he can to tarnish Moro’s reputation as an anticorruption hero and discredit the testimony of Bolsonaro’s intervention on the Federal Police.

Moro, however, has been quick to provide evidence – among them WhatsApp prints and a ministerial reunion he addressed, but had no legal way of obtaining that were later made public by the Supreme Federal Court, revealing more than Bolsonaro wished for and making it available as an actual evidence.

This ministerial reunion, although it doesn’t specify whether the president intervened on the police force in Rio de Janeiro point blank, shows important features of Bolsonaro’s policy as well of his cabinet ministers. The plot thickens as the Attorney-General of the republic, Augusto Aras, solicited an inquiry to the Supreme Court of Justice to check Moro’s declarations and narrated facts.

“I’m not going to wait until they f*ck my entire family or friends because I can’t change someone in one end of our security. It’s going to change.! If it can’t be changed, change his boss! If it can’t change his boss? Change the minister! And that’s it! We’re not here to mess around” – Bolsonaro on the ministerial reunion, 2020 (G1)

It is also important to point out that Bolsonaro has had other run-ins with the Supreme Federal Court, which was the organ responsible for making public the ministerial reunion and to accept an impeachment process against Bolsonaro. On the note of impeachment, Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies – one of the Congress’ houses that has to vote on the impeachment processes –, has said that an impeachment is an extreme measure to make at the moment and that there is no legislation as to when there needs to be a voting on the process.

The saga of Bolsonaro vs. the Supreme Federal Court (SFC) has had other episodes such as when they blocked Bolsonaro’s appointment of Alexandre Ramagem, as superintendent of Rio’s Federal Police. Another more recent episode was when the Court issued warrants of search and apprehension on Bolsonaro’s supporters due to fake news and attacks on the SFC ministers.

Bolsonaro’s reply was to attend a public manifestation against the Supreme Federal Court – which can be seen as a way to delegitimize the Supreme Federal Court as an institution by questioning the morality of its members and by labelling them as opposition for his supporters to attack. It is noticeable here that  Bolsonaro is challenging a key aspect of Brazilian democracy and inciting the people against the highest level of the Judiciary Power.

Public manifestations and protests have been gaining force in Brazil, especially from the opposition as a response to Bolsonaro and his supporters. As Bolsonaro attended the manifestation on Wednesday, a pro-democracy protest happened in São Paulo as a response to the manifestations asking for a comeback of dictatorship – which also counted with Bolsonaro’s presence, greeting supporters.  This last Sunday happened another pro-democracy manifestation and Bolsonaro asked his supporters to not go to the streets in the days other pro-democracy acts are set as he called those in the latter:

Criminals, terrorists, people with no occupation who have no idea what economy is […] They want to destroy Brazil in the name of a democracy that they never even knew what it is, and to which they never cared for”. (UOL)

 This rising on numbers of protests is an important feature to this freezing front Bolsonaro is facing, because it shows the public opinion regarding his (necro)policy on COVID19 and the political scandals – especially regarding the SFC. Furthermore, the confrontation between his opponents and supporters could escalate to him having to resort to the use of the Armed Forces and even open up the possibility of a coup (although quite unlikely).

Who is changing Bolsonaro’s temperature?

The elements switching Bolsonaro’s mind.

Answer: As Brazilians become ever more frustrated with his (necro)politics and protest, his speeches, his Minister’s takes on the matter of the Supreme Federal Court (as shown in the ministerial reunion) and COVID dealing is without doubt adding tensions and contributing to the freezing of this administration

Abraham Weintraub (Education Minister): “We are losing the fight for freedom. That is what the people are screaming. They aren’t screaming to ‘have more state, to have more projects, to have more… they are screaming for freedom, that’s it. I think that is what we are losing, ourselves. We – The people wants to see what brought me here. For me, I’d put these tramps in jail. Starting with the Supreme Federal Court.” (G1)

Damares Alves (the Women, Family, and Human Rights Minister): “The pandemic will end, but governors and mayors will answer lawsuits and we are going to ask for their arrests […] Our ministry will be hard on them” (G1)

The speeches above from ministers in the cabinet represent grave threats to Brazil’s democracy and uphold Bolsonaro’s necropolicy. When the Education Minister says that the members of the Supreme Federal Court should be arrested, he undermines the democracy and the legitimacy of the separation of powers in Brazil and adds fuel to the touchy relationship that Bolsonaro and his administration have with the Judiciary Power.

As for the Women, Family, and Human Rights Minister quote on the situation of the governors and mayors, it is essentially how the ministry does not endorse the measures taken regarding the COVID crisis – which are mainly the ones regarding social distancing and quarantine. Therefore, by disagreeing with that stance, she shows how necropower could be in place and would dictate the death of the Brazilian people in a large scale.

Moreover, Brazil is at its third Health Minister in less than two months – and this time it is an interim one. Bolsonaro singled out for the job (after twenty days with no formal appointment) an Army General, Eduardo Pazuello, with no knowledge or expertise in health. Furthermore, Bolsonaro’s comments on the deaths due to COVID and the way he (un)handled the crisis point out his exercise of necropolitics, the way he cuts people’s destiny short by focusing on the economy rather than the well-being of his people.

What is driving Bolsonaro?

Answer: Bolsonaro has shown authoritarian tendencies throughout his administration and even before that – when he was still a deputy. Furthermore, despite ornamenting his administration with populist comments and building off on a popular hate towards the last administrations, he only has his family and friends’ interests at heart.

Bolsonaro made his campaign based on speeches against corruption such as the ones the Labour Party (PT) were involved in during their time in power. Bolsonaro built off from the hatred part of the population had and intensifying the polarization as he called his objectors “communists” as if they necessarily defended PT and their corruption. By saying prejudiced things regarding minorities and by addressing the popular hatred, he built himself a loyal base of supporters and brought those who wanted to see change.

His speeches, scrupulously designed for the public, engaged people to continue to polarize the country. When elected, he promised change as well as to establish a competent Ministry based on technical criteria. However, as time passed – and especially now with the pandemic and the domestic political crisis -, it has become more evident to those who voted for him that Bolsonaro doesn’t have the people’s best interest at heart, suggesting, that he is no different from previous corrupt politicians – except his incapability to lead and his high esteem for the dictatorship the country went through thirty years ago.  

As he stated in the ministerial reunion, Bolsonaro will intervene in ministries as he sees fit, especially when it comes to his family and the scandals surrounding him. He has shown with the interim Health Ministers and the interference in Rio’s Police that he will not assign positions based on technical criteria and ability, but those who will serve his interests.

It seems Brazilians, especially his supporters, have finally caught on to his necropolitics – ever so clear with the high death rate during this pandemic – and his self-serving politics (maybe even corrupt practices, as it remains to be confirmed), the kind he so much despised as the opposition and seems to have been doing for a long time.

 “So what? What do you want me to do?” he said (G1) when the death toll reached 5,000, perfectly summing up how little he cared for such a high number of deaths and how little he cares for those who aren’t his family and friends.

So what does this mean for you?

Answer: Bolsonaro is on the wrong side of isolation as he follows Trump’s footsteps, and the way he handles the crisis is seen as a threat by neighbouring LatAm countries.

Bolsonaro’s necropolicy in times of COVID is starting to symbolize the isolation of Brazil in international relations, a move he seems intent on supporting as he follows in Trump’s footsteps and ponders leaving the World Health Organization as well.

Countries in South America, especially Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Colombia, are worried that the uncontained crisis in Brazil might spill-over to their countries and consider it a rising national security threat. It is likely that the region will turn away from Brazil – as Bolsonaro isn’t interested in continuing his Foreign Policy as he, just like Trump, is in cutting its multilateral relations. The retrocession Bolsonaro is making will definitely cost Brazil economically and diplomatically, both in the long and short term.