Since the very beginning of the new coronavirus pandemic, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been facing severe criticism in his country for not recognizing the gravity of the situation and taking no national-level steps to combat COVID-19. Today, the matter has grown extremely complicated, with criticism reaching a brand new level. The President, his government and the army loyal to him were accused of committing genocide against their own people. This accusation came not from an opposition politician, but from a member of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, which implies that Bolsonaro's position has become unstable.
The other day, Supreme Federal Court judge Gilmar Mendes said the following during a debate: "We can no longer accept the situation created by the Ministry of Health. This vacuum is unacceptable. If anything, the strategy is to take away the leadership role from the federal government and allocate responsibility to the states and municipalities… We need to do something. This is terrible for the armed forces' image. We have to say bluntly: the army is associated with this genocide... This must stop."
Spanish El País writes that with this statement, when the judge linked the word "genocide" with Bolsonaro government's performance amid the pandemic, the debate on this issue broke into the national agenda in an entirely new capacity. Accusations of committing genocide of indigenous peoples and the black population against the current authorities are far from being new. However, they were generally examined in an abstract way, formally describing the secondary role the Brazilian political and economic elite assigned to indigenous peoples throughout the country's history. Right now these accusations of genocide have acquired a different specific tone, which may entail political shifts in the country.
This is particularly borne out by the reaction of generals like Vice-President Hamilton Mourão and Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva, who fit the cap on concerning army involvement in the genocide. They do not just represent the Bolsonaro government, but also embrace and legitimize its policy. The generals were outraged, sensing a real danger of being tried for crimes against humanity in the near future. El País notes that even among those unsupportive of Bolsonaro terms like "hyperbole" and "exaggeration" were used to take the heat out of Mendes' statement. But the spoken word "genocide" has already taken its flight...
Naturally, the severity of genocide charges and similar crimes against humanity requires that this issue be discussed in the most meaningful way, without political bias. Renowned Brazilian international lawyer Deisy Ventura, quoted by El País, is convinced there is every indication of genocide in Brazil, if Bolsonaro's activities are addressed through the lens of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. "As for our policy towards indigenous peoples, it can be described as genocide, the gravest crime against humanity," Deisy Ventura says. "Extermination is a deliberate arrangement of such a living environment that may cause a partial destruction of the population. The Rome Statute cites the denial of access to food or medicine as an example of genocide. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government has been adhering to the following policy: on the one hand, it denies the disease and on the other, it objectively contravenes local authorities that are trying to efficiently respond to the disease, trying to control the spread of COVID-19... Research shows that the most affected populations are the black, the poorest and most vulnerable."
Official figures as of the end of July show that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Brazil has exceeded 2.4 million. According to the country's Ministry of Health, doctors have detected almost 2.5 million infection cases thus far. More than 87 thousand patients died. Comparing statistics in Asia, Europe and both Americas, it is arguable that the center of the pandemic has long moved overseas, and its core, except for the United States, is Brazil. In both countries, the coronavirus has become an integral part of the political struggle. In Brazil it has even grown into the key element right now.
Bolsonaro has argued that the coronavirus pandemic is an overblown myth from the very beginning. He accused advocates of quarantine measures in the country of attempts to weaken the economy by demanding various kinds of sanitary restrictions in order to provoke popular discontent aimed at his resignation. Bolsonaro stubbornly issued no decrees restricting mass events and regularly met with his supporters, ostentatiously taking joint selfies with them. As a result, state governors entered an open confrontation with the President and started to decide on quarantine and other restrictive measures locally through their own individual efforts. And in the largest cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo criminal groups that control the life of local favelas have also assumed the role of monitoring the observance of quarantine regulations by inhabitants of those slums.
There was a complete mess in controlling the number of coronavirus tests made in the country, since for reasons not understood the Ministry of Health ignored those made by private clinics outside of the public healthcare system. But causing particular criticism was the central authorities' complete disregard of Indians living in remote areas of the Amazon region. Earlier this year, President Bolsonaro was accused of aiding a large-scale burning of Amazonian forests so as to create livestock pastures in these territories. With forests destroyed, Indian tribes lose their traditional lands.
Amid the current pandemic, the Indians are also sensitive to COVID-19, being forced to contact with the "civilized world" owing to economic activities of large latifundia and timber companies. Even before the pandemic, no one cared about their health, except Cuban doctors who worked in Brazil under former President Dilma Rousseff. With Bolsonaro's coming to power, Cuban medics were asked to leave Brazil so that they did not spread "communist propaganda". To date, the central authorities do not control the spread of coronavirus among the indigenous population of Brazil at all. There is some evidence (not to be considered correct due to the Amazon selva inaccessibility) that the number of Indians living in Brazil accounts for about 800 thousand. Even catching a cold commonplace for a civilized person is virtually dangerous for them, and the coronavirus may drastically reduce their population at the end of the day.
President Bolsonaro, who tried to ignore the coronavirus to avoid economic challenges, faced the same problem. This will likely end up with an impeachment. Especially given that this method of terminating presidential powers is quite popular in Brazil. In recent past, presidents Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff were removed from power in the same way. Another thing is that charges against Lula and Rousseff were faked-up not without the contribution of Americans, who sought to interrupt the rule of socialists in Brazil. But that's a different story. The main thing is that the impeachment of President Bolsonaro won't become a surprise to anyone.