Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro joined a protest of hundreds of people on Sunday opposing Chinese coronavirus social distancing measures on Sunday, promising to do “everything necessary so that we can maintain … our freedom.”
Sunday marked Brazil’s Military Day, meant to honor the nation’s armed forces. Some in the crowd, Brazilian outlets reported, clamored for the military to intervene to stop governors, members of Congress, and the Supreme Court from issuing stay-at-home orders and shutting down the Brazilian economy.
Bolsonaro has refused to impose any federal regulations hurting the Brazilian economy and pressured governors not to mandate the shutdown of businesses. He has made publicity visits to small business – prominently not wearing masks or gloves – urging Brazilians to support business owners and go about their lives. Last week, he fired his minister of health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, over disagreements on continuing to shut down businesses.
Protesters organized rallies opposing social distancing and other anti-Chinese coronavirus measures in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasília, Salvador, Porto Alegre, and other cities, according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo. Bolsonaro joined the rally in the capital, Brasília, in front of the Brazilian military’s headquarters, standing atop a vehicle before a crowd of hundreds of people, most of them crammed together and few apparently wearing any protective gear.
Global health experts spent much of February and March discouraging people from buying or wearing protective masks before abruptly recommending and, in some cases, mandating them.
Video circulating online showed Bolsonaro offering words of encouragement in between coughing fits, which some on the left criticized as coughing can spread diseases.
— Conversa Afiada (@ConversaAfiada) April 19, 2020
“I am here because I believe in you. You are here because you believe in Brazil. We don’t want to negotiate anything. We want action for Brazil,” Bolsonaro reportedly told the crowd. “What was old was left behind. We have a new Brazil ahead of us. Everyone, without exception, in Brazil has to be a patriot and believe and do their part so that we can put Brazil in the prominent place it deserves. The era of the rule of rascals is over. Now the people are in power.”
Bolsonaro went on to say Brazilian had not only the right to protest, but “the obligation to struggle for your country.”
“Count on your president to do everything necessary so that we can maintain our democracy and that which has been the most sacred among us, our freedom. Everyone in Brazil has to understand that they are subjects of the will of the Brazilian people,” Bolsonaro continued. “I am sure: we all swore to give our lives for the country one day and we will do what is possible to change the destiny of Brazil. Out with the old politics. Now it is Brazil above everything and God about everyone.”
“Brazil Above Everything, God Above Everyone” was Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign slogan.
Bolsonaro published part of his speech, showing him slipping on top of the car but cutting off before the coughing.
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) April 19, 2020
Several of the governors issuing coronavirus regulations lamented Bolsonaro’s public display.
“It is unfortunate that the president of the republic supports an anti-democratic act, which affronts democracy and extols the AI-5 [a military regime edict that suspended constitutional rights in 1968],” Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said in an online statement. “I also repudiate the attacks on the National Congress and the Federal Supreme Court. Brazil needs to win the pandemic and must preserve its democracy.”
Some reports stated that, beyond calling for the military to shut down Congress and prevent quarantine measures, some in the protest crowds supported edicts like AI-5.
Bolsonaro has made several controversial statements as the Chinese coronavirus pandemic worsened in his country. Last month, he urged Brazilians to “confront it like a man, not a boy” and reminded his people, “we’re all going to die one day.”
“What I have been hearing from people is that they want to work,” he asserted in a video in which he visited small businesses to encourage commerce. “What I have said from the beginning is that ‘we are going to be careful, the over-65s stay at home.’ We just can’t stand still, there is fear because if you don’t die of the disease, you starve.”
Bolsonaro is 65 years old.
Bolsonaro has also used federal power to prevent widespread surveillance of Brazilian citizens through mobile phone data and other technology. Elsewhere around the world, many nations have resorted to allowing large technology companies to track the location of their citizens to ensure they are not violating quaratine.
In lieu of federal government action, some of Brazil’s largest drug gangs have begun implementing lockdown measures in the nation’s famous favelas, or slums, and hiring doctors clandestinely to treat suspected coronavirus patients.
At press time, Brazil has confirmed 39,144 cases of Chinese coronavirus within its borders. Of these, 2,484 people have died.