Bolsonaro Joined Large Rally, Hugged Children Before Trump Issued Brazil Travel Ban

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, wearing a face mask amid the new coronavirus, faces supporters as he departs his official residence of Alvorada palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, May 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro once again joined a large crowd of supporters on the streets on Sunday, this time in Brasilia, hugging children and shaking hands in defiance of medical advice to engage in social distancing.

Bolsonaro’s display – he flew a helicopter to the rally and took his mask off before engaging the crowd – occurred hours before President Donald Trump announced a ban on entry into America of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the last 14 days. Trump has imposed similar measures, most famously his ban on Chinese nationals and visitors to China, in response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

Brazil has currently documented more coronavirus cases than any nation on earth except America, not counting suspected fraudulent numbers from hard-hit nations such as China and Iran.

Sunday’s rally congregated outside of the presidential palace in Brasilia, the nation’s capital, in support of Bolsonaro amid mounting potential scandals, most prominently accusations by former Minister of Justice Sergio Moro that Bolsonaro’s administration was not committed to fighting corruption in the government. Bolsonaro, a conservative, won the presidency largely by campaigning against the widespread corruption of socialist politicians. Moro joined the administration after leading an investigation that led to the conviction and imprisonment of former socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported that Bolsonaro donned a mask to get on a Brazilian Air Force helicopter to visit his supporters, flanked by several cabinet members, but took the mask off once he approached the crowd. Video from the event shows the crowd yelling supportive slogans at the president, including referring to him by their nickname for him, “the legend,” and seeking to shake hands. The crowd appears tightly packed together and many wore soccer shirts display the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag.

In several videos, Bolsonaro can be seen, without a mask, embracing a small girl and giving a boy in a Neymar shirt a piggyback ride.

O Globo noted that the state government that controls Brasilia has made it illegal to be out in public without a mask.

Bolsonaro described the event in one video as a “spontaneous rally by the people” and a sign of the health of Brazil’s democracy.

As in the United States, Brazil’s governments have the power of calling for specific public health measures if they deem necessary. Many have done so, often against open challenges from Bolsonaro, who has dismissed the pandemic as a “little flu” and warned against collapsing Brazil’s economy in the name of protecting citizens from infection. In addition to criticism from governors, who imposed regulations to prevent mass gatherings and encourage mask use, reports began to surface in April that Brazil’s criminal drug gangs had begun hiring doctors to go into the nation’s favelas, or slums, to care for the poor who live there and showed symptoms of the Chinese coronavirus.

“The virus is here, we’re going to have to confront it. Confront it like a man, not a boy,” Bolsonaro told supporters at another rally in Brasilia in March. “We’re all going to die one day.”

Bolsonaro has challenged lockdown measures by going out in public and encouraging crowds to form, urging Brazilians to patronize local businesses and engage in normal daily life.

“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 said during a public appearance in March. Bolsonaro is 65 years old.

“Brazil cannot stop or we’ll turn into Venezuela,” he said in another public appearance against the lockdown.

As a candidate, Bolsonaro campaigned on curbing growing Chinese Communist Party influence in the country, warning that “the Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.” As president, however, Bolsonaro has actively encouraged communist investment, traveling to Beijing in October and signing eight economic agreements with dictator Xi Jinping. Bolsonaro also gifted Xi a soccer shirt.

The Communist Party actively discouraged measures to contain the Chinese coronavirus during the early days of the outbreak, most prominently opposing travel bans on Chinese citizens.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced a travel ban on non-U.S. citizens who have been present in Brazil in the past 14 days – the believed incubation period of the Chinese coronavirus – taking effect on May 28. The ban mirrors similar, and widely criticized, action Trump took regarding travel to China at the peak of the outbreak there.

Bolsonaro’s administration, which has enjoyed friendly relations with Washington since the president took over in 2019, has urged against perceiving the ban as a slight against Brazil in particular, noting that Trump imposed similar travel limitations on other countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases.

At press time, Brazil has documented 363,211 cases of Chinese coronavirus and 22,666 deaths.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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