To describe the Brazilian senate’s 1,180 page report on Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid pandemic as damning would be inadequate. Formally approved on Tuesday by a cross-party committee, the report chronicles not just bad leadership but wilful, lethal acts of folly, carried out by a Donald Trump mini-me who sacrificed lives on the altar of his own unfounded presumptions. It recommends that President Bolsonaro face criminal indictments for a catalogue of actions and omissions that could have led to as many as 300,000 avoidable deaths.
As Mr Bolsonaro presided over a death toll which is now the second-highest in the world (after the United States), the report finds he deliberately sent his citizens over the top without defences in the battle against Covid. Other countries scrambled to buy up vaccines when they became available; the president delayed for half a year while ruthlessly pursuing a herd immunity strategy. He himself claims not to have yet been vaccinated. When Brazilians suffered a record rise in deaths during a 24-hour period last March, their president told them to “stop whining”. The wearing of masks and social distancing was treated by Mr Bolsonaro as a kind of weakness in the face of what he described as a “little flu”, and he trolled regional governments’ attempts to introduce Covid restrictions. By presidential decree he tried to keep businesses such as gyms and spas open at the height of the pandemic. Emulating his political hero in Washington, Mr Bolsonaro has disseminated misinformation online and recommended quack treatments for the virus, in the teeth of all scientific evidence. This week, Facebook and YouTube removed a video by him which falsely linked vaccines to the Aids virus. President Bolsonaro’s guiding philosophy during the pandemic is best summed up by the comment he made to journalists a year ago: “All of us are going to die one day … There is no point in escaping from that, in escaping from reality. We have to stop being a country of sissies.”
The congressional report justly describes Mr Bolsonaro’s response to the Covid pandemic as “macabre”. Its allegation of crimes against humanity would need to be pursued by the international criminal court. Senators are calling on Brazilian prosecutors to try the president on charges including misuse of public funds and charlatanism. Impeachment proceedings would also be possible, given the inquiry’s conclusions. But while he remains in office, Mr Bolsonaro has supporters in key positions who will ensure that none of this is likely to happen. Already a campaign is underway to characterise the report as politically motivated, ahead of elections due in a year’s time.
The court of public opinion is another matter. Hearings during the inquiry have been televised and the president’s poll ratings have plummeted. The lasting impact of this devastating indictment of a president may be to shred Mr Bolsonaro’s credibility, lose him the next election and leave him vulnerable to future prosecution. That is an outcome devoutly to be wished for. It might also be of some consolation to those millions of grieving relatives, whose bereavement was treated with a cavalier disregard by this unworthy leader of a great nation.