Is the government against us

Corona policy: Brazil's Senate is investigating the government

COVID-19 is "just flu" and Brazilians should finally "stop whining". This is how Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's view of the pandemic can be summed up. Under his government, the country recorded more than 400,000 corona deaths - the second highest number in the world.

Since Tuesday, a commission of the Brazilian Senate has been dealing with how its government is dealing with the corona crisis. The result of the investigation is expected to be available in 90 days and it could have serious implications for Bolsonaro's political future.

What exactly is the Commission investigating?

The main aim of the investigation is to identify the individuals and authorities responsible for what critics say is the bungling response to the pandemic. Many health experts blame Bolsonaro's government. A study by the University of São Paulo and the human rights group Conectas calls their approach "an institutional strategy for the spread of the coronavirus in the country".

The Senate Committee has identified 18 subject areas that it wants to examine in order to form its own picture. A major issue is the rejection of several vaccine offers - including that from BioNTech / Pfizer. Because now Brazil is missing millions of cans.

Another question is why the government propagated ineffective treatment methods - for example with the "COVID kit", a mixture of drugs such as the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin. Their benefits for the treatment of COVID-19 patients were completely unexplored at the time. Studies have now even shown links between chloroquine treatments and increased mortality. The lack of oxygen in hospitals in the state of Amazonas is also said to be the subject of the investigation.

Who should be interviewed?

The commission wants to interview several ministers and government advisors. Bolsonaro's former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta kicked off on Tuesday, whom the president dismissed shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic because he had publicly contradicted the president's assessments on several occasions. His successors, Nelson Teich and Eduardo Pazuello, who have also been shot in the meantime, are also to be questioned.

The army general and former health minister could become a key figure before the committee

Army General Pazuello, who was appointed to the post with no health experience and was particularly loyal to Bolsonaro, could be one of the key voices before the committee of inquiry. "If Pazuello passed on the information that he received as health minister at the height of the crisis, it would be politically highly relevant," says law professor Wallace Corbo from the Brazilian think tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas. However, Pazuello has the right to refuse to testify in order not to incriminate himself. "If he decides not to testify, the commission can still evaluate his behavior as health minister. And that could speak for itself," says Corbo.

What else can the Commission do?

The commission has the same investigative powers as a judge. This means that it can, among other things, question witnesses and request information and documents from public authorities. However, it cannot pass judgment or order arrests. Your job is simply to collect evidence and, if necessary, to pass it on to the judiciary.

What does this mean for Bolsonaro and his government?

Even though it looks on paper that such investigations have little effect, they certainly have the potential to "shake politics", says lawyer Corbo.

In the worst case for the government, the commission could come to the conclusion that Bolsonaro, his government or both are responsible for the worsening of the corona crisis. The relevant agencies could then initiate criminal proceedings and the MPs could initiate one of the many requests for impeachment proceedings against President Jair Bolsonaro that have already been filed.

But even if it does not get that far, the investigation could damage Bolsonaro's image ahead of the 2022 presidential election: "Such trials are open to the public, so they generate a lot of visibility - sometimes more than court cases where a lot of information is confidential," explains Corbo.

In addition, precisely these investigations should generate a great deal of public interest because it is a "tangible" problem, says political scientist Magna Inácio from the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Many such procedures went almost unnoticed by the Brazilians, for example because of the purchase of an oil refinery in the USA. "This investigation is about something that people have experienced themselves," says Inácio. "The debate has great potential for mobilization."

Translated from English by Jan D. Walter