Brazil is living through tragic days of personal and collective tragedy in the midst of the pandemic crisis.
The Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (ICC), underway in the Federal Senate to investigate the president’s actions, has captured the attention of Brazilians as if it were a “reality show”.
Evidence, whether lying or contradictory, describes a callous government that denied access to vaccines and encouraged the use of ineffective and dangerous drugs.
A president who has repeatedly said in his following of fanatics that 70% of the population should be allowed to be infected to stop the pandemic, until deaths are so high he could be impeached.
The government errors and omissions, revealed by the investigation, are sufficient to support criminal liability cases before Congress and common law cases before the Supreme Court.
the worst moment in 150 years
The country has been at its worst for 150 years.
It has been going through an economic crisis since 2013. In 2015/2016, it experienced the worst recession since 1929 and, before the economic recovery, the pandemic forced the disruption of much of economic activity.
In 2020, the economy fell 4.1%. And in January 2021, around 27 million people were living below the extreme poverty line, according to the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV).
Income from work, according to the same source, fell on average by 19%, and among young people, women and blacks, by about 23%.
Cumulative 12-month inflation was 6.76% in the first four months of 2021, the highest since December 2016, and estimates indicate it’s on the rise, which could have a devastating effect on popularity Of the president.
Bolsonaro’s disapproval, on the rise since the start of the year, reached 45% in May 2021, according to Datafolha, and the approval, at 24%, has never been lower.
The majority, 58%, no longer consider him capable of leading the country, and an unpopular president paralyzes the decision-making process, producing stagnation and crisis.
The pandemic has added an explosive ingredient.
This month, the country counted around 17 million people infected and nearly half a million dead, with an increasing trend.
This uncontrolled advance of the disease and the insufficiency of the vaccination program led to the convening of the Senate commission of inquiry.
Documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts demonstrated the Bolsonaro government’s degree of neglect and denial of the pandemic, which led to the first major protest to demand his impeachment since the start of the epidemic.
Most analyzes of the impeachment process consider street protests a necessary condition, but not sufficient. Another condition, such as the need for an investigation, has already occurred.
The politicization of the armed forces
Several recent events show an unusual politicization of active and retired officers of the three services, who participate heavily in the Bolsonaro government, occupying second and third level ministries and positions.
In this context, the refusal of the army command to sanction the former Minister of Health Eduardo Pazuello, an active general, for having participated in a political demonstration with Bolsonaro – expressly prohibited by the disciplinary regulations of the army – aroused great concern.
Pazuello, now presidential adviser to the Secretariat for Strategic Affairs, could be prosecuted by the Senate for a crime against public health.
Bolsonaro perhaps imagines that the episode of the Army’s subordination, accepting the presidential veto with statutory sanction, will also serve to intimidate the senators. However, he is in the minority on the commission of inquiry and the Senate.
Bolsonaro called for demonstrations in reaction to the inquiries, the threat posed by former President Lula to his project for power and the loss of popularity.
And as in other cases, he appeared on horseback, as Mussolini used to do. In this case, he called for a motorcycle parade, mimicking the fascist parade of the 1930s. The overt imitation of the fascist aesthetic is not accidental, it is deliberate.
Recently, a government adviser linked to the president and his sons made a gesture of American supremacy during a statement by former Chancellor Ernesto Araújo to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Bolsonaro invited former minister Pazuello to accompany him in a political act, knowing that he would violate the disciplinary regulations of the army and that the command would try to sanction him.
The president is testing the institutional limits of Brazilian democracy, while they are wary of its attitudes.
The fact remains that the CPI already has elements to denounce Bolsonaro, Pazuello and several other government officials for non-compliance with the worst public health crisis in the country, according to the president and rapporteur of the committee.
There is an explosive convergence of critical events in the country. They are more than disruptors of the democratic institutional order, they are factors of destabilization.
Growing popular outrage over the handling of the pandemic and the economic and social crisis has resulted in collective insecurity, fear and angry reactions that are reflected in the pressure on Bolsonaro in the streets.
Faced with investigations that could lead to dismissal, the president publicly threatened to declare a state of siege and to use the army to ensure public order.
The subordination of the command of the Army to Bolsonaro, not respecting the will of the regiment to sanction acts of indiscipline and violations of the hierarchy, implies a new institutional risk.
Hierarchy and discipline are golden rules that underpin the pillars of the military corporation.
The acceptance of the rupture of the two by a general in activity can have a domino effect, triggering political demonstrations of lower-ranking officers and soldiers, until then contained by these rules considered as inviolable.
The politicization of the military poses a serious institutional risk to democracy. It was only with their help that Bolsonaro was able to make the transition to an autocratic regime.
This convergence of politico-institutional destabilizing factors in a macro-environment of crisis is extremely dangerous for Brazilian democracy.
To further complicate the picture, Bolsonaro is showing increasingly clear signs that he may not accept an unfavorable outcome in next year’s election and has already started, as Trump has done in the United States, to spread suspicion of electoral fraud.
He claims he would have been elected in the first round in 2018 if there had been no fraud and a new fraud is in the works to defeat him in 2022. He also said he would not accept a “suspicious” result.
The key question is whether the military will give it the cover it needs to cancel the election.
Without military support, Bolsonaro lacks strength and will be just an incidental ruler who came to power in an unusual election and could be kicked out in another unusual election.