Brazilian president continues to minimize coronavirus threat

Brazilian president continues to minimize coronavirus threat
© Stefani Reynolds

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to acknowledge the severity of the coronavirus crisis, as death tolls mount at home and abroad.

Bolsonaro has boasted about the supposed immunological resiliency of Brazilians, promised supporters a soon-to-come cure and defied his health ministry's recommendations on the pandemic, facts underscored by a report in The New York Times.

Still, even Bolsonaro acknowledged in a televised appearance Tuesday that the pandemic is “the greatest challenge of our generation.”

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The Brazilian president's early bluster amid the global crisis seemed to mimic a slate of populist leaders worldwide, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE.

But while other like-minded leaders — slowly or quickly — turned to their health experts as the crisis worsened, Bolsonaro maintained his minimizing stance on the threat of coronavirus.

The right-winger's attitude has led to clashes with protesters, journalists and regional governors, many of whom imposed social distancing measures when the central government did not.

Bolsonaro's lone-wolf attitude is risky in a political system that in recent years hasn't been shy about imposing checks on its leaders, including presidents.

In 2016, Brazil removed then-President Dilma Rousseff from office, and the following year successfully prosecuted her predecessor, Lula da Silva, over charges stemming from a lengthy corruption probe.

Rosana Pinheiro-Machado, a Brazilian anthropologist at the University of Bath who specializes on the effects of trade on Brazil and China, wrote in The Washington Post on Sunday that Bolsonaro "must be removed from office."

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"While the novel coronavirus spreads in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has demonstrated an alarming inability to govern the country, undermining the pandemic and efforts to protect and save lives. And as a result of his irresponsible and divisive behavior, he has thrown Brazil into a deep crisis," wrote Pinheiro-Machado.

But Bolsonaro could be protected by the same crisis he seems to be ignoring.

His supporters and some analysts say he's betting on governors to take the lead on the sanitary crisis, while focusing the central government on delivering a message of economic resiliency.

The populist president, who incites passion both in his supporters and detractors, is giving the latter group another cause to rally against him.

“He has demonstrated that he is unfit to be president,” Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida, a political scientist at the University of São Paulo, told the Times. “He remains in power for one very simple reason: No one wants to create a political crisis to oust him in the midst of a health emergency.”