May 1, 2020


Is this the end of Jair Bolsonaro?: Rather than control the public health crisis in Brazil, the president is focusing instead on fighting his own cabinet. (NICK BURNS, 5/01/20, New Statesman)

First came a series of clashes with his health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, over lockdown measures. After coronavirus was first detected in Brazil in late February, Mandetta implored Brazilians to follow World Health Organisation quarantine guidelines, while Bolsonaro dismissed the severity of the virus, appearing on national television on 24 March to attack state governors who took it upon themselves to institute lockdowns.

Mandetta drew comparisons to Anthony Fauci, Donald Trump's prominent public health adviser, infectious disease specialist and head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But unlike Fauci, Mandetta is a politician and if his support for stricter measures was a genuine attempt to slow contagion, he also seemed to be thinking of his own political career. His dismissal, which finally came in mid-April, could not have come as an unwelcome surprise, nor was he a key figure in the cabinet before the outbreak.

Much more serious for Bolsonaro was the loss of Sérgio Moro, his celebrity "super-minister" of justice. Moro was, and remains, a hero to conservative Brazilians for his hard-line approach in leading a series of corruption investigations in 2014 that brought down former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the left-wing Workers' Party. His appointment to Bolsonaro's cabinet was a key moment: it secured Bolsonaro's anti-corruption, anti-left-wing base, and also shored up establishment support for what had begun as a fringe candidacy.

But on 24 April, the justice minister quit in protest against Bolsonaro's decision to swap out the director of Brazil's federal police Maurício Valeixo with a loyalist, Alexandre Ramagem. Moro claimed that Bolsonaro wanted the change in order to halt investigations that might hurt his political allies and in order to protect his family from scandal: Bolsonaro's son Carlos is the subject of an ongoing federal police investigation into a criminal "fake news" dissemination scheme that has targeted members of the supreme court.

That same evening, Bolsonaro went on national television, standing in front a bewildered-looking line-up of cabinet members - including economy minister Paulo Guedes, the only one wearing a mask, and apparently shoeless - to rebut Moro's accusations and complain that his ex-minister's loyalty lay "with his ego, and not with Brazil".

The loss of his star minister in such a fashion has many wondering whether Bolsonaro's luck has finally run out.

Posted by at May 1, 2020 9:23 AM