Israel Dutra: The point of no return in Brazil

As of April 13, at least 22,318 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Brazil, including 1,230 Covid-19 deaths. On top of the escalating pandemic, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk by denying the virus’s deadly power. His antics have been so outrageous that his own Minister of Health has essentially developed an independent policy that has become the de facto government line with the support of regional governors and powerful capitalist interests. As the crisis escalate, a debate has broken out in Brazilian society how to topple the president. But as the slogan Fora Bolsonaro! Bolsonaro Out Now! takes hold amongst millions, what are the real prospects for pushing the president out? Or will Bolsonaro succeed in stabilizing his government and forcing Brazil’s poor and working class to bear the brunt of the health crisis and the rapidly worsening recession?

Israel Dutra is the International Relations Secretary for the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) and a leader in the Left Movement for Socialism (MES). This article was originally published at Left on the Move and republished and edited here by No Borders News as part of our ongoing international coronavirus coverage.

Updated on Good Friday, April 10, Covid-19 pandemic figures point to a morbid curve. There have been more than a hundred thousand deaths across the world, while the epicenter is in our hemisphere. The United States will soon surpass Italy in the number of deaths. In terms of the number of cases, there are already more than 500,000 positive tests on U.S. soil. Here in Brazil, we have crossed the line of more than 1000 dead. The recession’s horizon is already drawn on the planet. The devastating effect of these two plagues, the coronavirus and the melting of the economy, is reaching the Latin American continent with force. The pictures of empty streets in New York is an anticipation of what is to come.

The health crisis and the economic crisis are feeding the political crisis of the Bolsonaro government. Our country has become a laboratory for the radicalization of the extreme right where Bolsonaro goes far beyond Trump, his main international reference point. Employing truly surrealist moves, the government relativizes the dangers of the pandemic with its every gesture as it attempts to maintain its line of “permanent offensive” while keeping its balance.

[To read more global coronavirus coverage, go to No Borders News.]

But a red line has been crossed, the number of cases and deaths is already growing in geometric progression, and Bolsonaro’s idea that we can soon break the quarantine will soon clash with the notion that we have “won some time” by the regional governors. Meanwhile, the economy threatens to cripple the country. Sales have fallen by almost 40 percent on average in the last three weeks. This week saw a “relative surrender” of the government, which did not follow through with its threats to fire Health Minister Luis Enrique Mandetta, as the Bolsonaro clan had wanted. In Bolsonaro’s most recent statement on national television, he appeared crestfallen as he tried to reconcile two opposing orientations regarding the quarantine.

Defeated by the Supreme Court, which decided in favor of the governors, Bolsonaro decided to defend himself as the “father of basic income” (by giving out small emergency payments to workers) and put his emphasis on dubious chloroquine medicine as the key. There is a fight in the making in which there are important divisions: some governors, such as the governor of Santa Catarina, have already agreed to reopen commerce, while Romeu Zema (governor of Minas Gerais) is calling for students to return to classes. The conflict over maintaining social isolation is giving rise to an even greater dispute with that of an openly denialist camp, which wants to push the country towards a real genocide against the poorest citizens.

We must take into account the situation opened up during the week of March 15-18 with the arrival of the coronavirus, the first cases of community transmission, and the first moments of quarantine. These developments touched off the first wave of paralysis in the economy and the spontaneous pot-banging protests on the night of March 18th drew a sector of the middle classes into a more combative position against the government.

On March 18, Bolsonaro radicalized his own rhetoric in line with ignoring the effects of Covid-19, adopting the stupid notion of it being just a “little flu.” This generated a greater schism within the superstructure, with the Legislative and the Judiciary operating on an emergency plan (suspension of the states’ debts, approval of emergency income from 600 to 1200 reais and a package of 40 billion to save small and medium businesses).

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The announcement by Party for Socialism and Freedom congresspeople Fernanda Melchionna, Sâmia Bomfim, David Miranda, and Luciana Genre as well as several well-known personalities of a petition for impeachment, supported by one million Brazilians, dragged other sectors, until then hesitant, to support the line of “Get out, Bolsonaro!” The following week’s crisis, in which Bolsonaro, together with Osmar Terra and Onyx Lorenzoni, promised to fire Mandetta, considering Terra himself or Dr. Nise Yamaguchi for his position, ended with a precarious agreement.

Under the tutelage of the military and other powers, Bolsonaro returned and kept the health minister in his position. A kind of “catastrophic draw” was born on Monday night, at the Planalto Palace. Defeated, Bolsonaro is not dead. Yet.

Opinion polls reveal that Bolsonaro is on a slow downward curve, unlike Mandetta, who enjoys 76 percent of popular support. It is interesting that Bolsonaro lost 17 percent of his support among voters. Considering that his government began with minority support in the northeast and among the youth, Bolsonaro is consciously betting on the cohesion of his base, even as he is losing support.

During his 15 months in office, Federal Deputy Alexandre Frota, the conservative Social Liberal Party (PSL), and the late Gustovo Bebianno (Bolsonaro’s campaign manager who died of a heart attack on march 14, 2020) moved into the opposition trenches. The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, became public enemy in Bolsonaro’s eyes, showing that the days of “Bolsodoria” (Bolsonaro’s informal alliance with the governor of SP, João Doria) were long gone. However, polls show that the president still has some support, even if he is a minority.

Bolsonaro is organizes his base and seeks, by organizing caravans, car parades, and attacks on social networks to mobilize both supporters and other desperate social sectors, such as small and medium sized merchants. Next week will be decisive. Will the scenario we are seeing in the big cities, of a small increase in the flow of people in the streets, continue?

Will the arrival of the virus have any effect on large populations, such as the favelas (poor and working-class neighborhoods) of Rio? How long will the coronavirus counts be underreported? Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro reported that the first cases are being registered in the prison system. Today we suffered the death of a young Yanomami Indian and a large capital in the north, Manaus, is on the verge of a hospital bed shortage, an unprecedented occurrence in the country.

Even so, we must consider the strength of a semi-fascist current that is able to influence sections of the masses. What program will Bolsonaro use to mobilize his strengths in the face of the crisis? How will the mainstream media react? How will the anticipated tragedy materialize?

Bolsonaro’s line will radicalize the elements of the “death drive,” which have always been present in his narrative. The Bolsonistas everywhere are legitimating a more violent line (a gunshot was recorded in a condominium in the neighborhood of Perdizes in São Paulo, the SBT television anchor defended a kind of concentration camp for Covid-19 patients, the political assassinations of indigenous leaders and PSOL politicians continue), using the situation to gain ground.

The philosopher Vladimir Safatle proposed the concept of the “suicidal state” when discussing Bolsonaro’s desire to drive through the ruins of the 1988 constitution. This strategy requires a response oriented in the opposite direction: expanding the notion of solidarity, defending life, state intervention to guarantee rights, and, most importantly, public and popular control over state agents.

This clash of orientations will be at the heart of the political struggle over the next two weeks. As Roberto Simon (FSP, April 11) rightly said that Bolsonaro does not enjoy the political and social conditions to impose further restrictions by the regime, as Orban, Erdogan, and Netanyahu did. And as a result of this political struggle, we must defend our platform more vigorously as we face the point of no return.

We do not know how quickly the economy will melt down. The payment of the universal basic income will avoid bank withdrawals and social upheavals, as well as making it difficult for factory workers to respond immediately if they accept a reduction in wages in the short term. But we are facing a real aggravation, beyond the ordinary, of the suffering and misery of the popular strata. Finance Minester Paulo Guedes admitted a he expects a decline in GDP of between 1 and 4 percent, depending on the effects of the pandemic.

Nor do we know what will happen in the face of the explosion of infections and deaths. The relative relaxation of social isolation, the result of widespread ignorance on social networks, and a popular sense that “its not that bad” marked the days before the Easter holidays. However, a larger wave of infections should lead more people to return to the more rigorous quarantine, and some health experts are suggesting of a lockdown in all travel during the peak of the virus, estimated for the second half of April.

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Parliament will have to address all these problems, starting with the state aid package, which President of the Chamber of Deputies Rodrigo Maia and the governors must approve along with the Senate. In the heat of this political struggle, in exceptional circumstances that rule out street demonstrations, we will have to find a way to organize a life-and-death struggle in the coming days of this combined public health and economic crisis.

In order to defend our people’s lives, we must continue to insist on urgent measures, such as the large-scale production of PPE and artificial respirators as a priority for industry, the maintenance of jobs, banning layoffs at the national level, the defence of health workers as the front line of the fight against the pandemic.

Let the crisis be paid for by the rich, the banks, and the privileged sectors. In addition to taxing large fortunes, it is necessary to forgive individual debts, rents, and service fees for the vast majority of the population. We must demand massive investments in the Unified Health System (SUS) and the centralization of the provision of hospital beds under government control.

We are facing a physical struggle against a political current that proclaims the death and genocide of the poorest. We raise the flag of life, health, science, and solidarity. This is how subway and road workers throughout the country are fighting, how educators are organizing against the reopening of schools, and speaking out against the non-payment of their salaries as some politicians are demanding. In these times of war, we are in the trenches for life, flying the banners of the social majority, of the real Brazil.

[To read more global coronavirus coverage, go to No Borders News.]

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