Luciana Genro: Taking stock of the quarantine in Brazil

As of May 7, Brazil is reporting 126,611 coronavirus infections and 8,588 Covid-19 deaths (up from 1000 one month ago) even as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro continues to claim that the “worst is over.” Chillingly, experts suspect the real figure is at least twice as high as very little testing is being conducted. A surge in infections and deaths has catapulted Brazil to sixth place in terms of global Covid-19 deaths, putting the pandemic on track to kill more Brazilians by the end of the month than in any other country save the United States. Meanwhile, the military appears to have decided that Bolsonaro is a useful idiot, propping up his government in the face of growing discontent from the mainstream right as well as the working-class and radical left.

Luciana Genro is a lawyer, former federal deputy and one of the founding members of the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) and its Left Movement for Socialism (MES) current. She was PSOL’s presidential candidate in 2014. This article was first translated and published in Portal da Esquerda, republished by No Borders News as part of our international coronavirus coverage.


We are living through unprecedented and intertwined public health and economic crises. The world has come to a halt. Deaths are counted in the hundreds of thousands internationally and the numbers are certainly underestimated because of the lack of widespread testing. The increase in deaths from Acute Respiratory Syndrome that are not diagnosed as Covid- 19 would expose the real dimension of the underreporting, but this number is not available either.

The elderly are dying in the greatest numbers, and this draws attention to how at ease some rulers, such as Bolsonaro, are with this fact. As if the death of an elderly person, who could live another one or five or ten years, were not a tragedy.

Health workers, too, are falling ill in huge numbers and many are dying. 70 percent of health workers around the world are women. They are underpaid, carry out stressful jobs, are subject to constant and brutal pressure, and lack PPE. It is not by chance that they are women. Work involving (poorly) paid or unpaid care, in general, continues to be carried out mostly by women.

And the pandemic is sacrificing women in other ways as more experience the drama of escalating domestic violence made worse by confinement. In Rio de Janeiro, complaint increased by 50 percent. The phenomenon is so serious that the United Nations has issued recommendations for addressing the subject.

[Read next, David Miranda, Fernanda Melchionna, and Sâmia Bomfim: Brazil fights multiple pandemics.]

The prospects are not at all encouraging because from a health point of view, as long as there is no vaccine or effective remedy, there can be no return to normal. From the economic point of view, the outlook is a recession worse than that experienced in 2008. In fact, today’s economic collapse is really a new phase in a crisis that has been dragging on ever the Great Recession. Oxfam estimates that the combined public health and economic crises could push 500 million new people in to poverty.

In the public arena, an ideological polemic is growing sharpening between the extreme right and science itself. Trump’s attacks on the World Health Organization, Bolsonaro’s extremely reactionary positions, and actions by rulers in Belarus, Turkmenistan and Nicaragua are in the vanguard of this backwardness. The defense of scientific thought and academic research is critical task that can unite broad sectors.

The outcome of this process is still uncertain, but it is possible to venture some predictions.

The extreme right was already taking shape in the absence of a clear alternative to the system from the left. At the same time, the extreme right’s views clash with democratic consciousness. With their anti-scientific Covid-19 denialism, Trump and Bolsonaro have grown weaker in the eyes of greater sections of the public who understand the importance of science.

Neoliberalism, as political thinking and economic doctrine, has been weakened because governments are being forced to issue currency and debt in order to avoid absolute chaos. But the adoption of measures to save the capitalist economy will not mean the salvation of the people from increasing poverty. In reality, neoliberal thinking is not characterized by the absence of state intervention, rather it energetically calculates state intervention to defend capitalist interests.

Tragically, nowhere in the world is there a revolutionary leadership with enough social force behind it to solve this enormous crisis from the point of view of workers’ interests, that is, to win structural change in the political and economic system.

In Brazil the situation is serious and will get even worse. In several states, patients are already being forced to line up ICU beds. Doctors are discussing protocols to decide who to save. The dead are piled up in cemeteries and hospital corridors.

Bolsonaro shows no empathy with the dead or with those on the front line fighting to save patient’s lives. He is an irresponsible coward. He is threatening democratic freedoms and the functioning of state and civil institutions. Meanwhile, he is brazenly defending his own family’s ill-gotten gains.

The emergency aid of 600 Reais (about $100) passed by Brazil’s congress has turned into a humiliating spectacle, with people spending the night in line to get the money. This is not accidental. The goal is to generate despair so that people are forced push for an end to social isolation. But even liberal economists note that the problem is not a lack of money. They concede that now is the time for Brazil to borrow, expand its currency, and increase spending. But this stance will not help Bolsonaro to cohere his social base to press for an end to isolation. After all, Haven big box stores (owned by billionaire Bolsonaro supporter Luciano Hang) need to sell to survive.

[Read next, Valerio Arcary: Yes to Bolsonaro Out! No to unity with neoliberal politicians.]

The social base of the extreme right is fed by despair and the struggle for economic survival. Denialism has united a semifascist line, the hard core of Bolsonarismo. Throughout his term, Bolsonaro and his family and friends have pushed broader sections of the conservative establishment away from the centers of power in favor of promoting their own family interests while radicalizing an extreme-right, pro-coup current of thought. Little by little, defections from the traditional right led to the political isolation in which Bolsonaro finds himself today.

The intensification in this crisis marked by Justice Minister Sergio Moro’s resignation is very important. Now the inquiry opened by Attorney General into allegations against Bolsonaro’s family will take center stage. Moro, who knows how Brazil’s justice system works, would not have been so naïve to shoot if he had not had proof.

In less than 10 days, Bolsonaro lost the two most popular ministers of his government after his Health Minister Luiz Mandetta resigned shortly before Moro. In fact, Bolsonaro is much closer to falling from power than he is to taking the victory lap he imagines. Now, he is in a weaker position to carry out an internal power grab. Most of the state governors oppose him, as do the main political parties, the Legislative Branch headed by Chamber of Deputies President Rodrigo Maia, and the Supreme Court.

The Atlas poll released on Monday, April 27 shows a clear decline in Bolsonaro’s popularity, falling to 21 percent for those who give the government great/good marks for its handling of the crisis, against 49 percent who rank its performance as poor, in addition to 28 percent who rate the government as average. The military is apparently not comfortable but continues to back Bolsonaro in a kind of care-taker capacity or guardianship, waiting for the moment when they may have to assume a more assertive role.

A broad opposition has emerged against Bolsonaro that has united scientists, health workers, more critical sectors of public opinion, the majority of governors and the mainstream media, with Brazil’s biggest newspaper Rede Globo serving as the flagship. Bolsonaro will continue to weaken and potential for a section of bourgeois political powers to remove Bolsonaro in a kind of “safety valve” operation grows more possible every day.

However, there is a glaring absence lack of a robust left-wing opposition. The Workers Party (PT) continues to oppose impeachment. Everything indicates that their strategy is to let Bolsonaro bleed, preferably until the 2022 elections. We do not share this strategy which is tied to the electoral calendar and fear it could lead to a major defeat. That’s why we presented the impeachment petition, which has gained social strength with intellectuals, artists, and more than a million signatures. We have been joined by several other political forces as well. It’s essential to unify the impeachment demand and press Maia to accept it.

It is necessary to strengthen the social base in favor of fighting for impeachment and for economic and social measures to save lives. The health workers, who took to the streets on May 1st in Brasília in a demonstration of a new kind, wearing masks and practicing social distancing, point to the path we must follow. We can no longer afford to just stay at home. In times of pandemic, new forms of organization and mobilization are emerging. They are as urgent as they are necessary.

[For international coronavirus coverage and analysis from working-class and socialist points of view, read No Borders News.]

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