Bolsonaro’s Biggest Fear is Already Ongoing
The Parliamentary Inquiry Commission on Brazil’s Response to the Covid-19 Epidemic Could Be Doing Significant Harm to the Federal Government
Parliamentary Inquiry Commissions (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito, CPI) in Brazil are investigations led by the Legislative branch of government in the federal level. When established, these retain equivalent powers of judicial authorities, meaning legislators could be requesting the lifting of banking, tax, phone, and data secrecy of anyone being investigated, for instance. Witnesses, suspects and convicted individuals are interrogated and, depending on what they say, they can generate evidence against themselves, others or even instantly end up in jail.
The potential outcomes of the ongoing CPI on Brazil’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic are yet unpredictable. After two full weeks of daily hearings — it started off on 3rd May 2021 — putting public health authorities (namely former and current Health Ministers) on the hot seat, it is becoming more and more evident that it is just a matter of time until impactful consequences reach President Jair Bolsonaro and his ministerial staff. Amidst several lies, omissions and evasive behaviors particularly by former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, a military general, the CPI could be lasting many months.
Interrogations have been focusing on three main topics concerning the negligent and denialist response to the Covid-19 epidemic by the Brazilian Executive branch of power: 1) the assumption that by letting approximately 70% of citizens get intentionally infected by the Sars-CoV-2 virus would generate the so-called ‘herd immunity’ among the Brazilian population, leading to a hypothetical organic solution of the health crisis; 2) the purchase and deliberate promotion of ineffective Covid-19 preventive drugs and treatment regimens, involving mainly medications such as chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and invermectin; and 3) the lack of political will and the consequent delays in the negotiation and acquisition of vaccine doses to adequately cover the Brazilian population of around 212 million people.
While there are high expectations for upcoming interrogations scheduled for the following weeks and for further developments within the CPI, the applicable penalties to the Bolsonaro administration and its members in the middle- and long-terms are still unclear. By analyzing three major legislation frameworks or norm groups, these could be systematized as the following scope:
Domestic Legislation — Brazilian Penal Code:
1. Article 132 — “Exposing the life or health of others to direct and imminent danger”;
· Penalty: Detention — three to twelve months;
2. Article 267 — “Cause epidemic by spreading pathogenic germs”;
· Penalty: Prison — ten to fifteen years;
3. Article 268 — “Infringing the government’s determination to prevent the introduction or spread of a contagious disease”;
· Penalty: Detention — one to twelve months, plus fine;
4. Article 315 — “Give public funds an application different from that established by law”;
· Penalty: Detention — one to three months, or fine;
5. Article 319 — “Prevarication — Unduly delaying or failing to perform an official act, or practicing it against an express provision of law, to satisfy personal interest or sentiment”;
· Penalty: Detention — three to twelve months, plus fine;
High crimes and misdemeanors committed by political agents, leading to impeachable offenses — Brazilian Constitution (1988):
1. Article 5 — Constitutional right to life;
2. Article 6 — Constitutional right to health;
3. Article 23, subparagraph II — “It is the common competence of the federal, state, and municipal authorities take care of health and public assistance […]”;
International Criminal Court — The Rome Statute, of which Brazil is a signatory:
1. Article 6 — “Genocide — For the purpose of this Statute, ‘genocide’ means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a. Killing members of the group;
b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
2. Article 7 — “Crimes against Humanity — For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
k. Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health;”
Whether or not the intentionality or systematic action of the Bolsonaro government will be demonstrated by this CPI, after fourteen months of the Covid-19 epidemic in Brazil, public opinion is increasingly inclined to believe that there is a clear causality relation between the current administration’s mismanagement of the crisis and the over 15 million Covid-19 cases and over 430 thousand deaths that the country registered until mid-May 2021. Despite all the bad conduct by the federal authorities, other branches of power, levels of government, democratic institutions and civil society actors have been crucial in terms of preventing an even bigger disaster in Brazil.
Every Brazilian understands the magnitude of the damage this CPI could potentially cause for President Bolsonaro’s reputation, popularity, and electability in 2022. As the presidential elections are scheduled for October next year, what spectators and analysts have been witnessing right now could be determinant not only for Brazil’s political trajectory in the current decade, but also for the future of ‘Bolsonarism’ itself. Condemning the atrocities of this political group could decisively represent a turning point in Brazilian prospects. For much less than this, in 2016, the country has removed another President from her office due to dodgy accounting to disguise the true size of the budget deficit. The notion of ‘justice’ now must have a different weight when it comes to impeaching President Bolsonaro.