issued a joint statement warning that three decades after the end of the dictatorship, “Brazil’s democracy is threatened.”

The statement added: “There is no shortage of examples of the way authoritarianism can emerge from the shadows if societies are careless and fail to speak up in defense of democratic values.”

The new defense minister, Walter Souza Braga Netto, a former Army general who left active duty last year, rattled critics of the government by issuing a statement about the anniversary of the 1964 coup — the anniversary was Wednesday — saying the date should be “celebrated.”

But later in the day, he called today’s armed forces a bedrock of Brazil’s democracy. “On this historic day, I reaffirm that the most valuable asset of a nation is the preservation of democracy and the freedom of its people,” he said during a ceremony in which the three new chiefs of the armed forces were announced.

Lawmakers have called for Mr. Bolsonaro’s impeachment dozens of times since last year, but they have failed to garner broad support. Arthur Lira, the new leader of the House of Representatives, last week put the president on notice as he decried the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Mr. Lira warned that the “political remedies in Congress are well known and all of them are bitter.” Some, he added in a clear reference to impeachment, are “fatal.”

A group of lawmakers last week warned Mr. Bolsonaro in a letter that the 2021 budget, as currently drafted, would exceed fiscal limits established in 2016 to rein in public spending and attract foreign investment. Exceeding the cap, which economists say appears all but inevitable now, would open a new avenue for the president’s impeachment.

“We’re on a path of fiscal irresponsibility and that creates a serious legal problem,” said Zeina Latif, an economist.

But analysts and leading lawmakers say there is little appetite for a new impeachment, given how the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 proved so politically disruptive and divisive.

Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said powerful blocks of lawmakers are likely to use Mr. Bolsonaro’s isolation to extract concessions.

“It’s in their best interest to leave him in office and get the things they always wanted,” she said. She predicted the president’s popularity would fall ahead of next year’s presidential election. “Next year they wash their hands of Bolsonaro.”

Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro, and Letícia Casado from Brasília.

View Source

As Virus and Economic Woes Ravage Brazil, Bolsonaro Improvises and Confounds

RIO DE JANEIRO — He has sneered at the Covid-19 pandemic, even as it led Brazil’s health care system to collapse. He has ridiculed opposition lawmakers, who are gunning for his impeachment.

His main rival is back in the political arena, threatening a re-election bid.

And this week he ordered a sweeping cabinet shake-up and removed the heads of the armed forces — a strong base of support — with no public explanation.

Even for a polarizing leader who often appears to act on gut instinct, the recent moves by President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil have confounded and unnerved many in Latin America’s largest country, where the coronavirus is killing people at a record rate.

Brazilian lawmakers on Wednesday presented a new initiative to impeach Mr. Bolsonaro, calling his dismissal of the military commanders the day before a dangerous and destabilizing action.

forcing out of the military commanders, which followed the replacement of roughly one-third of his cabinet, created consternation and bewilderment in political circles. There were no clear signs that the personnel changes represent a strategic shift for the government as it navigates the deadliest phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 317,000 Brazilians.

With hospitals overloaded, a slow vaccination campaign and growing unemployment, Mr. Bolsonaro is under enormous pressure to make bold policy changes. But politicians and analysts said they were struggling to make sense of his latest moves.

the 11.6 percent jobless rate Mr. Bolsonaro inherited when he took office in January 2019. A formidable political adversary, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, re-emerged on the political stage this month after the courts vacated corruption cases against him, which restored his right to run for office.

The president confronts daunting economic obstacles. While he was able to retain considerable political support last year by spending billions on a pandemic welfare program, continuing to keep the politically popular assistance aid flowing, while meeting other fiscal obligations, would burst spending caps codified by law.

At the same time, Brazil’s Covid-19 crisis has turned the country into an international pariah. Experts fear that the spread of the country’s more-contagious strain will accelerate across the globe, and that as transmission grows, new variants may yet emerge.

recorded 3,780 daily deaths, a record, Mr. Bolsonaro renewed his attacks on lockdowns and other rigid measures that health experts have said are necessary to arrest the spread of the virus.

issued a joint statement warning that three decades after the end of the dictatorship, “Brazil’s democracy is threatened.”

The statement added: “There is no shortage of examples of the way authoritarianism can emerge from the shadows if societies are careless and fail to speak up in defense of democratic values.”

The new defense minister, Walter Souza Braga Netto, a former Army general who left active duty last year, rattled critics of the government by issuing a statement about the anniversary of the 1964 coup — the anniversary was Wednesday — saying the date should be “celebrated.”

But later in the day, he called today’s armed forces a bedrock of Brazil’s democracy. “On this historic day, I reaffirm that the most valuable asset of a nation is the preservation of democracy and the freedom of its people,” he said during a ceremony in which the three new chiefs of the armed forces were announced.

Lawmakers have called for Mr. Bolsonaro’s impeachment dozens of times since last year, but they have failed to garner broad support. Arthur Lira, the new leader of the House of Representatives, last week put the president on notice as he decried the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Mr. Lira warned that the “political remedies in Congress are well known and all of them are bitter.” Some, he added in a clear reference to impeachment, are “fatal.”

A group of lawmakers last week warned Mr. Bolsonaro in a letter that the 2021 budget, as currently drafted, would exceed fiscal limits established in 2016 to rein in public spending and attract foreign investment. Exceeding the cap, which economists say appears all but inevitable now, would open a new avenue for the president’s impeachment.

“We’re on a path of fiscal irresponsibility and that creates a serious legal problem,” said Zeina Latif, an economist.

But analysts and leading lawmakers say there is little appetite for a new impeachment, given how the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 proved so politically disruptive and divisive.

Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said powerful blocks of lawmakers are likely to use Mr. Bolsonaro’s isolation to extract concessions.

“It’s in their best interest to leave him in office and get the things they always wanted,” she said. She predicted the president’s popularity would fall ahead of next year’s presidential election. “Next year they wash their hands of Bolsonaro.”

Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro, and Letícia Casado from Brasília.

View Source

Brazil’s Armed Forces Chiefs Resign Abruptly Amid Cabinet Shake-Up

RIO DE JANEIRO — The three commanders of Brazil’s Armed Forces resigned jointly on Tuesday, a day after President Jair Bolsonaro fired his defense minister as part of a big cabinet shake-up.

The departures of the military leaders, which followed the unexpected replacement on Monday of five other cabinet members fueled rampant speculation in the capital about a breakdown in the relationship between the president and the country’s military, which has played a central role in the Bolsonaro administration.

“The dismissal of the heads of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force after the sudden shift in leadership at the defense ministry is unprecedented in the era since democracy was restored,” Representative Rodrigo de Castro said in a statement. “It reveals a real crisis between the military and the government.”

The political turbulence in Brasília comes as the government faces withering criticism at home and abroad for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, including calls for Mr. Bolsonaro’s impeachment. A surge in infections has overwhelmed hospitals across the country, leaving patients to die waiting for a hospital bed.

has given the military a leading role in politics and policymaking in Brazil, entrusting its leaders with the most power they have had since the country’s military dictatorship ended three decades ago. He picked a retired Army general as a running mate and appointed top military leaders for scores of leadership roles that are normally occupied by civilians.

But military leaders have failed at core missions Mr. Bolsonaro gave them, including overseeing the response to the pandemic and reining in deforestation in the Amazon.

The president’s relationship with his vice president, retired Gen. Hamilton Mourão, and his departing defense minister, Gen. Fernando Azevedo e Silva, grew tense in recent weeks as the country’s coronavirus crisis worsened.

Last week the president replaced his health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, an active duty general who failed to lead a comprehensive response to the pandemic and to negotiate the purchase of a sufficient amount of Covid-19 vaccine.

The Brazilian government’s response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 313,000 Brazilians, has been cavalier and chaotic.

the principal purveyor of the vaccines currently available to Brazil.

Lawmakers criticized the departing top diplomat for the country’s failure to secure access to a large number of Covid-19 vaccines.

Mr. Bolsonaro also replaced his justice minister, his chief of staff and the lawyer who represents the executive branch in cases before the Supreme Court.

Mr. Bolsonaro did not provide an explanation for these changes and analysts were struggling on Tuesday to make sense of their implications.

View Source

A Collapse Foretold: How Brazil’s Covid-19 Outbreak Overwhelmed Hospitals

The virus has killed more than 300,000 people in Brazil, its spread aided by a highly contagious variant, political infighting and distrust of science.


PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — The patients began arriving at hospitals in Porto Alegre far sicker and younger than before. Funeral homes were experiencing a steady uptick in business, while exhausted doctors and nurses pleaded in February for a lockdown to save lives.

But Sebastião Melo, Porto Alegre’s mayor, argued there was a greater imperative.

“Put your life on the line so that we can save the economy,” Mr. Melo appealed to his constituents in late February.

Now Porto Alegre, a prosperous city in southern Brazil, is at the heart of an stunning breakdown of the country’s health care system — a crisis foretold.

More than a year into the pandemic, deaths in Brazil are at their peak and highly contagious variants of the coronavirus are sweeping the nation, enabled by political dysfunction, widespread complacency and conspiracy theories. The country, whose leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, has played down the threat of the virus, is now reporting more new cases and deaths per day than any other country in the world.

125 Brazilians succumbing to the disease every hour. Health officials in public and private hospitals were scrambling to expand critical care units, stock up on dwindling supplies of oxygen and procure scarce intubation sedatives that are being sold at an exponential markup.

Intensive care units in Brasília, the capital, and 16 of Brazil’s 26 states report dire shortages of available beds, with capacity below 10 percent, and many are experiencing rising contagion (when 90 percent of such beds are full the situation is considered dire.)

a model for other developing nations, with a reputation for advancing agile and creative solutions to medical crises, including a surge in H.I.V. infections and the outbreak of Zika.

Mr. Melo, who campaigned last year on a promise to lift all pandemic restrictions in the city, said a lockdown would cause people to starve.

celebrated setbacks in clinical trials for CoronaVac, the Chinese-made vaccine that Brazil came to largely rely on, and joked that pharmaceutical companies would not be held responsible if people who got newly developed vaccines turned into alligators.

“The government initially dismissed the threat of the pandemic, then the need for preventive measures, and then goes against science by promoting miracle cures,” said Natália Pasternak, a microbiologist in São Paulo. “That confuses the population, which means people felt safe going out in the street.”

Terezinha Backes, a 63-year-old retired shoemaker living in a municipality on the outskirts of Porto Alegre, had been exceedingly careful over the past year, venturing out only when necessary, said her nephew, Henrique Machado.

But her 44-year-old son, a security guard tasked with taking the temperature of people entering a medical facility, appears to have brought the virus home early this month.

Ms. Backes, who had been in good health, was taken to a hospital on March 13 after she began having trouble breathing. With no beds to spare, she was treated with oxygen and an IV in the hallway of an overflowing wing. She died three days later.

“My aunt was not given the right to fight for her life,” said Mr. Machado, 29, a pharmacist. “She was left in a hallway.”

anti-parasite drug ivermectin as a preventive measure. The drug is part of the so-called Covid kit of drugs, which also includes the antibiotic azithromycin and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. Mr. Bolsonaro’s health ministry has endorsed their use.

Leading medical experts in Brazil, the United States and Europe have said those drugs are not effective to treat Covid-19 and some can have serious side effects, including kidney failure.

“Lies,” Mr. Monteiro, 63, said about the scientific consensus on the Covid kit. “There are so many lies and myths.”

He said medical professionals have sabotaged Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan to rein in the pandemic by refusing to prescribe those drugs more decisively at the early stages of illness.

“There was one solution: to listen to the president,” he said. “When people elect a leader it is because they trust him.”

The mistrust and the denials — and the caravans of Bolsonaro supporters blasting their horns outside hospitals to protest pandemic restrictions — are crushing for medical professionals who have lost colleagues to the virus and to suicide in recent months, said Claudia Franco, the president of the nurses union in Rio Grande do Sul.

“People are in such denial,” said Ms. Franco, who has been taking care of Covid-19 patients. “The reality we’re in today is we don’t have enough respirators for everyone, we don’t have oxygen for everyone.”

Ernesto Londoño reported from Porto Alegre. Letícia Casado reported from Brasília.

View Source

Brazil Needs Vaccines. China Is Benefiting.

RIO DE JANEIRO — China was on the defensive in Brazil.

The Trump administration had been warning allies across the globe to shun Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, denouncing the company as a dangerous extension of China’s surveillance system.

Brazil, ready to build an ambitious 5G wireless network worth billions of dollars, openly took President Trump’s side, with the Brazilian president’s son — an influential member of Congress, himself — vowing in November to create a secure system “without Chinese espionage.”

Then pandemic politics upended everything.

With Covid-19 deaths rising to their highest levels yet, and a dangerous new virus variant stalking Brazil, the nation’s communications minister went to Beijing in February, met with Huawei executives at their headquarters and made a very unusual request of a telecommunication company.

“I took advantage of the trip to ask for vaccines, which is what everyone is clamoring for,” said the minister, Fábio Faria, recounting his meeting with Huawei.

hoarding many millions of doses for themselves — has offered a diplomatic and public relations opening that China has readily seized.

closely aligned with Mr. Trump, disparaged the Chinese vaccine while it was undergoing clinical trials in Brazil, and shut down an effort by the health ministry to order 45 million doses.

“The Brazilian people WON’T BE ANYONE’S GUINEA PIG,” he wrote on Twitter.

But with Mr. Trump gone and Brazilian hospitals overwhelmed by a surge of infections, Mr. Bolsonaro’s government scrambled to mend fences with the Chinese and asked them to expedite tens of millions of vaccine shipments, as well as the ingredients to mass-produce the shots in Brazil.

The precise impact of the vaccine request to Huawei and its inclusion in the 5G auction is unclear, but the timing is striking, part of a stark change in Brazil’s stance toward China. The president, his son and the foreign minister abruptly stopped criticizing China, while cabinet officials with inroads to the Chinese, like Mr. Faria, worked furiously to get new vaccine shipments approved. Millions of doses have arrived in recent weeks.

“With the desperation in Latin America for vaccines, this creates a perfect position for the Chinese,” said Evan Ellis, a professor of Latin American studies at the United States Army War College, who specializes on the region’s relationship with China.

Britain and Germany — Huawei has mounted a well-timed charm offensive in Brazil.

said in a message on Twitter announcing the gift.

Before the first vaccines rolled off assembly lines, Huawei seemed to be losing the 5G contest in Brazil, knocked to the sidelines by the Trump administration’s campaign against it. Latin America’s largest nation was only months away from holding an auction to create its 5G network, a sweeping upgrade that will make wireless connections faster and more accessible.

Huawei, along with two European competitors, Nokia and Ericsson, aspired to play a leading role in partnering with local telecommunications companies to build the infrastructure. But the Chinese company needed the green light from Brazilian regulators to take part.

The Trump administration moved aggressively to thwart it. During a visit to Brazil last November, Keith Krach, then the State Department’s top official for economic policy, called Huawei an industry pariah that needed to be locked out of 5G networks.

“The Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted with our most sensitive data and intellectual property,” he said in a Nov. 11 speech in Brazil, during which he referred to Huawei as “the backbone of the CCP surveillance state.”

Brazil’s foreign ministry said Brazil “supports the principles contained in the Clean Network proposal made by the United States.”

Eduardo Bolsonaro, a son of the president, who headed the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Congress, said in a tweet that Brazil would back Washington’s push.

China had already faced scorn in some corners of Latin America early in the pandemic, as concerns that it had been careless in allowing the virus to slip beyond its borders took root. Beijing’s reputation took an additional hit in Peru, after exporting cheap, unreliable Covid tests that became an early misstep in the country’s efforts to rein in contagion.

But China found an opportunity to shift the narrative early this year, as its CoronaVac became the cheapest and most accessible inoculation for countries in the developing world.

With the pandemic under control in China, Sinovac, the maker of CoronaVac, began shipping millions of doses abroad, offering free samples to 53 countries and exporting it to 22 nations that placed orders.

As the first doses of CoronaVac were administered in Latin America, China took a swipe at wealthy nations that were doing little to guarantee prompt access to vaccines in poorer countries.

said in a speech late last month. “We hope that all countries that have the capability will join hands and make due contributions.”

In late February, as the first doses of China’s vaccines were being administered in Brazil, the country’s telecom regulatory agency announced rules for the 5G auction, which is scheduled to take place in July, that do not exclude Huawei.

The change in Brazil reflects how the campaign against Huawei driven by Mr. Trump has lost momentum since his defeat in the November election. Britain said it would not ban equipment made by Huawei from its new high-speed 5G wireless network. Germany has signaled a similar approach to Britain’s.

Thiago de Aragão, a Brasília-based political risk consultant who focuses on China’s relationships in Latin America, said two factors saved Huawei from a humiliating defeat in Brazil. The election of President Biden, who has harshly criticized Brazil’s environmental record, made the Brazilian government unenthusiastic about being in lock step with Washington, he said, and China’s ability to make or break the early phase of Brazil’s vaccination effort made the prospect of angering the Chinese by banning Huawei untenable.

“They were facing certain death by October and November and now they’re back in the game,” Mr. de Aragão said of Huawei.

The request for vaccines by the Brazilian communications minister, Mr. Faria, occurred as it became clear Beijing held the keys to accelerate or throttle the vaccination campaign in Brazil, where more than 270,000 people have died of Covid-19.

Feb. 11, Mr. Faria posted a letter from China’s ambassador to Brazil in which the ambassador noted the request and wrote that “I give this matter great importance.”

In a statement, Huawei did not say it would provide vaccines directly but said the company could help with “communication in an open and transparent manner in a topic involving the two governments.”

China is also the dominant supplier of vaccines in Chile, which has mounted the most aggressive inoculation campaign in Latin America, and it is shipping millions of doses to Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In a sign of China’s growing leverage, Paraguay, where Covid-19 cases are surging, has struggled to gain access to Chinese vaccines because it is among the few countries in the world that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.

In an interview, Paraguay’s foreign minister, Euclides Acevedo, said his country is seeking to negotiate access to CoronaVac through intermediary countries. Then he made an extraordinary overture to China, which has spent years trying to get the last few countries that recognize Taiwan to switch their alliances.

“We would hope the relationship does not end at vaccines, but takes on another dimension in the economic and cultural spheres,” he said. “We must be open to every nation as we seek cooperation and to do so we must have a pragmatic vision.”

View Source

Brazil’s Ex-President ‘Lula’ May Run for Office Again as Court Cases Are Tossed

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Supreme Court justice in Brazil on Monday tossed out several criminal cases against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, restoring his right to seek the presidency again, in a decision with the potential to reshape Brazil’s political future.

Mr. da Silva, a fiery leftist leader who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, had been the front-runner in the 2018 presidential contest eventually won by Jair Bolsonaro. But the Supreme Court in April of that year ruled that Mr. da Silva could not appear on the ballot as a result of a conviction in a corruption case handed down in 2017.

With his political rights restored, Mr. Silva is widely expected to run against Mr. Bolsonaro in next year’s presidential election.

The incumbent, a polarizing far-right leader who pays homage to Brazil’s military dictatorship, would face a formidable challenge in Mr. da Silva, a former political prisoner who remains revered among poor Brazilians.

a Supreme Court ruling in November 2019 allowed him to remain free while his appeals were pending.

The federal judge who oversaw that case, Sergio Moro, left the bench soon after Mr. Bolsonaro took office, and joined his cabinet as justice minister. The anti-corruption task force that investigated Mr. da Silva, which was based in the southern city of Curitiba, was disbanded earlier this year amid questions over ethical and procedural irregularities by its prosecutors.

On Monday, a Supreme Court justice, Edson Fachin, ruled that Mr. da Silva should never have been prosecuted in Curitiba. The decision, which covers four criminal cases, did not represent an acquittal of Mr. da Silva. The attorney general’s office said shortly after the decision was handed down that it would seek a ruling from the full court.

Justice Fachin said the former president could still face charges if prosecutors in the capital, Brasília, decide to take on some of the vacated cases. Mr. da Silva faces three other corruption cases in Brasília, which have not yet reached a verdict.

Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro. Letícia Casado contributed reporting from Brasília.

View Source

As Covid Deaths Soar in Brazil, Bolsonaro Hails an Untested Nasal Spray

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilians are dying in record numbers from Covid-19. Intensive care units in a growing number of cities are full or near capacity as more contagious variants drive up cases. Elderly people have begun sleeping outside vaccination centers hoping to score a shot from the country’s limited stock.

But this is no time for new restrictions on businesses and transit, President Jair Bolsonaro said defiantly on Thursday. Instead, his government is placing tremendous hope in an experimental nasal spray, under development in Israel to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients, that the president has called a “miraculous product.”

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo is scheduled to travel to Israel to meet scientists who are developing the spray, which has only undergone preliminary tests and is not being used in routine patient care anywhere. Mr. Bolsonaro’s government says it intends to test it on gravely sick patients in Brazil, where more than 260,000 people have died from the virus and where daily deaths hit a record 1,910 on Thursday.

Marcia Caldas de Castro, a Harvard University professor who studies global health, “and the way we measure the cost is in lost lives.”

Mr. Bolsonaro was an early and effusive champion of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which he ordered the government to mass produce. He continued to sing its praises this week, even after a team of experts from the World Health Organization strongly advised against its use, citing studies that have found it ineffective and potentially dangerous.

Brazil’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign is off to a slow and chaotic start because the government was late to start negotiating access to vaccines, whose safety and efficacy Mr. Bolsonaro has called into question.

Wednesday, the president sought to reassure Brazilians that help was on the way by announcing that his administration intended to sign a memorandum of understanding in Israel to test the nasal spray, which he said could emerge as “the real solution to treating Covid.”

The Israeli scientists who are developing the nasal spray say it’s too early to tell whether it will prove to be a pandemic game changer.

The drug, called EXO-CD24, aims to prevent “cytokine storms,” which are overwhelming immune-system responses to Covid-19 that can cause serious inflammation of the lungs, organ failure and sometimes death.

Initial clinical trials showed that 31 of 35 patients suffering from severe symptoms were discharged from the hospital after receiving two to five days of treatment with the drug, said Dr. Nadir Arber, a researcher at the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv who helped develop it. In the early trials, he said, the drug was administered by inhalation, but the goal is to administer it as a nasal spray.

Dr. Arber said he was optimistic, but urged caution. “We are still at the beginning of the process,” he said.

The first trials did not include a placebo for comparison. The treatment has not undergone advanced clinical trials and its efficacy has not been assessed in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

about 6.6 million people in Brazil — about 3.1 percent of the population — had received at least one dose of a vaccine.

the governors wrote.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s government maligned the Chinese vaccine that has been the most widely used in Brazil so far. It took a pass on an offer last August from Pfizer, of 70 million doses of its vaccine. It signed up for the W.H.O.’s vaccine procurement system, known as Covax, but only requested the minimum amount of doses required to participate: enough for 10 percent of a country’s population.

Still, Mr. Bolsonaro suggested on Thursday that the government is doing as well as can be expected in the global vaccine race.

“You have idiots, people on social media and in the press saying: go buy more vaccines,” Mr. Bolsonaro said Thursday, sounding exasperated.

He added: “There are none for sale around the world.”

Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro, Letícia Casado reported from Brasília and Adam Rasgon reported from Jerusalem.

View Source