Michael Orsini is a professor at the Institute for Feminist and Gender Studies and School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. Francisco Ortega is a professor at the Institute for Social Medicine at Rio de Janeiro State University. They recently published an article about COVID-19 in Global Public Health.
Some leaders have failed miserably in handling the COVID-19 pandemic as did Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. It’s almost as if he was fighting over a dubious title from the most dysfunctional leader in the world during the global pandemic with US President Donald Trump. Spoiler warning: They are tightly bound to first place.
Same as Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro is very insecure, very masculine, spreads racist, misogynist and expert views with frightening order, and is intended to be a divine leader. His government has revolved through spinning figures, with dismissals and resignations often occurring. Anyone who dared to disagree with him was shown the door, and thrown in the exit.
However, Mr Bolsonaro stands out because of his calculated efforts to use this public health crisis to further make the country’s more than 900,000 indigenous people. Despite criticism and condemnation from all over the world for failing to provide support to Indigenous people who have been affected by the pandemic, he responded by ordering the military to send chloride hydroxy tablets to them. After testing positive for the virus, Bpk. Bolsonaro appeared in the media touting the benefits of this scientifically refuted drug.
Around the same time, President is blocked part of a government bill that will give indigenous peoples access to clean drinking water, health products and hospital beds.
However, this attack on indigenous Brazilians is not new. The COVID-19 pandemic is just another chapter in this cruel history.
Bolsonaro had boasted publicly that he would never surrender a centimeter of land to the Indigenous people. He had pondered about the need for them to be civilized, in the sense of a word that was misleading. He thinks this is possible if they welcome massive encroachment on their land to make way for mining and deforestation projects. Since his election in 2018, Mr. Bolsonaro wasted no time in regaining constitutional rights enjoyed by indigenous peoples in Brazil.
What will drive Mr. Bolsonaro lurks about racist posture so face to face with the country’s natives?
First, Mr. Bolsonaro views any support for indigenous peoples as disrupting his agenda in capitalist development. The way of life of indigenous peoples interferes with the President’s plan to exploit the Amazon for his benefit, and to strengthen his support among agribusiness and mining interests. His environment minister, Ricardo Salles, he said said in a cabinet meeting on environmental deregulation: “We need to make an effort when we are in a quiet moment in terms of press coverage, because they only talk about COVID, and push and change all the rules.”
Secondly, the President has strategically ignored COVID-19 gravity, which has killed more than 90,000 Brazilians, the second highest death rate in the world after the US, Bolsonaro, has burned at least two health ministers in the past year against his anti-science rejection. He replaced his health minister with a military general with no experience in the health portfolio. The head of the government’s Customary Affairs Office was sacked last year and replaced by a former federal police officer who has links to agribusiness.
Third, his anti-Indigenous views fit in with his gospel support base. Religious ideals and beliefs Bolsonaro also reinforced his belief that this virus will disappear, disappear in a blink of an eye. This type of thinking is truly magical – but the problem is that it doesn’t work. When asked about the rising death rate, the leader, whose middle name is the Messiah, the Portuguese word for Messiah, respond: “So? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do? … My name is the Messiah, but I can’t do miracles.” Bolsonaro has also been a vocal supporter of helicopter missions by evangelists to turn members of remote indigenous communities into Christians, although this type of contact is strictly prohibited.
Although there is much to be criticized in this government response, indigenous peoples also have a history of resistance. Recently, people in the state of Pernambuco in the northeastern part of the country took action on their own, built sanitation barriers, forced lockouts, and prepared space to isolate and support people who contracted COVID-19.
No less than the existence of indigenous peoples is at stake. Yanomami people in the Amazon, for example, numbering around 26,000, could not afford to lose members because of the pandemic. “The abyss of destruction” is the right term to describe what is happening.
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