Brazilian senators recommend criminal charges for Bolsonaro
By Jack Nicas
A congressional panel in Brazil voted to recommend nine criminal charges against President Jair Bolsonaro, including “crimes against humanity,” accusing Bolsonaro of intentionally allowing the coronavirus to spread unchecked through Brazil in a bid to reach herd immunity.
With the vote Tuesday night, the Senate panel also recommended charges against 77 other people, including government officials, private citizens and three of Bolsonaro’s sons, for a variety of crimes related to their response to the pandemic. The panel also recommended charges against two companies.
In a six-month investigation, the panel found that Bolsonaro and members of his administration discouraged people from wearing masks, ignored offers of vaccines and promoted unproven drugs long after they were found to be ineffective.
The report found that the actions, taken together, led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Brazil has had more than 600,000 deaths from COVID, second only to the United States, where more than 737,000 have died.
Seven senators voted for the nearly 1,300-page report and four voted against it. The report had largely been controlled by the panel’s seven-member majority, all of whom oppose Bolsonaro, a strident, right-wing populist.
Bolsonaro’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Immediately after the vote, former President Donald Trump, who has a warm relationship with Bolsonaro, issued a statement supporting him: “Brazil is lucky to have a man such as Jair Bolsonaro working for them!”
The report now heads to Brazil’s attorney general, who will have 30 days to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Bolsonaro and the others named in the report. Brazil’s lower house in Congress would also have to approve charges against Bolsonaro.
Political analysts, as well as some senators on the panel, have said that they doubt that Bolsonaro will ultimately face charges because the attorney general and a majority of the lower house support the president.
The panel also voted to ask Brazil’s Supreme Court to request that Bolsonaro be banned from social media for the “protection of the population.” The senators included that recommendation after the president suggested during a weekly social media livestream Thursday that the coronavirus vaccine could cause AIDS. Facebook and YouTube removed the video, and YouTube froze Bolsonaro’s channel for a week.
The vote concludes an investigation that had led the nightly news in Brazil for much of the summer. The panel held more than 50 hearings, which sometimes included shocking testimony. At one point, a lawmaker wore a bulletproof vest to testify that some vaccine purchases included kickbacks.
“How many presidents of the Republic, without having been in wars, were accused of crimes against humanity?” asked Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues, the panel’s vice president. “There are reasons, motives and statements like the ones we witnessed — which left us in absolute shock, all of us Brazilians — that led to this indictment request.”
Eduardo Girão, one of the four senators who voted against the report, said that he believed Bolsonaro had acted wrongly, but that the report “became an instrument of political persecution.”
After the vote, the panel held a moment of silence for the more than 600,000 Brazilians who have died in the pandemic. The room then broke into applause.