Draft text says neglect, incompetence and opposition to science fueled ‘stratospheric’ death toll
Jair Bolsonaro’s ‘deliberate and conscious’ decision to delay buying Covid vaccines led to thousands of deaths, the report says. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Guardian-Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, should face murder charges for his role in the country’s “stratospheric” coronavirus death toll, a draft report from a senate inquiry into Brazil’s Covid crisis has recommended.
The 1,078-page document, published by Brazilian media on Tuesday afternoon, is not due to be voted on by the commission until next week and could yet be modified by senators.
But the draft text paints a devastating portrait of the neglect, incompetence and anti-scientific denialism many believe has defined the Bolsonaro administration’s response to a public health emergency that has killed more than 600,000 Brazilians.
Bolsonaro’s “deliberate and conscious” decision to delay buying Covid vaccines needlessly condemned thousands of citizens to early graves, the report claims.
“The mathematics of the situation was clear: the more infections, the more death. Without vaccines mortality would have been stratospheric, as it turned out to be,” the document says, before concluding: “We will never forget.”
The report is the politically explosive fruit of a six-month congressional investigation into the South American country’s Covid outbreak, which began in February 2020 and is only now being controlled thanks to the efforts of Brazil’s internationally admired public health service.
In recent weeks top Bolsonaro officials and allies, including past and serving health ministers, have been hauled before televised hearings, amid mounting public anger over the federal government’s behaviour.
The draft report accuses Brazil’s far-right leader of a total of 11 crimes, including crimes against humanity, incitement to crime, and charlatanism, for his “obstinate” promotion of ineffective remedies such as the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
But perhaps the most serious allegation is that Bolsonaro’s shunning of offers from vaccine manufacturers during the first year of Brazil’s epidemic amounted to murder.
The report says: “In spite of all the vaccines that were on offer, the federal government opted not to buy them, a decision that went against all of the scientific studies which demonstrated their safety and effectiveness, and against the advice of all of the epidemiologists who declared on a daily basis that only vaccines would save lives.
“The decision not to acquire vaccines between the months of July 2020 and at least January 2021, which lacked any technical or scientific basis, and flew in the face of recommendations from international health authorities, ended up claiming the lives of thousands of Brazilians who would undoubtedly have made use of such vaccines,” it continued.
The report claims Bolsonaro’s actions were based on his “unfounded belief in the idea of herd immunity through natural infection and the existence of early forms of treatment”.
Bolsonaro, who is nearing the end of his third year in power, is unlikely to face prosecution for his alleged crimes, at least while he remains in the presidency. But many experts believe the congressional inquiry has done severe and lasting political damage to the standing of a politician who plans to seek re-election next year but whose ratings have plunged to record lows. Polls suggest Bolsonaro would lose the October 2022 contest to the former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Antônio Carlos Costa, a social activist and church leader who gave evidence to the Covid inquiry on Monday, said three words defined Bolsonaro’s response to the epidemic: incompetence, recklessness and insensitivity.
“These have been times of hunger, mourning, death and unemployment, with millions of people in need. It is the greatest crisis of my generation – and the president didn’t even show empathy,” Costa said.
Costa said he was unsure whether Bolsonaro would pay for his crimes behind bars. “But one thing’s for sure: the damage to his reputation is irreversible.”
“I hope this country will never again be governed in the way it has been governed by Bolsonaro,” the activist said.
The Brazilian presidency has yet to publicly respond to the Covid inquiry’s draft report. But on Monday, after the relatives of coronavirus victims provided emotional testimony to the committee, Bolsonaro’s senator son, Flavio Bolsonaro, denounced what he called a “macabre, sorry and pitiful” spectacle designed to attack his father.