Brazil’s Senate launched an inquiry Tuesday into the federal government’s response to Covid-19, which could hobble President Jair Bolsonaro’s re-election bid if it leads to an impeachment proceeding or criminal charges.
Bolsonaro has long downplayed the ferocity of the pandemic, while resisting lockdown measures and mask-wearing. While Covid-19 cases have started to plateau or decline in other countries, Brazil’s cases have continued to surge. Angry citizens, political adversaries and overwhelmed local officials across the country have pressed Bolsonaro for more federal action, even as he has publicly shrugged off these concerns. Although the Senate commission is not a judging body, it has the power to gather evidence to make the case for impeachment. Moreover, the commission will also look into the federal funds transfers to states and municipalities to fight Covid-19.
“I am not worried because we owe nothing,” Bolsonaro told reporters Monday about the awaited commission results. But Bolsonaro’s political fate hangs in the balance, with the Senate split in favor of ousting him to usher in former government ally Omar Aziz as president, along with opponents Randolfe Rodrigues and Renan Calheiros as vice president and rapporteur, respectively. Senator Renan Calheiros, the commission’s rapporteur, emphasized the seriousness of the inquiry in a speech on Monday, vowing that the culprits “who are to blame for the action, omission, disdain or incompetence” will be held accountable.