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Brazil’s Federal Police And Senate Investigate Bolsonaro Over Vaccine’s Irregularities

Covaxin was one of the most expensive vaccines marketed by the Brazilian government.

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Brazil’s federal police opened a case against President Jair Bolsonaro to investigate whether he has committed a crime of administrative responsibility. The inquiry began after the Senate of the Republic established a Parliamentary Investigation Commission (COVID CPI) to resolve irregularities and speed up delays in the purchase of vaccines during the pandemic.

During the inquiry launched by the commission, a multimillion-dollar purchase contract for the Indian Covaxin vaccine came to light.

Luis Ricardo Miranda, a career Ministry of Health official and brother of federal deputy Luis Cláudio Miranda (Democrats, DF), who supports Bolsonaro’s government, brought the information to the president on March 20, 2021.

The president promised to report this information to the federal police, which did not occur. The deputy indicated that Bolsonaro should point to Deputy Ricardo Barros (Progressive Party, PR) as the person responsible for these irregularities. On July 12, at the request of the Attorney General Office and authorized by the Supreme Federal Court, an inquiry was launched to verify whether Bolsonaro is criminally responsible for the Covaxin scandal.

Luis Ricardo Miranda, a career civil servant of the Ministry of Health, made the complaints. (Pedro França/Agência Senado)

Following the accusations made on June 25 for alleged irregularities found in the senate investigation, the Ministry of Health voided the contract to purchase the Indian vaccine Covaxin, and the main perpetrators were discharged from their positions.

“The complaints done by the Miranda brothers are unfounded. They claim a supposed purchase that does not exist. Any purchase has three stages: commitment, settlement, and payment. Nothing of it ever happened. The government did not buy a milliliter of the vaccine. This is just an attempt by the CPI to carry out unjustified accusations,” said Federal Deputy Bibo Nunes (Liberal Social Party) of Rio Grande do Sul.

In Nunes’ opinion, the CPI, which investigates the actions and omissions of the federal government in managing the pandemic in Brazil, does not weaken the government. “On the contrary, it even strengthens Bolsonaro,” he said.

President Jair Bolsonaro and federal deputy Bibo Nunes (Social Liberal Party) from Rio Grande do Sul. (Courtesy Bibo Nunes)

On July 10, President Jair Bolsonaro participated in a motorcycle tour across Porto Alegre, which was attended by thousands of supporters. At the rally, in addition to the president, many cyclists did not wear masks, ignoring the recommendations of the health authorities.

Nunes, one of the rally’s organizers, said that he does not believe there is a reason to wear face masks outdoors. “At the time, with almost 40 percent of the population vaccinated, I see no reason to wear a mask, at least outdoors. It is an unfounded fear. I’m not a doctor, but I read a lot,” he said.

In Rio Grande do Sul, only 26.7 percent of the adult population was fully vaccinated as of July 15. Nationwide, the number lowers to 20.3 percent. The data comes from the Imprensa Vehicles Consortium (CVI), based on information from the state health organizations.

Motorcycle rally with Bolsonaro supporters in Porto Alegre. (Luciano Nagel/Zenger)

In an interview with Zenger, federal deputy Luis Cláudio Miranda (Democrats, DF) said that the complaints are now being investigated by the CPI, the Public Prosecution Office, and the federal police.

“Everything I have said has been proved. President Bolsonaro himself has already confirmed it. I am ready to take this to its bitter end. The fight against corruption is a banner that will not be pried from my hands,” Miranda said.

Miranda also hopes that the CPI will thoroughly investigate all the evidence, bring out the truth and point out who the culprits are.

On July 13, the Ethics Council of the Chamber of Deputies in Brasília established two inquiries to investigate deputies Luis Miranda (Democrats, DF) and Ricardo Barros (Progressive Party, PR). Barros is the leader of the government in the chamber and would have been appointed by President Bolsonaro as responsible for the purchase of the Covaxin vaccine, in addition to having included a provisional measure to facilitate its importation.

“We are not living in a dictatorship, where a representative can have their control prerogatives revoked. I fulfilled my job, and I would do the same again a thousand times more,” said Deputy Miranda. “I’m proud to have fought alongside my brother to prevent the money allocated to vaccines’ purchases from ending up in tax havens. The vaccine is a serious matter. I know that our fight is not over yet.”

There are already more than 540,000 thousand lives lost in Brazil due to the pandemic.

Federal Deputy Luis Miranda (Democrats, DF) in a National Congress session. (Luis Macedo/Chamber of Deputies)

On Twitter, federal deputy Ricardo Barros (Progressive Party, PR) said that he calmly took the decision made by the Chamber’s Ethics Council.

“It is just another political movement attempting to weaken the government. There is no support behind these accusations, as I have already demonstrated, and I will prove it in the Ethics Council and to the CPI. I have nothing to fear,” he wrote.

There have been several demonstrations held for and against President Bolsonaro throughout Brazil. On the night of July 13, protestors took to the streets of Porto Alegre against the federal government. They demanded the president’s removal and emergency aid for 600 reals ($114), much more than the 150 or 375 reais ($28-$71) stimulus stipulated for 2021. According to the protestors, the demonstration sought to mobilize the population for a coordinated event in all the country’s capitals on July 24. More mass mobilizations are expected in the future.

The COVID CPI has generated a genuine concern in the federal government according to Paulo Peres, political scientist of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).

“Bolsonaro, it seems, is already quite shaken by the impact caused by the CPI,” Peres said. “A part of the drop in popular approval of his administration may be due to the CPI and its inquiries. In other words, the low approval is due to the deliberate omission in the purchase of the vaccines, with the explicit sabotage by mayors, governors, and even the Ministry of Health, as well as the potential corruption that involved the Covaxin negotiations, affecting members of the government — the president himself,” he said.

A survey by the Datafolha Institute, conducted on July 7 and 8, indicated that the majority of those interviewed favored opening the impeachment process against the president. Also, 54 percent of the interviewees favor the actions taken by the Chamber of Deputies, compared to the 42 percent who oppose the removal of Bolsonaro. The survey was conducted on 2,074 people over 16 years of age throughout Brazil. The margin of error is plus/minus 2 percent.

Political scientist Paulo Peres, from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). (Courtesy Paulo Peres)

When analyzing Brazil’s future for the next elections, Peres named the possible candidates for the presidency of the republic for 2022: the politician Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party) and the current governor of Rio Grande Do Sul, Eduardo Leite (Brazilian Social Democracy Party, PSDB). “The only certainty that can be had, for now, is that the Worker’s Party will be in the second round, with former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva,” he said.

Peres indicated that Brazil’s current political system is a representative democracy as those who govern come to power through elections. The vote is the source of authority for those who govern. However, “politicians, parties, the executive or legislative branches of the government, and the state’s institutions cannot use their power or justify their actions as being done to represent the interests of the majority while violating the rights of minorities,” he said.

“The populist leadership considers that the institutions that place these limits are a hurdle that impedes true democracy. For them, democracy is the will of the majority. If the majority wants to eliminate minority rights, no institution should prevent such a decision. If justice does this, it will be undemocratic. If the opposition, considered to be a minority, blocks government decisions, it must be eliminated,” he said.

“Bolsonaro is not even a representative of the will of the people — he is the people themselves. He is not a healthy leader — neither for liberal democracy, nor rights, nor, as his government has shown, for the country as a whole,” said Peres.

Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Kristen Butler.