Delayed vaccinations, oxygen shortages, ineffective COVID-19 treatments. In Brazil, a commission is investigating the role of the government of President Jair Bolsonaro in one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

COVID-19 is nothing more than a “flu” and Brazilians should “stop whining.” That is the type of reaction that the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has had to the current global pandemic. Under his leadership, the country has recorded the second highest number of COVID deaths in the world, with more than 400,000 deaths, as intensive care units collapse.

Now, a Senate commission is investigating his government’s performance in response to the pandemic. The result of this investigation, which began last Tuesday (04.27.2021) and will last 90 days, could have a serious effect on Bolsonaro’s political future.

What exactly is the commission investigating?

The main objective of the investigation is to identify the people or authorities responsible for what critics describe as a failed response to a pandemic.

Many public health experts have blamed the Bolsonaro government. A study by the University of Sao Paulo and the human rights group Conectas even described his management as an “institutional strategy to spread the coronavirus in the country.”

The commission has outlined 18 topics it wants to investigate in order to draw its own conclusions.

One important point is the rejection of some vaccine offers, including BioNTech-Pfizer, as Brazil now struggles with shortages. Another question to answer will be why the State promoted ineffective cures such as the so-called “COVID kit”, a cocktail of unproven drugs for the treatment of the disease such as hydroxychloroquine or antiparasitic ivermectin.

The investigation will also look at the collapse of healthcare in the state of Amazonas, where hospitals have struggled to abstain from oxygen.

Who will be investigated?

The commission will question various ministers and government advisers. That includes former Bolsonaro Health Ministers Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Nelson Teich and Eduardo Pazuello. All three held the post at some point during the pandemic.

Pazuello, an Army general with no health experience and especially loyal to Bolsonaro, could be one of the most important voices. But he has the right not to testify, so as not to incriminate himself, warns Wallace Corbo, a legal expert at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

“If Pazuello shares the information he has as someone who was in charge of the Ministry of Health during the worst moment of the COVID crisis, this could be of utmost political relevance,” Corbo tells DW. “If he chooses not to testify, the commission can still evaluate his actions as Minister of Health and these actions can speak for themselves.”

What else can the commission do?

The commission has the same investigative power as a judge. That means you can call witnesses to testify, as well as request information and documents from public entities, among other things.

However, you do not have the right to enter a judgment or order arrests. Its purpose is only to collect evidence and, if necessary, transmit it to the judicial authorities.

What does that mean for Bolsonaro and his government?

While on paper it may seem like these kinds of investigations don’t mean much, they have “enormous potential to alter policy,” says Corbo.

In the worst possible scenario for the Government, this investigation could conclude that Bolsonaro and / or his ministers were responsible for aggravating the COVID crisis. Subsequently, competent authorities could open criminal cases, or legislators could expedite one of the many impeachment claims that have already been filed.

But even if it doesn’t get to this point, the investigation could damage Bolsonaro’s image ahead of possible re-election in 2022.

“The inquiries generate a lot of visibility, sometimes more than a judicial process. During the trials, some of the information may be confidential, but the inquiries are much more accessible to the public,” says Corbo.

This specific research could also attract a lot of attention because it is a “tangible” problem, adds Magna Inácio, professor of Political Science at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

Previous investigations were ignored by many Brazilians because they dealt with distant issues, such as the purchase of an oil refinery in the United States. But “this is about something that people experienced for themselves. The debates have great potential to mobilize,” warns Inácio.

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