- Orla Guerin
- BBC reporter from Brasilia
If he is still alive, Josildo de Moura will celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary in December this year. However, the whole-hearted husband and the father of five children contracted COVID-19, panting for breath outside a community clinic in the suburbs of São Paulo, and eventually died. He is 62 years old and, like most Brazilians, was still waiting for vaccinations.
“The pain is endless,” said his wife Cida, who was sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by children and grandchildren. “Every day we hear that more and more families experience the same pain as ours and lose their loved ones.”
The loss here is staggering. More than 500,000 Brazilians have died of new coronary pneumonia, and the number of deaths ranks second in the world, second only to the United States. Experts here predict that their country is catching up with the United States.
As a middle-income country with a mature vaccination system against diseases (Translator’s Note: Brazil has set up a national immunization program since the 1970s, covering most areas of the country), how did Brazil fall here? For many, the responsibility lies with the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
“He could have helped everyone take the right measures,” said Shida, with a firm voice and thick gray curly hair.
“His approach is completely the opposite. He has no respect for the people. It’s really offensive.”
While Brazil is still burying the dead, the Federal Senate is scrutinizing the handling of the epidemic. The hearing began in April and was broadcast live. For many people here, it has become a must-see TV series, a series of tragedies and explosive testimonies.
The evidence from a representative of vaccine manufacturer Pfizer is conclusive. He told the investigation team that the company repeatedly offered to sell vaccines to the government last year, but it was ignored for several months. I sent more than 100 emails without reply.
Another witness in the investigation accused President Bolsonaro of turning a blind eye to irregularities and serious overcharges in the contract to purchase an unapproved new crown vaccine from India. The President denied knowing it and denied any wrongdoing.
The investigation was led by opposition Senator Omar Aziz. He is a pivotal figure from Amazonas, which has been hit hard by the epidemic. Omar Aziz’s own brother, Walid, was among the dead. On the day we met, he also lost a lifelong friend due to the epidemic.
“What saves lives is the two stitches in the Brazilian arm,” he told us. “If the government buys vaccines earlier, we can save many lives. We have a president who doesn’t believe in science. He believes in herd immunity.”
The federal senator insisted that his investigation was not partisan. “The virus will not choose political parties,” he told us. “Everyone is dying.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, the Brazilian leader dismissed the new crown pneumonia, calling it a “mini-flu.” Last year, when he was asked about the deaths caused by the epidemic, he replied: “This is a question that should be given to gravediggers.”
He despised social distancing, insisted that the economy must remain open, and said that staying at home was “made by an idiot.” Just last month, he was fined for not wearing a mask when leading supporters to a motorcycle rally.
While the president completely underestimated the risk, Professor Pedro Hallal (Pedro Hallal) was counting the death toll. He is an epidemiologist, leading Brazil’s largest research on the new coronavirus. As a scientist, as a Brazilian, he said it was a sober nightmare.
“At some point in life, everyone will have this kind of dream, in which they can’t move or scream,” he said. “This is exactly how I feel during the past 16 months. I have been trained to understand what is happening in the pandemic. I said it, but no one in the government is listening. As we speak today, there are another 2,000 Brazilians. People are about to die.”
Professor Harald has lost several friends. He said that his country has become a laboratory for everything that can be done wrong in a pandemic. According to his research, 400,000 deaths could have been avoided, of which a quarter (100,000) were caused by the failure to sign a vaccine contract last year.
“Everything you shouldn’t do,” he said, “Brazil did it all.”
“He said that the pandemic is not important. In April last year, our president said that it will end. Then he said that the vaccine is not safe. The president’s own remarks caused evil results and led to the death of the people. That’s what we need to say.”
Professor Harald provided evidence during the investigation, and he also left a message to the Brazilian leader. “Resign,” he said. “This is the best thing you can do for Brazil.”
This possibility is very small, but Bolsonaro is now under attack. Although the Senate investigation is not expected to lead to his impeachment, the Supreme Court has authorized a criminal investigation. His approval rating is at the lowest level in history, and a series of protests have taken place across the country.
But even if Bolsonaro was upset by the escalating storm or the soaring death toll, he did not show it. He still has political allies and hardcore supporters.
It is difficult for Cedar to understand how the president continued to govern when so many people died. “He is still in power, as if nothing happened,” she told us. “He should be kicked out. I hope to hear that Bolsonaro is no longer the President of Brazil.”
Like many people who have lost their loved ones, she hopes that the stories about the victims in Brazil will be testimony in court. The suffering will be revealed in the general election next year, if it can’t be done before then.