“Bolsonaro is in control of the chaos”: An analysis of the political and economic upheaval from Brazil’s Covid-19 crisis

Sept. 15, 2020

On September 10, 2020, the Brazil LAB –– in partnership with the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology (PPGAS) of the Museu Nacional (UFRJ), the Department of Preventive Medicine of the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Institute for Health Policy Studies (IEPS) –– organized an online event on the economic and political consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil. 

The webinar featured economist Monica de Bolle, a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and journalist Malu Gaspar, from Revista Piauí & Foro de Teresina Podcast. The conversation was moderated by Thomas Fujiwara, Associate Professor of Economics at Princeton University and Associate Director of the Brazil LAB.

With more than 130,000 deaths due to COVID-19, a series of political scandals, and a recession of historical proportions, Bolsonaro’s administration has been able to maintain its popular support. De Bolle and Gaspar highlighted the government’s ability to “control the narrative.” The president has been able to maintain (and even mildly increase) his popularity while downplaying the pandemic, promoting silver bullets (against scientific evidence) and attacking the judiciary, the media, and state governments.

One of the main reasons brought up by De Bolle and Gaspar was Bolsonaro’s successful claim of responsibility for a Congress-led emergency cash transfer that reached a large share of the population. The speakers highlighted how this brings Bolsonaro into classic Latin American- style populism, including fiscal irresponsibility. 

The speakers interacted with the audience, answering comments and questions on the rise in food prices and the difficulties found by the political opposition parties and actors in presenting viable alternatives to the public opinion and in Congress. As a final message, both De Bolle and Gaspar suggested that the opposition and the civil society should work towards building a unified agenda to help Brazil overcome these unprecedented public health and economic crises.