Where to Next, Brazil?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

On May 6, the Brazil LAB hosted the timely online conversation about “Pandemic and Chaos: Where to Next, Brazil?” The event was moderated by the anthropologist João Biehl (Brazil LAB Director) and the economist Thomas Fujiwara (Brazil LAB Associate Director) and featured:

Angela Alonso, Professor of Sociology at the University of São Paulo and former Director of CEBRAP, the Brazilian Center of Analysis and Planning. An award-winner author, Alonso studies the interface of culture and political action and emergent forms of social mobilization in Brazil.

Arminio Fraga, Economist and Founding Partner of Gávea Investimentos. Fraga presided over the Brazilian Central Bank. A Brazil LAB Advisory Board Member, he is the founder of the Institute for Health Policy Studies (IEPS).

Alessandra Orofino, Co-founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Nossas, a laboratory of activism and civic participation in Brazil. A Fellow of the Obama Foundation, Orofino is also the director of Greg News, HBO’s comedy news show.

The new coronavirus pandemic has thrown our world into an unprecedented crisis that highlights chronic limitations in systems of preparedness and social protection and exposes deeply entrenched inequalities. The pandemic has also been dangerously politicized, amid the curtailing of rights, the search for magic bullets, and the brutal disregard for human lives. 

No world leader has been more vocal in downplaying the threat of COVID-19 than the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. With an uncontrolled surge of cases, Brazil has rapidly become one of the pandemic’s hotspots, raising concerns among neighboring countries and even threats from the United States to impose travel restrictions to and from Brazil. With over 115,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 8,000 confirmed deaths as of today (which, given the lack of testing, are an understatement), the country is gearing toward a full-blown public health emergency and an economic meltdown. President Bolsonaro has managed to add to this toxic mix a dangerous political crisis, sparked by the recent departure from the government of the Minister of Justice Sérgio Moro, the famed anti-corruption crusader.

In the midst of this perfect storm of a health, economic and political crisis, the distinguished panelists spoke about the immediate and long-term challenges of public spending, the growing role of the military on all governmental fronts, the judicialization of politics, and new modes of social mobilization aimed at better systems of social protection. 

Alonso, Fraga, and Orofino agreed that it will take much more than medical treatments and regional interventions to remake the world post-COVID-19. To keep Brazilian society safe and thriving, a robust democracy is a must, as is a revised welfare system supported by strategic public investments and policies that mitigate future risks across the commons. The political and social pathways to crystallize such a healthier, greener, and more equal and just Brazil has to be patiently forged against present-day authoritarian and lethal maneuvers. 

Live-streamed on the Brazil LAB YouTube channel, this event was co-sponsored by the Program in Latin American Studies, the Anthropology Department, the Spanish and Portuguese Department, and the Instituto de Estudos para Políticas de Saúde (IEPS).