Illustration Credit: Paresh Nath, Cagle Cartoons
As Brazil spirals deeper into the epidemiological crisis caused by COVID-19, a new political dilemma has also arisen in the South American nation. Following President Jair Bolsonaro’s sudden and unexpected firing of Minister of Defense General Fernando Azevedo e Silva last Monday, the chiefs of the Brazilian army, navy, and air force all announced their resignations in response. According to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, this marks the first time in history that the top commanders of all three branches of the Brazilian armed forces have resigned in unison. In recent months, tensions had erupted between the president and Azevedo e Silva—once close friends and political allies—as a result of President Bolsonaro’s persistent attempts to politicize the Brazilian military toward his own ends. Brazilian journalists have reported that Azevedo e Silva’s firing came after the general stood firm in insisting to the president that the loyalty of the military lies with the Brazilian constitution, rather than with President Bolsonaro himself. The mass exodus in the Ministry of Defense occurred only hours after President Bolsonaro’s close ally and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo tendered his own resignation, stepping down amid intense criticism of his villainization of China and unequivocal embrace of the rhetoric and policies of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Elsewhere in the Brazilian political world—and adding to President Bolsonaro’s woes—Brazil’s supreme court “has ruled that the former judge Sergio Moro was biased in the way he oversaw former President Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva’s corruption trial, providing vindication for the leftist leader who has long claimed political persecution.” The supreme court’s split 3-2 decision potentially paves the way for former President Lula to challenge President Bolsonaro in the 2022 Brazilian presidential election, setting up a possible electoral clash between two of the most polarizing figures in modern Brazilian political history.
This week’s political turmoil has only been confounded by the alarming rates of COVID-19 infection and deaths in Brazil. The country is averaging 2,710 deaths per day due to COVID-19. Some experts predict that Brazil will reach 500,000 deaths by the summer and surpass the U.S. as the nation that has suffered the most COVID-19 deaths by the end of this year. The Brazilian health system has been struggling under enormous strain for the past several weeks, as hospital beds, oxygen tanks, and spaces in ICU units have become increasingly inaccessible for patients. Hopes for an imminent stabilization with respect to the country’s public health crisis have been further stymied by Brazil’s arduously slow vaccine rollout: less than two percent of the country’s general population reported to be fully vaccinated. Due to the lack of accessible vaccines in their own country, some Brazilians have resorted to crossing the border into Uruguay or French Guiana in an effort to secure their jab.
Alarmingly, COVID-19 related deaths of young Brazilians (ages 30-59) have skyrocketed 317 percent since the beginning of the year, exposing the continued threat that the disease poses to all sectors of society and provoking major oxygen shortages nationwide.