In a recent THINK opinion piece, affiliate Claudio Ferraz and co-authors discuss Brazil’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the role authoritarian populism plays in the nation’s lack of preparation.
“Among all political leaders now having to deal with the global COVID-19 crisis, the response of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been among the most puzzling. His peddling of “miracle cures” and uneasiness with social distancing measures are not unlike those of President Donald Trump. Still, he has gone a lot further in continuing to belittle the risk posed by the novel coronavirus, and in directly and vocally undermining the public health response put forth by his own health officials. He has even gone as far as firing his health minister in the middle of the crisis.
Brazil’s death toll is rising steadily, with nearly 200,000 cases reported. And these numbers are likely far less than the real totals. Given this incredibly concerning trend, Bolsonaro’s recent reply to a reporter’s question about Brazil’s death count was particularly striking in its callousness: “So what? What do you want me to do?”
It is a response so unhelpful that it gives us pause. Is there any method to this apparent madness? Reasonable as it is to doubt Bolsonaro’s rationality and strategic capabilities, it is nevertheless instructive to think through the incentives to which he might be responding, and what they say about his new brand of authoritarian populism.”
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