Senators Omar Aziz, sitting left, and Eduardo Braga, right, read a part of a report by a Senate commission that investigated the government's management of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Federal Senate in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.

Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity over negligent COVID response 

According to leaked portions of the Senate commission's report, the Bolsonaro government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the deaths of 600,000 people. The president is accused of committing nine crimes, including malfeasance, preventing health measures, illegal use of public funds and crimes against humanity. 

The World

Senators Omar Aziz, sitting left, and Eduardo Braga, right, read a part of a report by a Senate commission that investigated the government's management of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Federal Senate in Brasilia, Brazil,  Oct. 20, 2021. 

AP

Eraldo Peres/AP

Brazil’s Senate has led an ongoing investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic and presented its long-awaited final report on Wednesday. 

The names of President Jair Bolsonaro and his three politician sons appear 440 times in the 1,200-page document. Bolsonaro is accused of committing nine crimes, including malfeasance, preventing health measures, illegal use of public funds and crimes against humanity. 

Related: Hunger, unemployment, health care inequity: The pandemic's devastating impact on Brazil's Black communities

The report also recommends criminal charges against more than 60 other people, including current and former government officials in the Bolsonaro government.

“This is really a huge moment for the opposition to Bolsonaro. ... It is the most systematic organization of the charges against Bolsonaro, because of the pandemic and because of how his government responded to coronavirus.”

 Mauricio Santoro, political scientist, Rio de Janeiro State University

“This is really a huge moment for the opposition to Bolsonaro,” said Maurício Santoro, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University. “It is the most systematic organization of the charges against Bolsonaro because of the pandemic and because of how his government responded to coronavirus.”

Related: Analysts: ‘Pandora Papers’ revelations will make Brazil's already precarious economy even more unstable

Those behind the report, and many Brazilians, blame president Bolsonaro for fighting lockdowns and vaccines and pushing fake news, unproven drugs and a dangerous herd immunity strategy that helped COVID-19 to spread.

This week, family members of COVID-19 victims spoke before the Senate committee

“Ten days after burying my son, I heard the president’s pathetic statement in response to the 100,000 dead: ‘So what?’ ... In my heart, what I heard was the president saying ‘so what’ your son died. That really hurt. It made me so angry."

Marcio Antonio de Nascimento Silva, taxi driver, Rio de Janeiro

“Ten days after burying my son, I heard the president’s pathetic statement in response to the 100,000 dead: ‘So what?’” said Marcio Antonio de Nascimento Silva, a taxi driver from Rio de Janeiro. “In my heart, what I heard was the president saying, ‘So what,’ your son died. That really hurt. It made me so angry.” 

Bolsonaro has denounced the Senate investigation as politically motivated.

“I’m just ignoring it,” he told supporters on Tuesday. “You think I’m going to worry about the Senate investigation? It’s a joke.”

Related: Behind in polls, Bolsonaro bolsters his base with far-right rhetoric from the US

The final charges against Bolsonaro are actually lighter than was proposed in a previous draft leaked this week. That version also charged the president with murder and the genocide of Indigenous peoples, for not providing more protection against the coronavirus for Native populations. The report’s chief author, Sen. Renan Calheiros, explained on Wednesday that the crime against Indigenous peoples was still included in the final draft, but was revised to be considered a crime against humanity.

Related: ‘We will not leave Brasilia defeated’: Brazilian Indigenous groups mobilize to defend land rights 

Investigation committee member Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues told Brazilian news this week that there is total consensus that a crime against humanity occurred, particularly, for what happened in Manaus, with oxygen shortages in January, and in Sao Paulo, where the health insurance company Prevent Senior gave out unproven drugs and hid patient COVID-19 deaths.

But not all senators on the committee are on board with the final report. The president’s allies say they will present their own alternative document.

Political scientist Jacques Mick said the committee’s investigation and its findings are important for Brazilian society to see how the Bolsonaro government operates outside political norms. And how the administration uses fake news not just to sway public opinion, but also to govern. 

“In an instance like this, amid a public calamity, because of the pandemic, these guys made decisions based on lies, and false information about people’s lives ... Just imagine what happens in other areas.”

Jacques Mick, political scientist

“In an instance like this, amid a public calamity, because of the pandemic, these guys made decisions based on lies, and false information about people’s lives,” Mick said. “Just imagine what happens in other areas.”

The Senate investigative committee is expected to vote and approve the final report next week. After that, it’ll be sent to the attorney general’s office, federal prosecutors and the International Criminal Court. 

Related: ‘Difficult years’: Brazil's fishing communities struggle to stay afloat during pandemic 

Impeachment is not likely, as Bolsonaro still retains healthy congressional support and a roughly 25% approval rating. 

But top lawmakers behind the report say that eventually, they are hoping for decades of prison time for Bolsonaro.

“The final report of the inquiry commission is quite substantial and it really provides a lot of useful information for the prosecution against Bolsonaro,” Santoro said. “It may be the source of many political troubles for President Bolsonaro.”