A Brazilian Senate committee investigating the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has recommended that President Jair Bolsonaro face nine criminal charges, including “crimes against humanity,” for his role in the public health crisis.
In a lengthy report released Wednesday, the 11-member committee said that Bolsonaro allowed the pandemic coronavirus to spread freely through the country in a failed attempt to achieve herd immunity, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The report also took aim at Bolsonaro’s promotion of ineffective treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine. The committee blames the president’s policies for the deaths of more than 300,000 Brazilians.
In addition to crimes against humanity, the committee accused Bolsonaro of quackery, malfeasance, inciting crime, improper use of public funds, and forgery. In all, the committee called for indictments of 66 people, including Bolsonaro and three of his sons, as well as two companies.
Brazil has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. The country of more than 212 million has reported nearly 22 million cases of COVID-19 and over 600,000 deaths. That is the second-largest death toll in the world, behind the US’s 730,000 deaths.
A “little flu”
Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro made international headlines as he downplayed the pandemic. Bolsonaro has discouraged mask use, urged local public health officials to lift health restrictions, encouraged mass gatherings, pushed unproven treatments, questioned vaccines, and suggested that the country’s death toll was inflated for political reasons. Early in the pandemic, he referred to COVID-19 as a “little flu.” Later, he suggested that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can turn people into crocodiles.
The committee’s report suggests that Bolsonaro’s dangerous opinions on the pandemic were spread and amplified by a network of conservative pundits and online influencers that Bolsonaro and his sons controlled. Bolsonaro’s three sons are each accused of spreading fake news under the recommended charge of inciting crime.
A draft of the committee’s report, which leaked to the press, also accused Bolsonaro of mass homicide and genocide against Indigenous groups in the Amazon. However, the committee members walked back the accusation before the public release, saying it went too far, according to The New York Times.
The Times notes that it’s unclear if the report will lead to formal charges being brought against Bolsonaro and others. Next week, the committee will vote on whether to approve the report, with seven of 11 members in support. If it is approved, the lower chamber of Brazil’s Congress will also have to sign off, and the country’s attorney general will have 30 days to decide to pursue criminal charges.
If charges are brought against Bolsonaro, he will be suspended from office for 180 days. If convicted, he faces years in prison and would be barred from the office of presidency for eight years.