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LATIN AMERICA | 22-05-2020 23:34

Video of Cabinet meeting puts Brazil's Bolsonaro under fire

A profanity-laced video showing Bolsonaro expressing frustration at his inability to get information from police and vowing to change Cabinet ministers if needed to protect his family was released Friday, May 22, 2020, at the order of a Supreme Court justice.

A profanity-laced video showing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro expressing frustration at his inability to get information from police and vowing to change Cabinet ministers if needed to protect his family was released Friday at the order of a Supreme Court justice, a potential new blow for a leader whose popularity has been sagging.

The two-hour video of a Cabinet meeting, with portions redacted, was released as part of a probe into allegations that the president was trying to improperly meddle in the federal police, a claim made by former Justice Minister Sérgio Moro when he resigned last month.

Moro told investigators that Bolsonaro openly demanded he make changes in key federal police positions, including the head of the agency.

Moro resigned after Bolsonaro fired the federal police director-general without consulting him.

The video shows the president complaining, “I already tried to change our security in Rio de Janeiro and I couldn’t. That is over. I will not wait (for them) to (profanity) my entire family just for fun, or a friend of mine.”

Bolsonaro has insisted he was referring to the head of his security detail, though he had successfully changed that position recently. Moro said the president was alluding to the head of police operations in Rio, who presumably might have been involved in investigations into the president’s sons, who live there.

Coronavirus crisis

Bolsonaro’s popularity has been sagging due to his downplaying of the coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 21,000 Brazilians and the death toll is accelerating.

The pandemic, not the revelation of the video, will be the main driver of the president’s future, said Christopher Garman, managing director for the Americas at the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. Garman said the video didn’t provide any sound legal evidence of interference and would energise Bolsonaro’s base in the near term.

“He’s not going to win hearts and minds of those who don’t support him or convince those who abandoned him already to come back. It just plays to his base, polarizes the environment more,” Garman told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “And that will fade. I don’t think it will be any kind of game changer on the positive side.”

Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in São Paulo, said Brazilians could be put off by scenes from a meeting in which the subject of fighting the virus is barely broached. Bolsonaro did ask ministers to defend him against criticism over his handling of the virus.

“It calls one’s attention that in that moment no one was talking about Covid-19 in the Cabinet, except for a brief mention. When then health minister starts speaking about what is being done, the president stops him and moves on,” Melo said. "That is very bad, and it will be used by the media and the opposition. It shows very little effort to fight it.”

At another point in the video, the president also complains about his inability to get information from the police or other agencies.

“I have the power and I will interfere in all ministries, no exception,” he said.

“I cannot be surprised by news. I have the federal police that do not give me information. I have the armed forces intelligence that does not give me information. The intelligence agency, I have some information. I don’t have more because we have some problems,” Bolsonaro added. “We cannot live without information.”

The president frequently appears enraged in the video. He insults governors who are enforcing stay-at-home measures, threatens to fire ministers praised by the mainstream media and defends the view that all his countrymen should possess firearms to avoid being governed by tyrants.

Bolsonaro also said he would not accept being removed from office because of his disregard for health recommendations on the best ways to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“If I have to go down one day, may we fall fighting, for a good reason. Not for a stupid anti-virus exam, for the love of God,” he said.

Negative

Bolsonaro tested negative for a coronavirus infection three times in March after taking a flight with two dozen passengers who tested positive.

Maranhao state Governor Flávio Dino, a nemesis of Bolsonaro’s, said the video “confirms the testimony of Sérgio Moro, includes several crimes, reveals plans to arm the population for political ends and shows unmistakable despotic impulses.”

The video provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of an administration that doesn’t open its doors to the mainstream press. It revealed not just Bolsonaro, but also Cabinet ministers, making statements strongly criticising elements of Brazilian society.

Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, for one, said Supreme Court justices should all be jailed. Celso de Mello, the Supreme Court justice, said in his decision to release the video that Weintraub committed “an apparent crime against the honor of members” of Brazil’s top court.

During the meeting, Bolsonaro also complained that he has struggled to govern, saying he doesn’t know “where our boat is heading.”

by MAURICIO SAVARESE, Associated Press

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