In this article, Marcelo Calazans, with FASE in Espírito Santo, recommends strengthening Brazilian civil society’s solidarity networks to confront both Covid-19 and hate-based movements, while expanding and maintaining public social policies to handle the country’s ongoing emergencies and inequalities
May 2020. More than 3 million people on the planet are infected by Covid-19, with more than 200,000 deaths. In the cities, queues of patients await beds in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). Corpses pile up in morgues and hospital corridors. Body bags accumulate in chilled containers, to be carried away in trucks. In cemeteries, backhoes rush to dig more graves. Patients without visits. Deaths without farewells. Burials without rites.
After the contamination arrived at the end of January through ports and airports, by March Covid-19 had spread into impoverished urban peripheries after circulating through celebrity ghettos. In the same month, it also reached indigenous peoples and traditional quilombola, riverine and fisherfolk communities.
Brazil, with more than 400 deaths per day, performs fewer than 300 tests per million inhabitants. To contain the pace of contamination and reduce pressure on the health system, social isolation is absolutely necessary. But how, in a country full of unemployed, underemployed, precarious and enslaved workers, tens of millions with no rights at all? Even for hardened ultraliberals, the only possible answer is: bring in the State! Market forces are totally incompetent for planning or acting to protect human health and life.
We need the State to enable social isolation, to strengthen the Unified Health System (SUS), to build and equip hospitals, to train health professionals, to build low-income housing, to produce tests, vaccines and drugs, to ensure minimal income and food for all. To face this and future pandemics, we must strengthen our democratic rule of law and overcome structural inequalities underlying Brazilian society.
I do not believe that the pandemic is God’s penance for sinners. Nor is it of Nature’s own making, with no human engineering. Pandemics like Covid-19, like global warming or the avian and swine influenzas, all arise from the way modern societies live, produce, consume and inhabit the planet. Such pandemics only arise and spread in the context of late capitalism. There can be no doubt that future emergencies will demand even more vaccines and medicines, isolation and sanitary measures. However if the greater, strategic task is to prevent the outbreak and spread of new pandemics and avoid more emergencies, what matters is taking care of the planet’s health, along with people’s health.
Mr. “A-OK” and “So-what?” Bolsonaro breaks down social isolation every day, puts off the institution of a minimum income, discriminates against groups at risk, attacks the federative system, arms his human and digital militias and irresponsibly calls on people to mobilize against the national parliament, the Federal Supreme Court (STF), mayors and state governors. He is a genocidal tyrant who overrides laws and the rule of law in general, and even so still holds the support of 15% to 35% of Brazilian society, depending on the “enemy” he picks to confront on a given day. The very social isolation that the president so deplores and denounces at his death rallies, and even the emergency policies (approved by Congress) whose implementation he delays, by tragic irony end up strengthening his authoritarian power strategy.
To respond to Covid-19 we must strengthen the thousands of solidarity networks already formed in Brazilian civil society and confront the president’s hate-based movements. It is also strategically important to expand public social policies (minimum income, food sovereignty and security, strengthen the SUS etc.) and defend them in the face of ongoing emergencies and inequalities. The democratic rule of law must be intensified to include everyone. Bolsonaro’s removal is now urgent.
 Coordinator of the FASE program in Espírito Santo and of the Not One More Oil Well Campaign.