Speed Reads

Pandemic prosecutions

Brazilian lawmakers to seek charges against President Bolsonaro for COVID-related 'crimes against humanity'

A special Brazilian Senate panel will vote Wednesday on whether to ask the attorney general to charge President Jair Bolsonaro with several crimes, including "crimes against humanity," for his handing of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to drafts of the report viewed by The New York Times and other media organizations. The report appears to have the support of seven of the 11 committee members, suggesting it will be approved. 

The 1,200-page report is the fruit of six months of investigations into Bolsonaro's widely criticized pandemic response, characterized by denial, opposition to masks and distancing, pushing ineffective treatments while declining offers to purchase the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, overpaying for a less-effective vaccine from India — the deal was called off over suspicions of graft — and, according to the report, spearheading an online disinformation campaign that also attacked his critics. Bolsonaro's bungling of the pandemic has led to a decline in his poll numbers ahead of his 2022 re-election bid. 

The report, written by centrist Sen. Renan Calheiros, called for charging Bolsonaro with genocide and mass homicide charges, but those were removed in talks that stretched into Wednesday morning, Calheiros announced. The report effectively blames Bolsonaro's policies for more than 300,000 COVID-19 deaths, half the country's official total. It also recommends criminal charges against 69 other people, including three of Bolsonaro's sons — all of whom are in the government — and numerous current and former government officials.

If the report is approved, the attorney general will have 30 days to decide whether to prosecute Bolsonaro, who appointed him and still has his support. The lower house of Congress, which Bolsonaro's supporters control, would also have to approve charges. "Few in Brazil believe that the recommendations will lead to a trial of the nation's most senior officials," The Washington Post reports.

Realistically, "the major impact of the investigation is political, because it generated tons of news that certainly will be used by campaign strategists next year," Thiago de Aragão, director of strategy at political consultancy Arko Advice, tells The Associated Press. Calheiros said the committee could also seek justice through Brazil's Supreme Court or the International Criminal Court.