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Brazil's Bolsonaro Is Cracking Down On Dissent As His Presidency Enters Crisis Mode.
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Brazil's Bolsonaro Is Cracking Down On Dissent As His Presidency Enters Crisis Mode.


A prominent newspaper columnist. Several Indigenous leaders. Doctors, academics, and scientists. All of them have been subjected to subpoenas, investigations, or other more implicit efforts in recent weeks and months to silence their criticism of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's government, the far-right leader who has ramped up his authoritarian tactics as his own politicking has deteriorated.

Bolsonaro has had an iron grip on Brazil's political narrative for the majority of his presidency, able to whitewash potential scandals or shift the debate with a single tweet or rambling appearance on Facebook Live.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  

With his approval ratings at their lowest point of his presidency and early polls predicting a landslide defeat for da Silva next year, Bolsonaro and his allies have reacted in the only way they know how: by attempting to silence criticism rather than dealing with the issues that cause it.

“We’re seeing the same thing we’ve seen from the beginning, which is this mix of bullying and intimidating civil society, opposition leaders, and academics,” said Oliver Stuenkel, a professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in So Paulo. “It’s becoming more intense right now, but it’s also related to and caused by his growing political difficulties. He’s cornered.

Criminalizing Dissident Opinion

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead."

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". 

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic..Guajajara accused Bolsonaro of genocide in a documentary posted online, according to Reuters, for leaving Indigenous tribes unprotected as the virus spread throughout Brazil.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic..Guajajara accused Bolsonaro of genocide in a documentary posted online, according to Reuters, for leaving Indigenous tribes unprotected as the virus spread throughout Brazil..

A Brazilian court barred police from continuing their investigation into the two Indigenous leaders, but even before the subpoenas, Bolsonaro had presided over “a total setback to the constitutional guarantees of Indigenous peoples and the environment,” according to Joênia Wapichana, the only Indigenous member of Brazil’s National Congress.

The further weaponization of FUNAI, an agency specifically charged with advocating for and protecting Brazil's tribal peoples, into a tool to legally target Indigenous leaders, is another significant rupture for the country's democratic institutions. The agency, Indigenous leaders say, has been largely co-opted by Bolsonaro allies and appointees who, like the president, want to target tribes and leaders.

Illegal land invasions by miners and loggers have increased, as have attacks on Indigenous people, who have been hit by the twin crises of deforestation and the pandemic. At least 1,000 Indigenous people have died from COVID-19, according to a recent study, which also suggested that the government has undercounted the number of deaths.

We are treated as enemies; we are attempting to assist; please assist us; we are not fighting the government, but the virus.

Caetano Scannavino, founder of Amazon-based nonprofit Sade e Alegria

Nonprofit organizations, which have been a frequent target of Bolsonaro's ire for criticizing his approach to the pandemic and the environment, have struggled to compensate for the government's shortcomings, in part because they are financially stretched, but also because they have spent so much time battling Bolsonaro.

“The difficulty we are having is not only financial difficulty, but political difficulty,” said Caetano Scannavino, the executive director of Projeto Sade e Alegria (The Health and Happiness Project), an Amazon-based nonprofit that collaborates with many Indigenous tribes and environmental organizations.

Indigenous killings during land disputes have also increased. Twice this month, wildcat gold miners fired on members of the Yanomami Tribe in northern Brazil; at least two children drowned trying to escape one attack, and five others were injured, according to tribal leaders, who blame the Bolsonaro government's refusal to enforce laws against illegal mining and logging operations.

“The federal government is not playing its role,” Alessandra Munduruku, an activist from the Munduruku tribe, said at a joint press conference last week with tribal leaders and Indigenous organizations. “FUNAI, which should defend Indigenous interests, is against Indigenous people. FUNAI, which should defend Indigenous people, wants to imprison Indigenous people.”

A blatant attempt to intimidate the press.

Throughout his presidency, Bolsonaro has attacked and belittled journalists and columnists who have questioned him, and his allies have absorbed his practices and the belief that they can use government tools to go after their critics. This week, Brazil's Senate police opened an investigation into Celso Rocha de Barros, a prominent political columnist at the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, a newspaper owned by the Brazilian government.



The column, which called for Bolsonaro to be imprisoned for overseeing a "mass murder," blasted Bolsonaro for promoting the anti-malarial drug chloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, despite clinical trials showing it does not prevent illness or death from the virus. Rocha de Barros also claimed that the two Bolsonaro allies who eventually requested the investigation were "trying to disrupt the investigation."

Rocha de Barros has stated that he will not cooperate with the investigation, which he believes is illegitimate and falls outside the purview of the Senate Police.

“It is a clear attempt at intimidation,” Rocha de Barros told Stardia. “I do not think the Bolsonaristas have much hope that these investigations will proceed, or that they will obtain favorable court decisions; the important thing is to create inconveniences for their targets in order to discourage other people who might criticize them.”

“Classic authoritarianism,” he said, “showing how the Bolsonarists, who have always called themselves critics of the politically correct, do not accept being labeled anything they do not like; they are snowflakes.”

An Authoritarian Who Is Becoming Desperate

It is not a coincidence that Bolsonaro is lashing out at both COVID-19 and deforestation at the same time: he sees denial of the pandemic and rampant environmental exploitation, particularly of protected Indigenous lands, as critical to the resurgence of the Brazilian economy, and thus to his presidency. However, Brazilians are turning against him more than at any point during his presidency, and it seizes the opportunity.

During a hearing this month, a Pfizer executive testified that the company initially offered to supply Brazil with vaccine doses last September, but didn't receive a response from Bolsonaro's government for more than two months, and that subsequent offers were similarly ignored.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic..Guajajara accused Bolsonaro of genocide in a documentary posted online, according to Reuters, for leaving Indigenous tribes unprotected as the virus spread throughout Brazil...Even if more than half of Brazilians now favor impeachment, the investigation is unlikely to result in Bolsonaro's removal.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic..Guajajara accused Bolsonaro of genocide in a documentary posted online, according to Reuters, for leaving Indigenous tribes unprotected as the virus spread throughout Brazil...Even if more than half of Brazilians now favor impeachment, the investigation is unlikely to result in Bolsonaro's removal..However, his handling of the pandemic may doom his presidency in the long run.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic..Guajajara accused Bolsonaro of genocide in a documentary posted online, according to Reuters, for leaving Indigenous tribes unprotected as the virus spread throughout Brazil...Even if more than half of Brazilians now favor impeachment, the investigation is unlikely to result in Bolsonaro's removal..However, his handling of the pandemic may doom his presidency in the long run..Bolsonaro won the election in 2018 by using corruption and anger against the Brazilian establishment, particularly da Silva and the Workers’ Party, which had ruled Brazil for the majority of the previous two decades.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic..Guajajara accused Bolsonaro of genocide in a documentary posted online, according to Reuters, for leaving Indigenous tribes unprotected as the virus spread throughout Brazil...Even if more than half of Brazilians now favor impeachment, the investigation is unlikely to result in Bolsonaro's removal..However, his handling of the pandemic may doom his presidency in the long run..Bolsonaro won the election in 2018 by using corruption and anger against the Brazilian establishment, particularly da Silva and the Workers’ Party, which had ruled Brazil for the majority of the previous two decades..Now, Bolsonaro is the symbol of a failing government, and da Silva (who is eligible to run for office again after his corruption conviction was overturned due to judicial impropriety) is already attempting to capitalize on the fact that anti-Bolsonarismo sentiment is now a stronger political force than anti-Workers' Party sentiment was three years ago.

But his hold on power is slipping: a congressional investigation into his denialist and conspiratorial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 450,000 Brazilians, now dominates morning newspapers and evening newscasts..Rates of deforestation in the Amazon and attacks on Indigenous tribes, which have made Bolsonaro a global pariah, have drew increasing negative attention at home, especially now that Bolsonaro's environmental minister is under investigation for illegal timber exports to the United States..And the reemergence of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a popular former president who is preparing to run for president again next year, has largely solidified Brazil's leftist opposition, creating a countervailing force around a leader skilled at capturing the attention of the Brazilian public and the world..  .As COVID-19 spreaded again in Brazil this spring, briefly turning the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, scientists and doctors across the country questioned Bolsonaro's refusal to support social distancing, mask wearing, or other practices meant to slow the virus's spread..Many of those who did so faced retaliation, particularly if they worked in public hospitals or universities: earlier this year, officials from the Bolsonaro administration threatened to fire Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Pelotas who has advised Brazil's health ministry and coordinates the country's COVID-19 research project, after he called Bolsonaro "dead.". .In March, police in Brazil detained protesters who called Bolsonaro's pandemic response "genocidal" under a law passed during the country's former military dictatorship..” In early May, Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, launched an investigation into Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suru, two prominent Indigenous leaders who have been critical of the government’s response to the pandemic and its impact on Indigenous populations..Both were served with subpoenas by federal authorities on suspicion of defaming the president and the government by criticizing his response to the pandemic..Guajajara accused Bolsonaro of genocide in a documentary posted online, according to Reuters, for leaving Indigenous tribes unprotected as the virus spread throughout Brazil...Even if more than half of Brazilians now favor impeachment, the investigation is unlikely to result in Bolsonaro's removal..However, his handling of the pandemic may doom his presidency in the long run..Bolsonaro won the election in 2018 by using corruption and anger against the Brazilian establishment, particularly da Silva and the Workers’ Party, which had ruled Brazil for the majority of the previous two decades..Now, Bolsonaro is the symbol of a failing government, and da Silva (who is eligible to run for office again after his corruption conviction was overturned due to judicial impropriety) is already attempting to capitalize on the fact that anti-Bolsonarismo sentiment is now a stronger political force than anti-Workers' Party sentiment was three years ago.. 

Da Silva has not formally launched his campaign eighteen months before the election, but he is clearly positioning himself to run with a heavy focus on Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic and the economic crisis it has created. He has promised to get Brazil, which was once a global leader in vaccinations and infectious disease response, healthy and growing again.

Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, an icon of Brazil’s elite center-right who defeated da Silva in two presidential elections in the 1990s, met with his former adversary last week and stated that he would support da Silva over Bolsonaro in a head-to-head matchup, as would a majority of the country: da Silva led Bolsonaro, 55% to 32%, in a recent poll conducted by the country’s m

Bolsonaro still has time to change the narrative; his government has already resumed the coronavirus-related relief payments that helped millions of Brazilians avoid poverty early in the pandemic and bolstered Bolsonaro's support during another self-inflicted political crisis last year. But Bolsonaro is the authoritarian he appears to be in his most desperate moments, and he never manages to change that.

Courts have blocked the investigation into Guajajara and other Indigenous leaders, and the subpoenas have been thrown out. Rocha de Barros is one of Brazil's best-known columnists, and has the support of the country's largest newspaper.

However, there has already been a chilling effect on those who lack such institutional support or simply want to avoid the headaches that come with publicly criticizing the president.



Many academics, NGOs, and newspapers in Brazil rely heavily on government funding, adding to the pressure to remain silent if only to avoid problems. Bolsonaro's supporters, who are already quick to attack anyone who criticizes the president, are likely to follow his lead and push their leader and his allies to respond even more aggressively to future criticism.

“It sends a message to everyone else that you don’t want to get into trouble, and it’s really not worth it,” Stuenkel explained, adding, “So unless you’re super committed, you just don’t want to mess with these guys.”

“It’s sort of a breakdown of what makes democracy special,” Stuenkel explained, “and it’s very serious and very severe.”

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