Demonstrators wearing masks with text written in Portuguese that read "Bolsonaro out," and a sign with the phrase "Oxygen, Breathe Brazil," protest against the government's response in combating COVID-19 and demanding the impeachment of Brazil's President

Brazil under Bolsonaro

Calls for Bolsonaro’s impeachment intensify  

Protesters hit the streets this past weekend in caravans in major cities across Brazil. 

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Demonstrators wearing masks with text written in Portuguese that read "Bolsonaro out," and a sign with the phrase "Oxygen, Breathe Brazil," protest against the government's response in combating COVID-19 and demanding the impeachment of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, in Brasília, Brazil, Jan. 24, 2021.

Credit:

Eraldo Peres/AP 

A sound truck leads a seemingly endless line of vehicles down the street in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais. A huge yellow banner flaps in the wind. It reads: “Bolsonaro Impeachment Now.”

A group of people in masks cheers on the side of the road.

This is just one of the dozens of caravans held this past weekend calling for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s impeachment — for failing to protect people’s lives during the pandemic. Brazil is one of the countries worst affected by COVID-19, along with the United States and India. More than 215,000 people in Brazil have died from the coronavirus and the infection rate doesn’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down.

Related: Brazil struggles with new COVID-19 strain and oxygen shortages

The increasing calls for Bolsonaro’s impeachment come just over a week after a devastating spike in COVID-19 cases in the city of Manaus, which packed intensive care wards. Oxygen ran out. Some patients died. Others were transferred to other states. The city is still battling with more than 3,000 new cases a day. A lockdown begins on Monday.

In another caravan, from the country’s capital Brasilia, Workers’ Party president, Gleisi Hoffmann, speaks on top of a sound truck speeding along a highway past residential neighborhoods. She wears a white face mask adorned with the insignia of the universal health care system, SUS, in bold red letters.

“This is the caravan for the impeachment of Bolsonaro because to receive vaccines for all, to strengthen the public health care system, to have income and work, this will not happen with this president. This president is genocidal.”

Gleisi Hoffmann, president, Workers' Party, Brasilia, Brazil

“This is the caravan for the impeachment of Bolsonaro because to receive vaccines for all, to strengthen the public health care system, to have income and work, this will not happen with this president. This president is genocidal.”

Related: Brazil weighs COVID-19 vaccines as its death toll climbs

The caravans were not just run by Bolsonaro’s longtime adversaries on the left, but also by some of his former allies.

In this video, posted online on Sunday, a line of cars rolls down Sao Paulo’s Paulista Avenue. A woman on the mic says, “Enough of the irresponsibility. Enough of the conflict.” These same groups supported Bolsonaro and were responsible for some of the largest street protests against Workers' Party President Dilma Rousseff in the lead-up to her impeachment in 2016.

Luciana Santana is a political scientist at the Federal University of Alagoas. She says multiple factors are causing outrage and propelling people to the streets: the crisis in Manaus, the slow start to the vaccination campaign, which only began last week, and even the news from Washington.

“Everything that’s happened in the US over the last month — the impeachment requests in the US, the anti-democratic movements that invaded the US Capitol. All of this international context has started to reflect here, considering that Trump was one of the inspirations for the Brazilian president,” she said.

Bolsonaro was uncharacteristically silent in response to this weekend’s protests: 

On Sunday, Bolsonaro went for a motorcycle ride around Brasilia. In this video posted online, two journalists ask him what he thinks about the protests and the drop in his popularity. He tries to ignore them as he gets back on his bike and speeds off, flanked by security guards.

 

Bolsonaro’s approval rating fell nearly a dozen points in a new poll released Friday, down to only 26%. The hit is at least partially in response to the government's decision to end the monthly stipend for low-wage informal sector workers that had been in effect since the pandemic began.

Two reports also broke last week that generated even greater outrage. First, it was leaked that Bolsonaro’s government had refused an early offer from Pfizer to sell Brazil 70 million doses of its vaccine. Then, a scathing University of Sao Paulo study of the governments’ handling of the pandemic revealed that there was an “institutional strategy to spread coronavirus” with the goal of quickly reopening Brazil’s economy "at any cost.”

Related: Brazil's political tug of war over coronavirus vaccines

“It’s an important study and I would say that it strengthens, even more, the arguments and evidence for the opening of [the] impeachment process,” Santana said.

According to a study by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, there are almost two dozen cases where actions or statements by Bolsonaro could be considered a crime for violating Brazilian’s constitutional right to health.

Related: Black Brazilians who won elections in 2020 previously ran as white

More than half of Brazilians say they would support Bolsonaro’s impeachment.

In addition, at least 60 impeachment requests have been delivered to the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Rodrigo Maia. He’s already said he won’t take action. But an election for a new House speaker will take place on Feb. 1. If Bolsonaro’s candidate loses, it may open the door for the process to move ahead.

But Bolsonaro’s government is apparently doing damage control, preparing a new communications plan and lobbying more centrist members of Congress. What comes next is anyone’s guess.

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