SAO PAULO – As citizen and political criticism of his management of COVID-19 intensifies, Brazil’s president launched a counterattack on Wednesday.
Half an hour after a large public protest against him – bigger than the one a day earlier – several wealthy neighborhoods of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife banged pots and pans from their balconies in favor of the president – at his encouragement – although in a more timid manner than his critics had.
During the afternoon, Bolsonaro, who said that there has been “hysteria” surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, gave a striking press conference in Brasilia wearing a facemask.
The Brazilian head of state, surrounded by his staff, wanted to answer to the recent disapproval of his management.
Both former allies of the president and spontaneous citizen movements have expressed discontent and on Tuesday an opposition deputy presented in Congress a request for his impeachment.
On Tuesday night, thousands of citizens, many of them in voluntary quarantine, banged pots and pans from their windows and balconies as a form of protest against the attitude of the president, whom they consider irresponsible for not doing enough against the advance of the pathogen.
“We must understand (the saucepan protest) as a manifestation of democracy… Now, I also announce that tonight there will be (one) favorable to Bolsonaro at 9 pm,” said the leader, who again criticized local media coverage.
On Wednesday, the protest was repeated more intensely, with citizens shouting “Out Bolsonaro” and “Murder of the elderly” in cities such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Recife, among others.
This form of protest known as ‘cacerolazo’, deeply rooted in other regional countries such as Argentina and Chile, were very popular after the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff, who in 2016 left the Brazilian presidency due to a political trial against her.
The Brazilian president, who turns 65 in three days, has been surrounded by ministers infected with COVID-19, but, according to him, the two tests he underwent were negative.
Despite the fact he was recommended to undergo preventive quarantine as a suspect of infection, Bolsonaro greeted and hugged numerous followers last Sunday in a demonstration he called through social media.
“The next few days they will see me entering the crowded Sao Paulo subway, on a boat that connects Rio and Niteroi and a bus in Belo Horizonte. And that is not demagoguery. That means that I am next to the people. It is the example I always set as a soldier of the Brazilian Army,” he said.
According to the latest data, Brazil, with almost 210 million inhabitants, has registered 428 cases of coronavirus infection and four deaths.
Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has already warned that the fight against the pathogen has only just begun and compared what is to come with climbing Mt Everest.
Bolsonaro, who answered questions from a dozen journalists for almost an hour, assured that his government was preparing for the pandemic well in advance.
He said that they studied the cases of other affected countries, such as South Korea and Italy, which have suffered from the pandemic in cold climates.
According to him, “the virus does not spread as fast in hot climates” such as that of Brazil, something which is not yet scientifically proven.
“It is serious, but we cannot fall into hysteria. We have to bring peace and tranquility to everyone, without ignoring what is to come. It is serious, it is worrying, but does not reach the level of hysteria or national commotion,” he said.
Bolsonaro also took advantage of the press conference to announce financial measures moved by “humanitarian sentiment” that would benefit informal and autonomous workers, about 40 million Brazilians.
Finance Minister Paulo Guedes intervened to specify that the value will be around 200 reais ($40) per month and will benefit some 18 million families, who are supported by informal or autonomous employment.
The new subsidies will begin to be distributed this month and will continue until at least July, when it is considered Brazil will be at the peak of the pandemic.
In order to speed up the proposed extraordinary measures, including aid to companies in difficulty, Bolsonaro asked Parliament to declare a “state of public calamity” as soon as possible.
This measure would free the government from the obligation to meet the fiscal target set for this year, which proposes a deficit of 124 billion reais (about $24.8 billion), equivalent to 1.5 percent of the GDP.
Amid the economic turmoil, the Central Bank of Brazil cut its interest rates this Wednesday by half a percentage point to 3.75 percent, a new all-time low, in an attempt to inject a new stimulus into the country’s weakened economy and to stem the negative effects of the coronavirus.