Bad Example

Bolsonaro's chaotic governance damages Brazil's reputation abroad

International analysts and newspapers make projections about the "damage" the president may still cause the nation

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | Los Angeles (USA) |
Internationally, the Bolsonaro government's many failures impact the country in different ways - Evaristo Sa/AFP

In addition to exporting minerals and agricultural products, Brazil has been a global "supplier" of a bad example. The disastrous way in which the Jair Bolsonaro government has dealt with the novel coronavirus pandemic has made headlines in major international newspapers. For example, in the first week of March, The New York Times published an article titled "The covid crisis in Brazil is a warning for the whole world".

In the article, the newspaper says that the pandemic "left a trail of death and despair" in the country, and talks about the more than 300 thousand deaths that have occurred in the country.

This display of unpreparedness, led by Bolsonaro, has impacted the country's reputation even in the academic sphere. "My perception of Brazil, before the current president, was of an ascending country; of a nation that was putting its puzzle together," said Karen Alter, a political sciences and law professor at Northwestern University.

For the professor, what has been observed under the Chief Executive’s management is a lesson "on populism and authoritarian leaders, who are more concerned with their own whims and power than with the country and its population".

Similar criticism came from the prestigious Brown University, through the words of political sciences professor Patrick Heller. "I have already said many times that the pandemic is a physical examination of the societal body. Judging by this pattern, the societal body and more specifically, the political body of today’s Brazil seems absolutely catastrophic", the professor analyzed.

Foreign policy

The repercussions of the Bolsonaro administration’s failures impact the country in different ways. For instance, Brazil was left out of the Climate Summit promoted by the United Nations (UN), and the president was also not invited to speak at the World Health Assembly, the keynote event organized by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"When you question science and the medical community, you spread nonsense about vaccines and masks and other common-sense public health measures and suddenly change your tone, it undermines any external credibility", says Heller, explaining international dealings in regards to Brazil.

Still, according to the professor, the damage to Brazil’s image may be even greater. "In the short term, the Brazilian reputation is linked to global public health (...) because Brazil, by having not responded to the pandemic, by not having implemented basic safety measures and having been left behind in terms of vaccination, has become fertile ground for the pandemic. Each new variant is discovering that Brazil is a very hospitable environment to develop in, and inevitably, the increasingly infectious and dangerous viruses that appear in Brazil will become global".

Despite the negative headlines, Karen Alter recalls that for realistic academics, the role of a country is linked to its power and how that power is projected. "We lived through the same thing here with Donald Trump, who was a terrible leader who many believed would sink the country. In the end however, the United States is still a military and economic power, and these are the pillars that make the country a strong nation. With a change in leadership, everything balances out", says the political scientist.

Should the same thing happen in Brazil? "Well, you still have two more years to go, and the question now is: how much damage can Jair Bolsonaro do in the meantime?", she replied.

However, it is not this rhetorical question that keeps the professor up at night. "We have to find out what puts leaders like that in power. Why does the population want this president? And why did people continue to support Bolsonaro?".

According to a survey by the Datafolha Institute, the current government's disapproval rating reached 44% in March. The assessment of his conduct in relation to the pandemic is even worse: 54% of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the crisis.

"International trust can be rebuilt quickly. For a good 20 years, from [Fernando Henrique] Cardoso through [Dilma] Rousseff’s entire term, people had a lot of confidence in Brazil. The country expanded, grew and promoted ever more inclusion, at the same time, it was incredibly diverse, loud and cacophonous.

Brasil de Fato’s newsroom reached out to the Presidential Palace for comment on the researchers' statements, there was no response.

Edited by: Camila Maciel