Bolsonaros fiery rhetoric on display in controversial video  05/23/2020 06:16:21 
By: Bloomberg | Updated: May 23, 2020 11:46:21 am
Bolsonaros fiery rhetoric on display in controversial video A video of a controversial meeting between Brazils Jair Bolsonaro and members of his cabinet became public on Friday, fueling a political crisis that embroils the president just as the coronavirus pandemic grips the country. (Bloomberg)

A video of a controversial meeting between Brazils Jair Bolsonaro and members of his cabinet became public on Friday, fueling a political crisis that embroils the president just as the coronavirus pandemic grips the country.

Footage of the April 22 meeting that lasted more than two hours risks deepening an institutional crisis between the executive branch and the judiciary while leaving some cabinet members in a tough spot. On the other hand, it showed the strength of Economy Minister Paulo Guedes in the administration and may even please Bolsonaros most radical followers.

The video had been under seal as part of evidence presented by former Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who resigned last month accusing the president of seeking to interfere with police investigations, some of which potentially involve members of Bolsonaros family in Rio de Janeiro. The Supreme Court allowed an investigation into the matter, which is ongoing.

I already tried to change people in our security in Rio de Janeiro officially but I wasnt able to, the president said in a crucial part of the video, which is riddled with crude language. Im not going to wait for them to screw over my whole family just for kicks, or my friends. Why cant I change someone from security from the end of the line that belongs to our structure. He will be changed! If he cant be changed, change his boss! Cant change his boss? Change the minister!

Bolsonaros words fueled multiple interpretations, including that he may have been requesting a change in Rios police chief for the protection of his family, as Moro claimed. In a different moment, the president also says that the federal police do not give me information.

Assista aos vdeos de Bolsonaro e seus ministros na reunio que Moro citou

 Estado (@Estadao) May 22, 2020

Bolsonaro, who denies any wrongdoing, said the videos release showed one more farce broken down and no indication of interference with the federal police.

The video also offered Brazilians an unfiltered view of their governments inner workings while putting on display Bolsonaros shocking rhetoric — including obscenities and sexual references — and willingness to disparage his political enemies. He made incendiary remarks cursing the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro states.

Some cabinet members were left in hot water after the videos release. Education Minister Abraham Weintraub made disparaging comments about the Supreme Court, saying he would throw the justices in jail. Environment Minister Ricardo Salles suggested taking advantage of the medias focus on the pandemic rather than the Amazon to change all the rules and simplify them.

In a statement published after the videos release, Salles said he always defended de-bureaucratizing and simplifying rules. Weintraub did not respond to a request for comment.

Institutional Crisis

The Brazilian real rose after the videos release on bets that its contents are not going to erode Bolsonaros 30% approval rate, said Roberto Padovani, economist at BV.

Bolsonaros words have an anti-systemic populist appeal that may even provide a boost to his popularity among his most radical base, said Deysi Cioccari, a political scientist with the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo.

But the video causes an institutional crisis, she said. A very strong institutional crisis is coming.

Even though Bolsonaros disagreement with some cabinet members has forced the exit of three ministers since the pandemic began — Moro plus two health ministers — the president expresses full support for his economy minister in the video, saying hes never had any problems with Paulo Guedes. That vote of confidence could ease investor worries about the economy ministers fate.

Video Unsealed

Bolsonaro had initially requested that parts of the meeting that are not related to the probe remain private to protect national interests. Moro, on the other hand, wanted it to be released to the public in its entirety. Portions of the footage released on the Supreme Courts website were redacted.

In his decision to unseal the video, Justice Celso de Mello said his judgement had been informed by the Watergate case that led to the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1974. He said it was legitimate for the Court to review acts of the president especially when they have to do with the Head of States supposed criminal practice. He determined the video should be unsealed for the sake of transparency.

As part of the investigation, Mello asked the federal prosecutors to decide whether three requests from opposition lawmakers to have Bolsonaro testify and turn in his personal phone — along with the phone of his son Carlos — should be undertaken. There is no deadline for the prosecutor to respond. In a statement, Institutional Security Minister Augusto Heleno called any potential seizure order unbelievable, an insult to executive powers, and a clear attempt to compromise the harmony among powers that could have unpredictable consequences for national stability.

Bolsonaro later told journalists no one is going to get my phone.

High Stakes

The stakes are high for far-right president, who is facing political and economic crises on top of the catastrophic public health crisis. The countrys total case count topped 330,000 Friday, surpassing Russia to become the second hardest hit country, after only the U.S.

Bolsonaros popularity has declined during the outbreak, in part due to his refusal to adopt social distancing measures and promotion of the controversial anti-malarial drug chloroquine. Contrary to the president, 76% of Brazilians believe social distancing is the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19, according to a recent poll by XP/Ipespe. And even though half of Brazilians think his administration is bad or terrible, polling suggests his support base is still quite robust: 25% evaluated the presidents performance positively.

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