Cemetery workers wearing protective clothing carry the coffin of a person who has died as a result of COVID-19 to a burial site in the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday April 7, 2021. Andre Penner / AP hide caption
Other pins / AP
Other pins / AP
SAO PAULO (AP) – A Brazilian Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Senate to investigate the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. The court ruled that reopening churches during the pandemic can be ruled out, which could create further tension between President Jair Bolsonaro and the judiciary.
The order from Justice Luis Roberto Barroso for a Senate investigation came minutes after the entire court upheld the authority of local authorities to prevent churches and other places of worship from opening.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the coronavirus threat, arguing that the economic and emotional impact of shutdowns would hurt more Brazilians than the pandemic. He has at times resisted the scrutiny and deliberation of other branches of government and repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court for maintaining the power of governors and mayors to impose restrictions on economic and personal activity during the pandemic. Last year he took part in protests against the court.
The Conservative president, a proud Christian who has the backing of some of the country’s top evangelical leaders, has spoken out against locally imposed lockdowns and other restrictions that health experts said were badly needed to stop the virus from spreading. In the past few weeks, Brazil has become the epicenter of the pandemic crisis, causing more than a quarter of the world’s deaths from COVID-19.
“The investigation will call scientists from across Brazil to testify and show how irresponsible the president’s statements have been. It will be more difficult for him. Public opinion will be heard in the Senate,” said Carlos Melo, professor of political science at Insper University in Sao Paulo. “It was inevitable. It was time the political system responded.”
With the country’s death toll rising – three senators among the 345,000 dead – more than the required 27 senators had already signed a motion for a Congressional inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic. Rodrigo Pacheco. Pacheco, who won his leadership position with Bolsonaro’s assistance in January, had failed to deploy the probe.
“It wasn’t the moment. I think so,” Pacheco told reporters in Brasilia on the judge’s orders. “This investigation will be out of bounds at this moment. It could crown the national failure of this pandemic.”
Pacheco said an investigation will inevitably fuel the 2022 presidential race, which is expected to see Bolsonaro re-elected, providing a platform for opposition senators to attack the leader and possibly accuse him of crimes.
The Senate is due to examine how the government has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis and could criticize Bolsonaro again. If the senators decided there was something criminal in the answer, the Senate would have to ask the attorney general to open an investigation of their own.
The decision on places of worship does not prevent local authorities from allowing churches to reopen, and some have already done so.
However, the court came after Judge Kassio Marques, the only member of the court appointed by Bolsonaro, allowed churches across Brazil to reopen on Saturday, provided they followed health protocols. Many churches are open on Easter Sunday, some without observing social distancing.
Marques was outvoted by his colleagues in a 9-2 vote that culminated on Thursday.
Justice Gilmar Mendes said during his vote that Brazil has become “an international health pariah”.
“Brazil, which was once a public health model in vaccination campaigns, is now in this extremely embarrassing position,” he said.