Fear and Hunger Under Bolsonaro

Oct 5, 2021
12:19 PM

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attends a ceremony on the National Day of People with Disabilities at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, September 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

Behind the persistent coup attempts by President Jair Bolsonaro lies the hunger that has hit millions of Brazilians. 

With more than 14 million unemployed and inflation reaching 10 percent, desperate Brazilians are even looking for food scraps and discarded animal carcasses, typically used to produce pet food or soap, to survive and feed their families. 

Data shows that 116 million Brazilians live without full and permanent access to food and of these, 19 million go hungry on a daily basis. This sad reality ends up being left aside, hidden but also exacerbated by the political crisis ravaging the country.

In a country that has been crisis-driven since at least 2015, when the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff began, the latest scandal involves Prevent Senior, a healthcare company that owns several hospitals, and whose management is accused of conducting tests on patients and forcing doctors to offer drugs without proven efficacy in one of the country’s biggest medical scandals

Founded in 1997 by two brothers, Eduardo and Fernando Parrillo, the company quickly became one of the leaders in the healthcare sector with a focus on offering health plans for the elderly at bargain prices. 

Investigated by the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that has been investigating the Bolsonaro government and how it has dealt with the pandemic, the company was denounced for unethical and anti-scientific practices, such as the use of patients as guinea pigs for research on the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in COVID treatment —a treament promoted by Donald Trump and immediately copied by Bolsonaro and his supporters— as well as altering information in medical records to hide suspicious deaths.

Doctors were forced to alter medical records and recommend to all patients suspected of having contracted COVID the so-called “COVID kit,” a cocktail of drugs without scientific proof even for patients with comorbidities, putting their lives at risk

According to Bruna Mendes Morato, a lawyer representing a group of doctors who denounce Prevent Senior, there was a pact between the company and the Bolsonaro government to validate the use of hydroxychloroquine and to prevent a lockdown.

The new denunciation adds to many previous ones. On September 21 the President spoke before the United Nations General Assembly, and in a confusing speech may have broken his personal record for lies, announcing that the country would be “free of corruption” since he took office, and that before he arrived the country was “on the verge of socialism.”

In a speech punctuated by mentions of “God” and “family,” the President also lied about preserving the environment and offered asylum to Afghans –but only to those who are Christians. 

Bolsonaro also admitted, live on TV, to having defended the “early treatment” —the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin— along with the “COVID kit” used by Prevent Senior. And he lied again by saying he always defended vaccination. 


On Saturday, October 2, thousands of people took to the streets in protest against Bolsonaro, in demonstrations across the country spearheaded by 20 political parties and social movements. While the demonstrations in response to the fascist pro-Bolsonaro mobilization on September 7 were called for nearly a month ago, the turnout has been lower than expected. 

The factors are many, ranging from fear of the pandemic and crowds, to the misguided belief of some moderates that Bolsonaro would soften his tone and back down, to the fact that many do not want to see themselves linked to the Workers’ Party (PT) and, by taking to the streets, help the party gain prominence.

Much of the movement in the streets had some form of connection to the PT, the party apparently with the most participants. There was no shortage of mentions of the former president and current presidential candidate Lula da Silva, co-founder of the PT.

The fragmentation of the opposition is visible, and the demonstrations ultimately lacked the force needed to pressure Congress to move forward with Bolsonaro’s impeachment. 


Inflation has not only raised the price of food but also fuel. And there are more increases to come, along with the rise in the price of electricity due to the mismanagement by successive governments and a drought typical of this time of year. Hydroelectric plants operate with the minimum of water from rivers that have been drying up at an alarming rate, forcing the government to use expensive and polluting thermoelectric power plants to produce energy

While the price of fuel rises, the powerful class of truck drivers threaten to strike—one of the great fears of any government as it could lead to shortages in the cities. The political class is busy pointing fingers instead of solving the crisis, and car drivers are putting themselves at risk by using cooking gas for fuel. 


Bolsonaro’s relationship with fake news could not be stronger. The President insists on wanting to legislate what social platforms can and cannot do, and after enacting a provisional measure —suspended by the Supreme Court and rejected by the Senate— he is now pushing a bill to prevent social networks from moderating and deleting content from their platforms, altering Brazil’s Civil Rights Framework for the Internet. 

Long story short, what Bolsonaro proposes is to create obstacles for companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove content linked to fake news and hate speech. This initiative came as a response to the institutional reactions following the September 7 pro-Bolsonaro protests demanding a coup, while two of Bolsonaro sons are planning to “internationalize” their actions, seeking to escape the siege imposed by the Supreme Court on the President’s supporters —some are in jail or have had their social media accounts suspended— by taking its fake news network abroad.

For professor Ronaldo Lemos, in an article for Folha de São Paulo, this discussion over a  provisional measure and a subsequent bill “is nothing but distractions”:

Its writing wanted to give the message that fake news is a problem of individual freedom. Its premise would be that it is individuals who create and spread false information. The issue of fake news is not individual, but industrial. Fake news is a profitable, well-organized and well-funded industry, with command and control, employees and contractors of various kinds, including copywriters, programmers, agitators and managers of networks of bots and fake profiles. So much so that the term ‘fake news’ is itself misleading. The more correct would be ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour.’

And Guilherme Felitti, a partner at Novelo data analytics studio, explains to Latino Rebels that it’s clear “how much Bolsonaro and his supporters no longer try to speak to other groups, but only to the converted. There has been no effort to try and appeal to the portions of the population who did not vote or voted for Bolsonaro and regretted it. The ‘echo chamber’ that we are seeing since the middle of the pandemic continues to intensify.”

While the country suffers from hunger, the political class engages in endless debates on whether to overthrow or save the President from impeachment.


Raphael Tsavkko Garcia is a journalist with a Ph.D in Human Rights (focused on migration and diaspora). His portfolio is here. Twitter: @Tsavkko.