President Jair Bolsonaro’s words to a supporter, in which he said that the “country is broken” and that he can’t do anything, are now widely known. But even with a world economic crisis that has dragged on for years and the downturn in economic activity during the pandemic, the public accounts do not demonstrate this. Brazil is not “broken”: it has R$1.24 trillion (US$0.23 trillion) in the National Treasury, international reserves and a surplus trade balance of over US$50 billion. Even under the merciless criteria of the “market”, the country still has resources.
What is breaking for Brazilians is life itself. Brazil surpassed the tragic mark of 200,000 deaths by COVID-19 on 7 January. Case numbers are growing across most of the country and there are over 1,200 deaths per day. While more than fifty countries have already started to immunize their populations, Bolsonaro insists on campaigning against the vaccine and has not yet put forward an effective vaccination plan.
The historic social divide has only developed further during the pandemic. The number of people living in misery and poverty has increased, a plight that will expand with the end of emergency aid that reaches 48 million people. The government is still capable of restricting access to the Continuous Cash Benefit Programme (BPC), a benefit for poor people who are either over 65 or suffer a disability. Unemployment has jumped to 14.6% of the population, and 30% of the workforce is underutilized, i.e., they work fewer hours than they would like. Without income, 66.3% of families moved into debt in December. Life is more difficult, especially for blacks, women, the LGBTQI population, and workers in the North and the Northeast.
Three measures for saving lives and stopping the breaking of workers
For the great majority, Brazil is breaking. And this is not due to a lack of resources but to choices and decisions made by this government. Bolsonaro is breaking the country and the lives of the people, while saving the profits of the banks and big companies and handing over our resources and those of the state. There is another way, there are alternatives for avoiding this:
1 – Guarantee vaccinations now, for everyone, free of charge through the Unified Health System (SUS)
Vaccination is the only measure that will allow for the protection of lives and the recovery of the economy. Brazil has now fallen behind the rest of the world, and the government does not seem to care. At the same time, health care businesses are taking advantage of this and trying to offer vaccines for a price, thus making who will live and die dependent on people’s incomes.
2 – Guarantee emergency aid until the vaccination of the population is completed
Stopping this aid now is absurd. For 36% of families receiving this aid in December, it was their only source of income. Ending this aid will throw millions into misery.
3 – Prohibit dismissals during the pandemic and employ the unemployed through a plan of public works
The measures of the government and the National Congress have withdrawn entitlements, but have not guaranteed employment and income. It is possible to tackle unemployment, the public works that the country needs to develop its economy, and the fight against COVID-19, all at the same time.
Life over profits
Big companies and banks have received all kinds of aid. The result is that, even in the pandemic, a select group of billionaires has managed to get even richer: their profits have increased by 34%. They did not break. To save the lives of tens of thousands of people and prevent millions from being thrown into misery, the profits of those at the top must be challenged. For that, it is necessary to:
1) Abolish the ‘Teto dos Gastos’ (Spending Ceiling) to release resources for investment in health, employment, and assistance
The law that freezes public spending is criminal. If it had been in force for longer, the SUS would have been dismantled further and more lives would have been lost to the pandemic. The spending ceiling could see the government’s discretionary spending in 2021 fall by R$67.8 billion (US$12.8 billion), which according to analysts could well provoke a shutdown, that is, a general paralysis of public services caused by a lack of resources. Jair Bolsonaro and Rodrigo Maia do not differ on the need to maintain the spending ceiling, and they still want to push ahead with administrative reform and make the public service the enemy.
2) Tax the great fortunes and the banks
Countries such as Argentina, Spain, and Bolivia have passed laws and implemented taxes on wealth and profits to help finance the fight against the pandemic. Yet in Brazil, where the richest 1% of the population holds 28.3% of total income, nothing is done. According to the federal auditors’ association UNAFISCO, the government could raise R$59.79 billion (US$11.3 billion) with a change to the tax structure on profits and dividends. But Bolsonaro prefers to maintain the income tax schedule intact and tax those who earn only R$2,000 (US$378) a month.
3) Use a portion of the dollar reserves
According to the Citizens’ Debt Audit group, Brazil has R$ 1,836 trillion (US$347 trillion) in international reserves. This “cushion” is used for protection against attacks from speculators and used in the interests of the international market. All the while millions of Brazilians go hungry.
4) Suspend the payment of interest on public debt to the big creditors
Around 38.3% of federal spending in 2019 was consumed by the payment of interest and depreciation of public debt, against only 4.6% for health. As of August 2020, this bloodletting had risen to 45.7%. According to the Citizens’ Debt Audit group, every day the country earmarks R$4.4 billion (US$0.83 billion) for these payments, without there being any end to the debt. We need to suspend these payments to the bankers and the big funds so that the money can be used for emergency social needs.
Bolsonaro Out, now!
Bolsonaro will not adopt any of these measures. His government combines permanent attacks on democracy with the implementation of an economic program to dismantle the state. While he makes threats about not recognizing a potential defeat in the 2022 election, he continues with his radical agenda of reforms and privatizations. His government does not care about the pandemic and even takes advantage of social detachment to “passar a boiada” (let the whole herd pass), that is, adopt a whole range of anti-popular reforms pass, with the help of Congress.
For the country not to break, and for us not to officially reach 300,000 deaths (numbers which are notoriously underreported), Bolsonaro needs to be removed from power. ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ (Bolsonaro Out) is urgent. The government has already provided all the proof needed to show that it has no respect for the law and that it acts against people’s lives. Bolsonaro’s commentary on the attempted invasion of the US Capitol by Trump supporters shows that he is willing to resort to violence if he does not win the next elections. We cannot wait until 2022. We must demand that the President of the Chamber of Deputies Rodrigo Maia opens the impeachment process immediately, on the basis of the popular request that was filed in August and signed by hundreds of organizations, which like so many other impeachment requests, has been ignored by him.
The parties of the left, unions, social movements and movements against oppression must unite to demand free SUS vaccination for all now, emergency income, and guaranteed employment, and this must be linked to the banner of ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ (Bolsonaro Out) and the organization of solidarity actions. What is required is to make 2021 a year of resistance, a year of united actions that take to the streets with all the necessary health precautions, against this genocidal government.
*This article is an English translation of “200 mil mortes, desemprego e miséria: Bolsonaro quebra o país”, Esquerda Online (EOL), 09/01/2021.