SAO PAULO (AP) – A Brazilian Supreme Court judge on Thursday ordered the Senate to investigate the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the full court ruled churches could be barred from reopening during the pandemic, threatening to escalate tensions between President Jair Bolsonaro and the judiciary.
Judge Luis Roberto Barroso’s order for a Senate investigation came just minutes after the entire tribunal confirmed the power of local authorities to prevent the opening of churches and other places of worship.
Bolsonaro downplayed the coronavirus threat while arguing that the economic and emotional impacts of the closures would harm more Brazilians than the pandemic. It has at times bristled at the checks and balances of other branches of government and has repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court for maintaining the power of governors and mayors to set restrictions on economic and personal activity during the pandemic. Last year he attended protests against the court.
The conservative president, a proud Christian who has the backing of some of the country’s top evangelical leaders, has opposed locally imposed lockdowns and other restrictions that health experts say were badly needed to stop the spread virus. In recent weeks, Brazil has become the epicenter of the pandemic crisis, accounting for more than a quarter of deaths worldwide from COVID-19.
“The investigation will call scientists from across Brazil to testify and show just how irresponsible the president’s statements were. It will become 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. The time has come for the political system to react.
With the rising death toll in the country – among the 345,000 dead are three senators – more than the required 27 senators had already signed a request for a congressional inquiry into the administration’s handling of the pandemic, but for to move forward, it required the approval of the president of the chamber, the senator. Rodrigo Pacheco. Pacheco, who had obtained his managerial post in January with the support of Bolsonaro, had refrained from launching the investigation.
“It was not the moment. That’s what I think, ”Pacheco told reporters in Brasilia after the judge’s order. “This investigation at this time will be banned. This could crown the national failure of this pandemic.
Pacheco said an investigation would inevitably lead to the 2022 presidential race in which Bolsonaro is expected to be re-elected, giving opposition senators a platform to attack the leader and potentially accuse him of committing crimes.
The Senate must consider how the government handled the COVID-19 crisis and could level Bolsonaro with further criticism. If senators decide there was something criminal in the response, the Senate should ask the federal attorney general to initiate his own investigation.
The decision on places of worship does not prevent local authorities from allowing the reopening of churches, and some have already done so.
But the court acted after Judge Kassio Marques, the only member of the court appointed by Bolsonaro, allowed churches in Brazil to reopen on Saturday on condition that they follow health protocols. Many churches opened on Easter Sunday, some without observing social distancing.
Marques was dismissed by his colleagues in a 9-2 vote that culminated Thursday.
Judge Gilmar Mendes said in his vote that Brazil has become “an international outcast when it comes to health care.”
“Brazil, which was once a model in public health, in vaccination campaigns, now finds itself in this very embarrassing situation,” he said.
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