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  • Lois Gilhooly

A Love Triangle: Covid-19, Organised Crime and Jair Bolsonaro

Amidst the fear, uncertainty and angst that has overwhelmed our newsfeeds in the Western world, it is easy to overlook the late comers to the Covid-19 breakout.

We’ve all heard about the extreme and aggressive measures China has taken, building hospitals within weeks, mass testing and putting ‘at least 50 million people under a mandatory quarantine since 23 January’. Similarly, we’ve all seen the swift lockdown measures in Europe, indeed the list goes on.

However, I want to turn your attention to the Southern Hemisphere and one place in particular, Brazil. In stark contrast from other heads of state Jair Bolsonaro has called Coronavirus a ‘fantasy’ that has been created by the media - this was in a conference in Miami on Tuesday 10th of March. However, I’ve never heard of a fantasy that twenty

-one days later gives the people of Brazil a death toll of 201 and 5,717 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Despite the sharp downward turn Brazil has taken, the political inaction remains a repetitive pattern for Mr Bolsonaro and as such has revealed a further underbelly of already apparent political divisions within Brazil. Joao Doria, governor of Sao Paulo openly defied Bolsonaro and is keeping inline with it’s strict quarantine. Another challenger to the President, is Wilson Witzel, Rio De Janeiro’s governor and a fleeting ally of Bolsonaro, who has extended Rio’s shut down for a further two-weeks.

The question that undoubtedly arises from this instability is, are all the people being sufficiently protected with this fractured, unstable and divided approach to public health and wellbeing?

The answer is not all. It’s not the first time law and governance has been taken out of the hands of the authorities in Latin America, and I’m sure it won't be the last. But with only limited resources being used to provide aid and hot-headed politicians only focusing on fearing the worst for the already fragile economy, it is by no stretch of the mind that you can see why this discontent has grown into something larger, especially in Rio De Janeiro.

It must be a slap in the face for the Brazilian Government to hear that in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro the gangs have imposed strict rules for their districts to follow. The irony that areas so infamous for their lawlessness, poverty and danger have taken it upon themselves to fill the frankly very small shoes of the government, is somewhat bitter.

The gangs have put an end to parties, some drug markets have closed and strict curfews are in place. It’s not exactly legislation in any form we know, but it is being enforced. There have been reports of the organised crime gang driving arounds the slum policing their rules. In poorly serviced, densely packed poor neighbourhoods like the favelas it is easy to imagine how communities like these could be ravaged by Covid-19.

Perhaps you would’ve thought that under times of duress such as these, cooperation between the favelas and the authorities within Rio would’ve grown, however with the Central Unicas Das Favelas presenting recommendations, which would provide some aid to the over 2 million living in these conditions, and very little being done concerning them it seems unlikely. However the gangs are taking action into their own hands, an act that the people, while being submitted to illegitimate authoritarian demands, will benefit from. After all, it’s hard to social distance when your houses are stacked upon one another like jenga.

If the governors opposing the president were revealing an underbelly of further divisions then Brazil, or at least Rio, is naked in its outright shun of legitimised authority from the central government. The unrest and politics of fear that will undoubtedly consume Brazil in the coming weeks as the virus takes hold will be turbulent, and with illegitimate authority rising to the challenge to tackle, that, which the government is not… it would come as no shock if this is in fact Bolsonaro’s downfall.

For there is nothing more humiliating than your own people trusting criminals over the likes of their elected president, and even more so to see them delivering.

Image - Unsplash.

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