Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A child from the indigenous Yanomami ethnic group wearing protective face mask looks on, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease at the 5th Special Frontier Platoon in the municipality of Auaris, state of Roraima, Brazil on June 30, 2020.


Michael Orsini is a professor at the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies and the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. Francisco Ortega is a professor at the Institute for Social Medicine at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. They recently published an article on COVID-19 in Global Public Health.

Few leaders have failed as miserably in their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. It is almost as if he is jockeying for the dubious title of the world’s most dysfunctional leader during a global pandemic with U.S. President Donald Trump. Spoiler alert: They are tied closely for first place.

Just like Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro is deeply insecure, toxically masculine, spews racist, misogynist and ableist views with frightening regularity, and purports to be a divine leader. His government has cycled through a rotating cast of characters, with firings and resignations a frequent occurrence. Anyone who dares to disagree with him is shown the door, and trashed on the way out.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Bolsonaro stands out, however, for his calculated attempts to use this public health crisis to further immiserate the country’s more than 900,000 Indigenous people. Despite worldwide condemnation and criticism for failing to provide support to Indigenous people who have been hard hit by the pandemic, he responded by ordering the military to ship hydroxychloroquine tablets to them. After testing positive for the virus, Mr. Bolsonaro appeared in the media touting the benefits of this scientifically debunked medication.

Around the same time, the President blocked part of a government bill that would have provided Indigenous people with access to clean drinking water, hygiene products and hospital beds.

This attack on Brazil’s Indigenous people is hardly new, however. The COVID-19 pandemic is just another chapter in this cruel history.

Mr. Bolsonaro has boasted publicly that he would never turn even one centimetre of land over to Indigenous people. He has mused about the need for them to become civilized, in his own warped sense of the word. He thinks this is possible if they welcome massive encroachment on their lands to make way for mining projects and deforestation. Since his election in 2018, Mr. Bolsonaro has wasted no time in clawing back the constitutional rights Indigenous people enjoy in Brazil.

What would drive Mr. Bolsonaro to stake out such a racist posture vis-à-vis the country’s Indigenous people?

First, Mr. Bolsonaro views any support for Indigenous people as interfering with his agenda of capitalist development. Indigenous ways of life disrupt the President’s plan to exploit the Amazon to his benefit, and to solidify his support among agribusiness and mining interests. His environment minister, Ricardo Salles, reportedly said in a cabinet meeting on environmental deregulation: “We need to make an effort while we are in this calm moment in terms of press coverage, because they are only talking about COVID, and push through and change all the rules.”

Second, the President has strategically ignored the gravity of COVID-19, which has killed more than 90,000 Brazilians, the second-highest death toll in the world after the U.S. Mr. Bolsonaro has burned through at least two health ministers in the last year who challenged his anti-science denialism. He replaced his health minister with a military general with no experience in the health portfolio. The head of his government’s Indigenous Affairs agency was sacked last year and replaced with a former federal police officer with ties to agribusiness.

Story continues below advertisement

Third, his anti-Indigenous views play well with his evangelical base of support. Mr. Bolsonaro’s god-like aspirations and religiosity have also cemented his belief that this virus will disappear, vanish in the blink of an eye. This type of thinking is literally magical – but the trick is that it is not working. When asked about the mounting death toll, the leader, whose middle name is Messias, the Portuguese word for Messiah, responded: “So what? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do? ... My name is Messiah, but I can’t work miracles.” Mr. Bolsonaro has also been a vocal supporter of helicopter missions by evangelicals to convert members of remote Indigenous communities to Christianity, even though this type of contact is strictly forbidden.

While there is much to decry in this government’s non-response, Indigenous communities also have a history of fighting back. Recently, communities in the state of Pernambuco in the northeastern part of the country took matters in their own hands, building sanitary barriers, imposing lockdowns, and setting up spaces to isolate and support people who contracted COVID-19.

Nothing less than the very existence of Indigenous people is at stake. The Yanomami people in the Amazon, for instance, who number about 26,000, cannot afford to lose members to the pandemic. The “brink of destruction” is an apt term to describe what is unfolding.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies