On Monday, March 30, Brazilian health officials reported that 159 people have died in the country as a result of COVID-19, while more than 4,579 have been infected. In Latin America, Brazil is currently the country with the most confirmed cases and deaths associated with the disease. Yet, in the midst of rising concern among Brazilians for their own health and safety, President Jair Bolsonaro has not only dismissed the pandemic as a “fantasy,” but has also taken advantage of the crisis to put in place concerning restrictions on journalists that violate the principles of a free press.
For weeks, Bolsonaro has risked the lives of his citizens by willfully spreading misinformation on the pandemic, refusing to take public health measures to mitigate the spread of the disease, and potentially blocking access to truthful and timely information that could be critical to health and well-being. Notably, Bolsonaro has dangerously accused the media of weaponizing the pandemic as a tool for bringing down his government. He used this as a pretext to justify a presidential Executive Order (Medida Provisória) that muzzled journalists by restricting their access to public records that are vital in the accurate reporting of the public health emergency. The Brazilian Supreme Court acted in a timely manner and annulled this new norm.
More than ever, the right of information is essential in saving lives and President Bolsonaro should respect, rather than throttle, the media sector’s independence.
Ensuring the delivery of truthful information and freedom of the press is critical, even more so in the middle of a public health emergency. Of immediate concern, it’s clear that Bolsonaro’s false rhetoric and misinformation is leading to inaction in combating the virus. He has accused governors of fomenting a “climate of terror” in implementing critical public health measures. He has urged businesses to remain open in a widely shared publicity campaign despite the best available public health recommendations. The Supreme Federal Court has since then ruled against the publicity campaign as it was not based on scientific evidence. He has willfully ignored isolation recommendations, often appearing in public and even shook hands with people despite reports of COVID-19 cases among his closest staff.
His refusal to act based on public health recommendations, coupled with misinformation, has facilitated the spread of a disease that could be contained with appropriate public health measures. As the virus continues to spread in the country, it will disproportionately impact vulnerable populations throughout Brazil—the poor living in favelas, rural areas, and indigenous and quilombola communities.
The international community, recognizing that access to accurate information is critical to the health of Brazilians, must urge President Bolsonaro to curb his rhetoric, false information, and actions aimed at closing democratic spaces in Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration should cease all attacks against the press and restrictions to information. More than ever, the right of information is essential in saving lives and President Bolsonaro should respect, rather than throttle, the media sector’s independence. Bolsonaro’s government must follow the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations in addressing this crisis, as well as implement an emergency water and basic sanitation plan in the favelas and special measures to prevent contagion in indigenous populations to prevent major outbreaks that could cost lives.
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
U.S. Network for Democracy in Brazil
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
Inter-Ecclesial Commission on Justice and Peace (ICJP), Colombia
Chicago Latino America Solidarity Committee
Chicago Ayotzinapa Solidarity Committee
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Black Communities Process (PCN), Colombia
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
Alliance of Baptists
Association of Emcali Trade Unionists (ASOSIEMCALI), Colombia
Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), Colombia
Willie L. Baker Jr
Raimundo C. Barreto, Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary
Ofunshi Oba Koso, Yoruba Cuba Association, Babalawo/Shaman
María del Pilar Melgarejo
James Counts Early, Institute for Policy Studies Board Member
Eunice Mina Escobar
Elizabeth Leeds, Senior Fellow, WOLA
Darryl Chappell, WOLA Board
Ana Vicky Castillo, CEO, Afrolatinos Historical Society
Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University
Amilcar Priestley, Afrolatin@ Project