Rio de Janeiro: Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Saturday to protest President Jair Bolsonaro, who is under investigation over an allegedly corrupt COVID-19 vaccine deal.
It was the third day of protests against the government, which also faces mounting pressure from a parliamentary inquiry into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 500,000 lives in the country.
Lima Mendes, a 47-year-old doctor participating in a protest in Rio de Janeiro, blamed the government squarely on the high death toll.
“This government has killed over 500,000 people because of its flawed decisions, its fake news, its lies and now this absurd corruption scandal over vaccines,” she said.
There were also rallies in the cities of Sao Paulo, Belem, Recife and Maceio, with protesters carrying placards saying things like “Bolsonaro Genocide”, “Already impeachment” and “Yes to vaccines”.
In its first two months of hearings, the parliamentary commission of inquiry focused on government delays in ordering vaccine supplies even as it promoted ineffective drugs like hydroxychloroquine and that Bolsonaro belittled the masking and social distancing measures.
The investigation took a sudden turn, however, after a health ministry official Luis Ricardo Miranda said he faced “atypical and excessive” pressure to approve the purchase of three million dollars. doses of the Indian-made Covaxin vaccine at a cost much higher than for other vaccines.
Miranda said he personally raised his suspicions to Bolsonaro and that the president has indicated he will raise the issue with federal police. He apparently didn’t.
This led to federal prosecutors announcing on Friday that they were investigating whether Bolsonaro had committed a crime by failing to report the alleged fraud.
Prosecutors are also investigating a businessman’s claim that a health ministry official offered him a bribe while negotiating for a vaccine. The official, who was later dismissed from his post, denied the request.
Bolsonaro, who came to power in 2019, has dismissed all allegations of government corruption, instead denouncing the parliamentary inquiry as a political “antiquity” aimed at forcing him out of office.
The opposition presented this week a “super impeachment demand” listing dozens of accusations, some old, some new, against the far-right leader.