Marcelo Chello / AP
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Anti-government protesters took to the streets in more than two dozen cities in Brazil on Saturday as the country’s confirmed death toll from COVID-19 surpassed half a million – a tragedy that many critics blame President Jair for Bolsonaro’s attempt to downplay the disease.
Thousands of people gathered in downtown Rio de Janeiro, waving flags with slogans such as “Get out Bolsonaro. Government of hunger and unemployment”.
“Brazil is having a big setback. The country was an exemplary country for vaccination in the world. We have widely recognized institutions, but today we are in a sad situation, ”said Isabela Gouljor, a 20-year-old student who joined the protest in Rio.
Other demonstrators put up posters saying: “500,000 dead. It’s his fault”, alluding to Bolsonaro.
Similar marches took place in at least 22 or 26 states of Brazil, as well as in the Federal District of Brasilia. They have been promoted by left-wing opposition parties who have been encouraged by the decline in Bolsonaro’s polls in the run-up to next year’s presidential race.
“Get out Bolsonaro, genocidal,” shouted protesters in Rio, some wearing T-shirts or masks bearing the image of former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – who leads Bolsonaro in some polls.
In São Paulo, demonstrators dropped red balloons in tribute to victims of the virus.
Bolsonaro supporters have taken to the streets more often over the past month, largely because many agree with his rejection of restrictions meant to quell the coronavirus and the anger the lockdown measures have hurt businesses.
Critics say such messages, along with Bolsonaro’s promotion of refuted treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, have contributed to the rising death toll and a slow vaccination campaign that has completely inoculated less than 12% of the population. population. The country of some 213 million people records nearly 100,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths a day.
“For leftists, putting their supporters in the streets is a way of tiring Bolsonaro for the elections,” said Leandro Consentino, professor of political science at Insper, a university in Sao Paulo. “But at the same time, they are contradicting themselves and losing the talk of maintaining health care, because they are causing the same agglomerations as Bolsonaro.”
Saturday’s marches came a week after Bolsonaro led a massive parade of motorcycle supporters in Sao Paulo, although his allies and enemies differ considerably on the size of the event.
“Bolsonaro must show that he maintains strong support to deliver a message of strength to those investigating his government’s actions in Congress,” Consentino said.