The mayor of a Brazilian city that has been badly hit by the coronavirus has rounded on Jair Bolsonaro, saying the President is “co-responsible” for the nation’s vast death count.
Arthur Virgilio Neto, the mayor of Manaus – a city of 2 million people nestled in the heart of the Amazon that has been stricken by Covid-19 – called on Bolosonaro to resign, “shut up and stay at home.” The President’s “dream” is to be a dictator, “but he’s too stupid,” Neto told CNN.
His broadside comes amid growing anger in Brazil, which has suffered more infections than every country in the world except the United States, and is yet to reach a peak of cases and fatalities.
Neto said that as the pandemic hit, he had messaged Bolsonaro to say, “Please Mr. President, shut up and stay at home.” But he said his message now would be: “Resign, resign, resign, because he doesn’t govern Brazil.”
The stark attack is not unprovoked. In a video of an April cabinet meeting released last week by the Brazilian supreme court as part of an ongoing unrelated probe, Bolsonaro called Neto a “piece of s**t” because of the mass graves the mayor was forced to dig to cope with the sweeping death toll in his remote city.
Manaus has suffered 1,182 deaths, and 39,155 confirmed cases. On Saturday alone, there were 51 burials.
That dire scene is playing out in various cities across Brazil. Hospitals around the country have been battling to deal with demand, and on Sunday the White House suspended entry to the US for any individual who has been in Brazil within the 14 days immediately prior to their arrival.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly tried to downplay the lethality of the virus, although his rhetoric has shifted more towards the need to protect the economy as Brazil has risen to become the nation with the second highest number of cases after the US.
But the release of video from an expletive-ridden cabinet meeting has complicated attempts to regain control of the outbreak. Neto said the clip reminded him of his experience of New York’s shadier streets, decades ago, and said the language used by Bolsonaro’s cabinet was that of “pimps and young prostitutes.”
The video is part of an investigation into accusations that Bolsonaro interfered in police matters, which the President has repeatedly denied.
In an interview outside a new field hospital in Manaus, erected in four days inside a disused school to deal with the stark surge in cases in the city, Neto expressed frustration at how the President’s rhetoric had impeded his calls for social isolation. “The majority of people listen to him [Bolsonaro] because Manaus didn’t stop. He has complicity in the deaths of corona in Brazil. He is co-responsible.”
“I don’t know how to explain how a man of such low qualifications became to be president of a country of 210 million,” he added.
The same afternoon, Bolsonaro appeared at another rally of his supporters in the Brazilian governmental capital Brasilia, where he was seen not wearing a mask near crowds.
“He doesn’t know how to use a mask correctly and he talks to people who are without a mask,” Neto said.
Bolsonaro’s appearances at anti-lockdown rallies have become near-weekly occurrences. During the latest event, the Chief Minister of the Cabinet of Institutional Security, Gen. Augusto Heleno, who was accompanying the President, was heard saying: “We will win this war … this is a calculated risk and everything will work out.”
But as cases rise, many Brazilians are starting to unleash their frustration on the populist leader. On Saturday, he was abused by onlookers in the capital Brasilia while going out for a hotdog and drink, in a video seen by CNN.
In the video, Bolsonaro eats and drinks while onlookers yell “killer” and “trash” in the background. The President, surrounded by a security team, at one point turns and wags his finger at the crowd.
On Sunday, Brazil reported 15,813 new cases of the coronavirus – pushing its total to at least 362,000. So far, at least 22,000 people have died in the country.