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Brazil senate wants Bolsonaro charged with crimes against humanity for COVID response

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, seen during a news conference in Brasilia last week, has insisted that he is innocent of the charges proposed against him.
Evaristo Sa
AFP via Getty Images
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, seen during a news conference in Brasilia last week, has insisted that he is innocent of the charges proposed against him.

Brazil's Senate has voted to recommend charging President Jair Bolsonaro with "crimes against humanity" over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 600,000 people across the country.

That charge and several others were backed by lawmakers and forwarded for possible indictment. They come at the conclusion of a six-month investigation of the government's handling of the pandemic. The president has insisted that he is innocent, calling the panel's work a "joke," and it appeared unlikely that the country's prosecutor-general, Augusto Aras — a Bolsonaro appointee — will take up the recommendation.

The 11-member Senate panel voted 7-4 on Tuesday to recommend the charges, which also include inciting an epidemic, as well as violating health protocols, falsification of private documents, irregular use of public funds, violation of social rights and breach of presidential decorum, according to The Associated Press.

"The chaos of Jair Bolsonaro's government will enter history as the lowest level of human destitution," Sen. Renan Calheiros said, according to Reuters. Brazil, with a population of about 213 million, has recorded more than 606,000 deaths from COVID-19 — second only to the U.S.

As the toll has risen, Bolsonaro's popularity has waned. His management of the crisis has frequently appeared cavalier and dismissive, with his repeated comparisons of the deadly virus to the flu and an insistence that claims of its danger are "exaggerated." The president has also derided governors and mayors as "criminals" for imposing lockdowns and restrictions to control the spread of the virus.

Like former U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro contracted COVID-19, but subsequently recovered. Also like Trump, he touted an unproven remedy, hydroxychloroquine, as a prophylactic and treatment for the virus.

One of the charges forward by the Senate panel is "charlatanism" for Bolsonaro's promotion of the dubious drug.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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