RIO DE JANEIRO — On Saturday, anti-government demonstrators went to the streets in more than a dozen cities throughout Brazil as the country’s verified COVID-19 death toll surpassed half a million, a tragedy many opponents blame on President Jair Bolsonaro ‘s attempt to downplay the disease.
“Brazil is suffering a major setback. The country was a model for immunization across the world. We have well-known institutions, but we are in a sad situation today,” Isabela Gouljor, a 20-year-old student who participated in the Rio demonstration, said.
At least 22 of Brazil’s 26 states, as well as the Federal District of Brasilia, held similar marches. They were pushed by left-wing opposition groups buoyed by Bolsonaro’s falling poll numbers as the presidential election approaches next year.
Rio protestors chanted, “Get out Bolsonaro, genocidal!” Certain wore t-shirts or masks with the likeness of former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is polling ahead of Bolsonaro in some surveys.
Protesters in So Paulo released crimson balloons as a homage to the virus’s victims.
Bolsonaro’s followers have been taking to the streets more often in the last month, in part because many agree with his rejection of coronavirus limitations and are angry that lockdown measures have harmed companies.
Critics claim that such messaging, as well as Bolsonaro’s advocacy of unproven therapies like hydroxychloroquine, have contributed to the rising death toll and a slow vaccine campaign that has only reached around 12% of the population. Every day, over 100,000 new illnesses and 2,000 fatalities are recorded in the country of 213 million people.
“Putting their supporters in the streets is a strategy for the leftists to wear Bolsonaro down for the election,” said Leandro Consentino, a political science professor at Insper, a Sao Paulo university. “At the same time, they’re contradicting themselves and losing the health-care conversation because they’re generating the same agglomerations as Bolsonaro.”
The marches took place a week after Bolsonaro led a large motorcycle parade of supporters in Sao Paulo, but his fans and opponents disagree on the scale of that event.