Brazil's Bolsonaro flags democracy threat from coronavirus

by Reuters
Monday, 30 March 2020 17:31 GMT

(Recasts with comments on threat to democracy)

By Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA, March 30 (Reuters) - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro stepped up his stand-off with state governments on Monday by suggesting that democracy could be at risk if the coronavirus crisis leads to social chaos.

Bolsonaro has criticised governors in the hardest-hit Brazilian states, calling them "job-killers" for declaring lockdowns to limit the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

"When the situation is heading toward chaos, with mass unemployment and hunger, it's fertile ground for some to exploit, seeking a way to reach power and never leave it," Bolsonaro told reporters outside the presidential palace.

Bolsonaro last week warned that Brazil could break with "democratic normalcy," citing the risk of rioting and suggesting "the left" could capitalize on any chaos, without elaborating.

Brazil's president also announced on Monday that the government would expedite cash payments of 600 reais ($117) to poorer citizens, once the Senate passes a bill which has already been approved by the lower house.

The right-wing populist, elected in 2018 on a pledge to break with a corrupt political establishment, has long defended Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship as necessary to keep communists out of power.

The coronavirus outbreak, which has more than doubled in Brazil over the past week to 4,256 confirmed cases by Sunday, with 136 deaths, has led governments around the world to call for emergency powers, raising concerns among human rights advocates.

In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro's government has sought to arrest critics of its preparedness, accused individuals and their lawyers said.

And in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday secured the right to rule by decree after parliament granted him open-ended additional powers to fight the pandemic.

So far Brazil's political leaders have been eager to negotiate emergency measures such as a "war budget" exempt from fiscal rules, but many have criticized the president, who lacks a soild alliance in Congress, for downplaying health risks.

On Sunday, Bolsonaro visited a market area outside the federal capital to stress the message that lockdown measures should be relaxed. Twitter removed a video of Bolsonaro speaking to street vendors, explaining that it had changed its rules on content countering public health experts. ($1 = 5.1484 reais) (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu Additional reporting by Ana Mano Editing by Brad Haynes and Alexander Smith)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.