Habemus minister

Image: Paulinho Fluxuz


Desensitizing the Brazilian people to the severity of the coronavirus is Eduardo Pazuello's greatest achievement at the Ministry of Health

Tents glued to the sand, towels side by side, high above the water. Drumming on the bar table, another draft beer to the sound of old samba, right there on the street blocked by the crowd. Review on Saturday afternoon, but the barbecue is closed with family and friends.

The officialization of another active-duty military in Planalto was the grateful recognition for his contribution to the worst health crisis in Brazil's history. Desensitizing the Brazilian people to the seriousness of the coronavirus is Eduardo Pazuello's greatest achievement at the Ministry of Health. The work was recognized by the boss who, in the neoliberal meritocracy, carried it out after a test period.

When announced as interim, in May, Pazuello found a country that hardly knew what would lie ahead under the still modest record of 14.817 deaths from Covid-19. Four days later, Bolsonaro classified him as “a top manager” and said that “he is doing an exceptional job there”.[I]. Perhaps, the lenses through which the President saw Pazuello were contaminated with the managerial optimism of the general who, at the end of April, stated that preventing the coronavirus “is being easier for us than for those who started it”[ii]. Incidentally, its planning-logistics capacity is its business card and argumentative trump card for government defenders. It is worth remembering the statement of a general classmate: “If the management and logistics part at the Ministry of Health is convoluted, Pazuello will solve it”[iii].

After the probationary stage of Bolsonarism, resentful of the disputes of former loves, Pazuello prayed the commander's booklet. He knew that he would have to be an accomplice in the boss's irresponsible daydreams at the risk of being burned, as Luiz Henrique Mandetta and Nelson Teich were. Imposition of the oath of profession, the ethical commitment to life traced a line that his predecessors did not cross, but it is potentially the lack of this commitment that allowed Pazuello to reach where others did not dare to go.

The false rhetoric of a technical government was demonstrated from the beginning by the “post Ipiranga”, who had never even worked in the public sector or in the political environment, and reached a new level with Pazuello, without training or experience in Health, responsible for the ministry that it would be a pandemic. The possible tragic effects of not knowing the area could be mitigated if a team of specialists helped him. In the opposite direction, upon arrival Pazuello dismissed technical staff and appointed military personnel equally disconnected from the sector. His most recent appointment was a veterinarian for the department of immunizations and communicable diseases, including Covid-19.[iv].

The government of destruction advances to ruin, even if sometimes by rules, the support pillars of the Brazilian State from within the institutions. The dismantling of the technical staff of the Ministry of Health weakens a public service that is already precarious, but which proved to be fundamental in serving the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Of the resources authorized by the National Congress to combat the coronavirus, the folder had used, until July, only 29%. If, on the one hand, there is the allotment of positions by the military to the detriment of specialists, on the other hand, the government strangles funding due to the evident lack of equipment, employees and awareness campaigns. The practical action in the period was the omission of statistics referring to the numbers of deaths and cases, attacking public transparency and denying citizens the right to access the country's real situation.

One of the reasons for the clash between Bolsonaro and his former ministers, chloroquine was released for mild patients as soon as Pazuello took over as interim, in disagreement with scientific studies that do not, to date, indicate any effectiveness of the drug. Improper use, this one, can have fatal consequences. The disservice and misinformation are even more serious when endorsed by the Federal Council of Medicine itself, which, taking refuge in semantic trickery, authorized (but did not recommend) the substance, after hearing with the President. As pass, tons of chloroquine were purchased with public money and thousands of pills distributed in the public network, including for indigenous people.

Presidential wishes met, the new minister's inauguration statement reveals that the government's objective is to normalize deaths and contact with the disease: “What will be the new normal? New habits, more attention to prophylaxis and hygiene measures, medical and early treatment behaviors, naturalness in living with the disease, as well as others in our daily life.”. And he amended: “That's why we've been talking day after day, 'don't stay at home', receive the clinical diagnosis from the doctor. Get early treatment.”[v].

Therefore, it is seen that government policy involves encouraging the resumption of life as it was pre-pandemic without any sign of change in public action. If, in the initial months, when the state of alert was highest, there were no awareness campaigns or national coordination of the crisis, what guarantee is there that there will be any change that will allow the population to believe that they can resume their activities safely? There is no mass testing, distribution of masks or reinforcement of the stock of hospital supplies. The effort is in normalizing the disease and its consequences. The logic is part of a government absolution strategy, which has done nothing, since the continuous circulation of the virus is inevitable and, therefore, any restrictive measure is not only ineffective but also harmful to the country's development. In this sense, desensitization to death is fundamental, but it is nothing new, as the thousands of lives taken in the peripheries every year do not provoke revolt in the least equivalent to a “desire for peace” in society.

The sadism of the situation is as shocking as it is clear. The President submits the country to the practices of torture that he has always praised and defended: when the tortured seems numb, the torturer can always satisfy his cruelty with one more squeeze to show that he has the power to inflict a new dose of pain on the prisoner. When awarding Pazuello with the title when Brazil exceeds 133 thousand deaths from Covid-19, the captain tortures the Brazilian. The country has the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the G20[vi] and, while more and more hopeless families bury their relatives, the “first line manager” breathes the pride of promotion at the top of his lungs.

The indifference and indifference to life are rigorously State policy during the pandemic, but opportunely cease in the face of Bolsonarist moralism, personified by Damares Alves. At the fateful ministerial meeting, the minister warned the newly arrived Teich that “Your ministry is full of feminists with a single agenda for the liberation of abortion”[vii]. The reactionary spectacularization of the case of termination of the pregnancy of a ten-year-old girl, raped by her uncle since the age of six, must have resonated deeply with Pazuello. An ordinance signed by the minister obliges the medical team to inform the police about the abused patient, in addition to offering her to see the fetus in an ultrasound scan. Nothing is said about the safety of her physical and psychological condition or the guarantee of preserving her identity after a traumatic crime. Energized by a blunt conservatism, the general formalizes coercive and intimidating practices against victims weakened by sexual violence.

If an administrator and public policy maker is evaluated by the impact of his projects on society as a whole, Eduardo Pazuello’s four months of interim work make it clear that blacks, poor people, and the elderly (the majority profile in deaths from Covid-19) and girls and women (victims of sexual abuse) are not priorities for the Ministry of Health in the Bolsonaro government.

*Iury Tavares Master in Political Science and International Relations from Universidade Nova de Lisboa.


[I] https://oglobo.globo.com/sociedade/governo-oficializa-general-pazuello-como-ministro-interino-da-saude-1-24459898

[ii] https://noticias.uol.com.br/saude/ultimas-noticias/redacao/2020/04/27/secretario-executivo-ministerio-da-saude-eduardo-pazuello-coletiva.htm

[iii] https://noticias.uol.com.br/saude/ultimas-noticias/redacao/2020/05/15/saiba-quem-e-general-pazuello-o-novo-ministro-interino-da-saude.htm

[iv] https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/equilibrioesaude/2020/08/pazuello-nomeia-veterinario-para-cargo-estrategico-no-debate-da-vacinacao-contra-covid-19.shtml

[v] https://noticias.uol.com.br/saude/ultimas-noticias/redacao/2020/09/16/apos-4-meses-como-interino-general-pazuello-assume-ministerio-da-saude.htm

[vi] https://exame.com/brasil/brasil-ja-e-o-pais-do-g20-com-mais-casos-de-covid-19-por-milhao/

[vii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZrXaluSGL8

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