szabo2_Andressa AnholeteGetty Images_jairbolsonaro Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

Brazil Needs Intensive Care

Like other authoritarian leaders around the world, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has deployed the tools of the digital age to undermine his country's democratic institutions and sow social division. Now that COVID-19 has brought Brazil to the brink of a new disaster, the costs of corrupt populism are becoming clear.

NEW YORK – Following the recent ouster of Brazil’s popular justice minister, Sergio Moro, the world’s fourth-largest democracy is on the brink of plunging into even deeper instability. In his resignation speech, Moro criticized the president, Jair Bolsonaro, for interfering in the nomination of federal police and their investigations. For many Brazilians, such meddling is all the more galling given that two of Bolsonaro’s sons are under investigation for multiple crimes.

In a rambling, defiant rebuttal on live television, Bolsonaro denied any wrongdoing, then singled me out by name. Labeling me a pro-abortion, pro-gay, gun-regulation advocate, his toxic mix of misogyny, homophobia, and contempt for democracy was on full display for Brazil’s 210 million citizens. The country’s health system is collapsing and its economy is in free fall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but its president thinks his most important task is to attack his critics.

There is a backstory here. The last time Bolsonaro publicly attacked me was in early 2019, just after a meeting between me and Moro, who had previously established a strong reputation as a corruption-fighting judge. Moro had invited me to join a voluntary council on criminal justice, and I warily accepted. My hope was to convince the new justice minister that, in a country with more than 6,000 police-related killings per year, the Bolsonaro administration’s controversial proposal to expand police discretion was ill advised.

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