RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Brazil’s right-wing president merged homophobia and COVID denial into a single sentence when he urged the country “to stop being a country of sissies [maricas].”
Speaking to a group of tourism executives on November 10, President Jair Bolsonaro called the pandemic “overblown.”
“We are all going to die one day. Everyone here is going to die. There is no use in running away from that, running away from reality,” said Bolsonaro. The president has been heavily criticised for his reaction to the virus, which has been to downplay the pandemic’s deadliness while blaming governors for state lockdown effects on the economy.
What had begun as a brief closing speech for a Brazilian tourism launch event turned into half an hour of attacks on the press, science, and president-elect Joe Biden.
The press covering the evening’s event at the Planalto Palace, the presidential office, were “vultures,” “fake news,” and “a joke.” “They’re starting to scare the Brazilian people over a second wave,” said Bolsonaro. “We have to fucking face it. That’s life. We have to face it with our chests up and fight.”
As of November 10, Brazil has reported more than 5.6 million cases and over 160,000 deaths due to the coronavirus. It is one of the worst-affected countries in the world.
A diehard loyalist to current United States President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro remains one of the few world leaders yet to recognize the results of last week’s U.S. presidential election. He kept his silence again on Tuesday night, referring to president-elect Joe Biden as a “candidate for the head of state.” Having bristled weeks ago at Biden’s comments on the record-level forest fires in Brazil over the last two years — Biden has floated the idea of either sanctioning Brazil or offering $20 billion to protect the Amazon — Bolsonaro hinted at military retaliation to economic pressure.
“Diplomacy isn’t enough, is it? Once we’re out of saliva, we’ll need gunpowder. We may not even need to use the gunpowder, but we need to show that we have it.”
Brazilian media erupted.
Popular columnist Fernando “Fefito” Oliveira denounced the president for his use of the homophobic word marica, an outdated term use to refer to men seen as effeminate. “In one blow, Bolsonaro disparages women and homosexuals,” wrote Oliveira.
"Brazil has weathered enough with its chest up, Bolsonaro. The LGBTs, with their chests up, have put up with this long enough, especially from politicians that seem to have forgotten that LGBTphobia is a criminal offense." Bolsonaro has previously attacked the 2019 Supreme Court decision to criminalize LGBTphobia and has made repeated homophobic comments throughout his career.
Bolsonaro’s belligerent comments drew jokes and disbelief. Journalist Guilherme Amado pointed to a 2012 article on Brazilian preparedness for war, in which a reserve general confirmed the armed forces likely had enough munitions for less than a single hour of combat.
In a wincingly timed tweet just hours later, the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman tweeted a video commemorating November 10 as the 245th anniversary of the U.S. Marines. “If we hand over the president, will there still be war?” read a comment below.
For others, Bolsonaro’s incendiary comments were nothing more than a distraction from bigger issues. The country’s mountain of dead, its record 14.4 percent unemployment, and a weeklong energy blackout across the entire state of Amapá, in northern Brazil, all roiled in the background of Tuesday’s rant. Behind Bolsonaro’s speech “we have more than 160,000 dead, a fragile economy and an entire state in the dark,” tweeted House Speaker Rodrigo Maia.