Without a vaccine, Bolsonaro was ‘toxic’ abroad and had closed doors – 04/05/2023

The suspicion that former president Jair Bolsonaro has set up a scheme to defraud his vaccination card was received by foreign governments as the harshest comments against the former head of state.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, diplomats consulted by UOL in Latin America, Europe and Asia assessed that the case, if confirmed, reveals that foreign governments were right when they established different protocols, each time Bolsonaro and his entourage traveled.

“This shows the degree of irresponsibility of a person and the success of many foreign governments in maintaining minimal relations with their administration,” warned a European diplomat. “We only spoke with Bolsonaro because he was the president of Brazil”, he confessed. “If it was from a less significant country on the international stage, it would have been ignored even more,” he said.

UOL found that the attitude of the government of Portugal had been similar. Faced with the dilemma of how to deal with Bolsonaro, one of the paths taken after a few months was to only hold meetings with Bolsonarist ministers if there was a request coming from the Brazilian government itself. “We couldn’t refuse to receive them. But we didn’t take the initiative to propose meetings or launch ideas”, said a representative from Lisbon.

“Bolsonaro was seen as politically toxic,” said a European ambassador. According to him, the Brazilian government tried in various ways to be received abroad, in state visits. “We had to say that the requests were being analyzed. But that the schedule was tight. It was, obviously, a lie and Itamaraty knew that”, he explained.

When it realized that it had serious difficulties in being received, the Bolsonaro government began to seek allies or politicians who shared some of its views so that meetings could take place. But even so, receiving the Brazilian was politically risky.

One of the attempts by the Bolsonaro government was to be received by the then British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. But London did not heed the requests.

“In a Europe that charged for health measures and where ministers fell for having violated isolation rules, receiving Bolsonaro was a contradiction in terms,” said a European interlocutor.

At the WHO, the strategy was to seek to circumvent the federal government, especially after Bolsonaro began to question the entity and its competence. To guarantee assistance to the country, actions took place in contacts with the states, without fuss so that the information did not reach the Planalto Palace. Also fundamental was the contact with Nisia Trindade Lima, at the time president of Fiocruz and now Minister of Health in the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

At the top of the organization, the accusations against Bolsonaro were among the most emphatic. “Crazy, crazy,” said one of the top names in the Geneva-based organization.

Upon learning this week of the suspected fraud in Brazil, a senior WHO official repeated the same sentence. For the entity, such behavior puts the health system itself at risk.

In some situations, diplomats point out that Brazil hid behind other governments that, for different reasons, did not want their leaders to be forced to show their vaccination cards.

This happened when the UN, in September 2021, resumed its in-person General Assembly in New York. At first, it was established that the presidents would have to show the vaccination certificate to participate in the event, a requirement of the American city hall.

But governments like Russia protested. Moscow did not want Vladimir Putin’s vaccination card to be disclosed or required, should he decide to attend the meeting. Moscow’s posture was received by negotiators as a sign that there was a fear that this would lead to the eventual revelation of the dose taken by the Russian, who insisted on promoting the Sputnik immunizer.

In the Brazilian case, Putin’s insistence that no head of state had to show the vaccine certificate fits like a glove. But for other reasons. Bolsonaro did not want to vaccinate himself at that moment.

It was established that the UN would accept that heads of state and government would not show their vaccination cards. But that there would be a campaign for them to use the occasion to get vaccinated. Bolsonaro did not join the initiative.

Meanwhile, City Hall would keep all vaccination requirements out of the UN building. Not by chance, the Brazilian had to eat on the sidewalk because he couldn’t go into one of the restaurants during his short visit to the American city.

In a steakhouse, a wing was set up just to receive the Brazilian. In a “puxadinho”, tables were placed on the sidewalk, surrounded by railings and siding.

At that moment, with more than one hundred heads of state in New York for the same event, the number of bilateral meetings that Bolsonaro managed to close with foreign leaders was insignificant: two.

At the G20, in October 2021, the Italian organizers of the event in Rome had to hold detailed conversations with the Brazilian delegation due to the situation involving Bolsonaro. It was determined that PCR tests would be performed, as in all other cases. But that the hosts would take some distance from the Brazilian.

Thus, when Bolsonaro arrived at the event and was received by the then Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, the Italian did not shake his hand and the two just shook their heads.

The irony, negotiators say, is that the former president used the meetings to make speeches about how he was vaccinating his entire population, hoping to overcome the idea that he would be an outcast.

“We didn’t know whether to laugh or look at the ground,” admitted a Brazilian diplomat.

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