Bolsonaro's Brazil is divided and in crisis

Ian's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Happy Monday. Good to see everyone and got a Quick Take for you as we kick off this week. Thought we would talk today about Brazil. It is the epicenter today for coronavirus. The healthcare system in the country is getting overwhelmed. Over 90% of ICU beds are filled in most of the states in the country. As a consequence, you are triaging healthcare. This is what you remember happened briefly in Northern Italy at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. It's what we feared could happen in New York City, though never quite did. You've got nearing 4,000 deaths a day in Brazil right now, per capita that's worse than anything we've seen in the United States. And yeah, we blame the government. We blame President Bolsonaro.

And you know, in part, this is someone who like former President Trump said, don't worry about this. It's just a little flu, was telling the population that we don't need lockdowns. We don't need quarantines. He didn't want to wear a mask. He didn't like social distancing. And as a consequence, all of that became deeply politicized across the country in Brazil as well. Those governors that engaged in lockdowns were sharply criticized for it. And a lot of people weren't wearing masks. A lot of people didn't take it seriously. Bolsonaro, of course, got COVID himself. He said hydroxychloroquine was a miracle cure. He even questioned the vaccine at the beginning, said that it was dangerous, potentially you can't trust the health care companies. He sits tilted on that as his popularity has gone down significantly. And as a consequence, he's more worried about finishing out his term and being able to win a second term late next year with elections.

But all of this has gone very badly in the country. And indeed, as a consequence of all of that, Brazil today is feeling a lot like the United States at the end of last year, massively politically divided with the potential for impeachment efforts against Bolsonaro that would be incredibly divisive. And with a president who could easily lose reelection, but will not accept that outcome and will claim that he has indeed won. Now, last week was a watershed in that regard. You saw six members of the Brazilian cabinet suddenly removed, including the Minister of Defense replaced with a Bolsonaro loyalist and the three heads of the military services very unhappy about that. Threatening to resign, they're fired the next day.

Does this mean that Brazil is heading for a coup or revolution? The answer is no. It's actually similar to the United States in the sense that the senior military leadership in the country is independent and would not support loyalty to Bolsonaro, no matter what. And the judiciary in the country is still largely independent. These institutions are stronger than what you see in most developing countries around the world, but they're not as strong as the United States. And the fact is that if Bolsonaro were to go down the path of "burn it all down" and "these elections are no good," and "this impeachment is completely unacceptable," if that were to occur, you would get members of state police. You would get low-level members of the military that could come out in support, the former military member, Bolsonaro, himself with a lot of former military around him as senior advisors. So the potential for major social unrest and for a lot of violence is greater than what we saw in January 6th in the United States.

Although, the likelihood that Brazilian democracy is suddenly going to fall apart in my view is just as remote as it was in the United States. This is a deeply, deeply problematic leadership. There's an incredibly divided country. Next year's elections are going to be easily as ugly, maybe even worse than last November's in the United States, and are likely to be very severely contested. So, I mean, if Brazil was the largest economy in the US like the United States is, this would be our top risk out there. Because it's just the largest economy in South America, it's a big deal. It deserves to be talking about it, but it's not the top risk globally.

The funny thing is I have not been universally critical of Bolsonaro because on some counts I've been more sympathetic. For example, economically as much as he is a knee jerk, hardly expert reactionary on a bunch of things, he allows his economic team to take the lead on issues that he doesn't know anything about, whether it's pension reform or tax reform or micro economic reform. A lot has actually gotten done in Brazil over the course of the last couple of years. On climate, Bolsonaro is widely criticized for being one of the worst climate skeptics, climate deniers in the world.

And I obviously think that's a horrible thing, especially when you see all this clearcutting happening in the Amazon forest, but I'm sympathetic for a middle income economy, where the wealthy countries in the world suddenly say, why aren't you doing anything to save your environment? When for decades, we were paying no attention to it. We were, of course, emitting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We had no problem with exploiting global economies, including Brazil, for our own benefit. And Bolsonaro's basically saying, look, if you want us to pay attention to climate, pay us. Now that this matters to you, how about taking some of the equity here and giving it to the average Brazilian. Something that's very popular inside Brazil, that almost any Brazilian leader would be aligned towards.

But when it comes to responding to the worst crisis that we have seen in our lifetimes, Bolsonaro has been the worst leader of any major economy in the world. No, he's not the former Tanzanian president, Tanzanian President Magufuli, who's now dead of COVID. No, he's not Belarusian dictator, Lukashenka, who said, take a sauna, drink some vodka, and you'll be fine. But of the G20 economies, he's the worst. He's the worst by far and Brazil's suffering for it. And I feel really badly about that. And I hope, I hope, I hope vaccine rollout will happen quickly in Brazil, but so far not so fast, not the United States. They don't have the drug companies, they don't have the infrastructure. They aren't able to pay the money for the vaccines, the way the advanced countries have. And so, as a consequence, the Brazilian people are really suffering. So that's a little bit for me this week. Everyone be safe, avoid fewer people. I'll talk to you all real soon.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

More Show less

Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

More Show less

Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

More Show less

When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Can "the Quad" constrain China?