On 10 June, the legislative assembly in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state (Alerj) unanimously voted in favour of launching impeachment proceedings against the state governor, Wilson Witzel, for alleged embezzlement of public health funds.
This indictment of Witzel’s governorship comes amidst suspicions of wrong doing by other state governors in their response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. This adds yet another dimension to the polarised and politicised debate surrounding the Covid-19 response in Brazil. Although the recent easing of isolation measures has caused alarm amongst scientists, state governors had until now been largely praised for their management of the public health emergency, putting them at odds with President Jair Bolsonaro’s denialist approach. A number of them now risk being discredited by corruption allegations, which could help the federal government recoup some of the credibility it lost over the distortion of Covid-19 data.
- The Alerj president, André Ceciliano, announced the launch of impeachment proceedings against Witzel for crimes of responsibility after a symbolic 69 votes in favour (and one abstention), including from members of Witzel’s own Partido Social Cristão (PSC).
- Ceciliano reported that the Alerj had received 14 impeachment requests against Witzel. The one being taken forward, filed by two deputies from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB), is based on suspicions of embezzlement through the procurement of materials and the construction of field hospitals in the context of the pandemic. Witzel was the target of a police investigation into such suspicions in late May.
- A similar investigation, led by the public prosecutor’s office (MPF) and the federal police (PF), targeted the governor of Pará state, Helder Barbalho, yesterday. The operation, dubbed ‘Para Bellum’, is investigating suspected fraud in the purchase of 400 ventilators which proved to be faulty, at an inflated price and through a contract awarded without a bidding process.
- The MPF notes that Barbalho, who says he is “relaxed” and remains at the police’s disposal, personally oversaw the delivery of the shipment of ventilators, and has close connections with the businessman who helped seal the contract.
In Rio, Witzel remains in his post while an Alerj special committee is created to analyse the impeachment request. Witzel says he is innocent, and pledged to prove this to the Alerj.
In brief: Brazil sees deflation for second consecutive month
* Brazil’s national statistics institute (Ibge) has released the latest figures for the country’s consumer price index (IPCA), according to which Brazil recorded monthly deflation of 0.38% in May, following on from the 0.31% deflation seen in April. This is the lowest monthly figure recorded for inflation since August 1998, when inflation stood at -0.51%, the Ibge noted. Annual inflation to May stands at 1.88%, below the government’s target of a 1.5 percentage-point variation either side of 4%.