On August 28, the first debate of the 2022 elections between the Brazilian presidential candidates was held on TV Bandeirantes. The topics that caused the most reactions from participants and on social media were the ongoing pandemic, the environment, and women.
Out of the over 10 presidential candidates, six participated in Sunday’s debate including: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers’ Party of Brazil – PT), Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party – PL), Ciro Gomes (Democratic Labor Party – PDT), Simone Tebet (Brazilian Democratic Movement – MDB), Felipe D’Avila (Novo), and Soraya Thronicke (União Brasil).
Simone Tebet of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (MDB) criticized the Bolsonaro administration’s pandemic response.
“We have just got out of the pandemic, or maybe not, a situation which could have been better managed if we had a president sensitive to the pain of others. Regrettably, when the country needed the president the most, he turned his back on the bereaved families and refused [to provide] vaccines to the Brazilian people,” said Tebet.
“A 45-day delay in the purchasing of vaccines. How many families lost their sons and daughters prematurely? I did not see the president ride his motorcycle to a hospital to give a hug to a mother who had lost her son. I saw more than this: I saw the corruption scandal in the purchasing of vaccines as if life is worth US$1,” she concluded.
When posing a question to Felipe D’Ávila of the New Party (NOVO), former President Lula recalled the statements made by former Minister of the Environment and Bolsonaro supporter Ricardo Salles (currently a member of the Liberal Party, but previously a member of the New Party) regarding environmental policy.
“No respectable businessman will start fires or destroy [a] biome. He will not. Nevertheless, there are government officials who encourage it. We had a minister who used to say ‘run the cattle herd’. I had the pleasure of being Brazil’s president, and I attended COP15, in Copenhagen. There, we made the commitment, endorsed in Paris, to reduce deforestation by 80% and the greenhouse effect by 39%. We became a reference. But today, people see Brazil as a country that does not take the environmental issue seriously,” Lula said.
In April 2020, the then Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, warned other ministers about what he considered an opportunity presented by the pandemic. “To [achieve] this, we need to make some efforts while we are at this moment of serenity regarding media coverage—because they just talk about COVID—so we must “run the cattle herd” [take advantage of the situation] to change all the regulations and simplify norms,” Salles had said.
“The recovery of the economy will depend on environmental policy,” New Party candidate D’Ávila said. According to him, the federal government “must support Brazilian agribusiness, which is the sector that suffers most from deforestation. Brazil’s agribusiness is the most sustainable in the world. There isn’t another country that maintains 30% of environmental legal reserves in Pantanal [Brazil’s wetlands] or 80% [of environmental legal reserves] in the cocoa plantations in the North.”
President Jair Bolsonaro attacked journalist Vera Magalhães and candidate Simone Tebet during the debate. When asked about the disinformation spreading against COVID-19 vaccines, Bolsonaro reacted furiously.
“Over the past few years, vaccination coverage has been falling. How much did disinformation spread by the president contribute to the COVID pandemic?” Magalhães asked.
“Vera, I expected nothing less from you. You think about me in your sleep. You must have a crush on me. You can’t take part in a debate like this and spread lies and accusations about me. You are an embarrassment to Brazilian journalism.”
After this attack, Bolsonaro criticized the COVID-19 inquiry commission and said that Simone Tebet was “a shame to the Senate.”
“I’m not attacking women. Don’t come to me and say you’re a victim,” he said.
This article was originally published in Brasil de Fato.