President Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes coronavirus lockdown measures imposed by Brazilian cities and states, rallied with his supporters on Sunday, as Washington said it had sent two million doses of a controversial unproven Covid-19 drug.
Brazil is Latin America’s hotspot for the deadly pandemic, with nearly 500,000 confirmed cases and a death toll of nearly 28,000, the world’s fourth highest.
But Bolsonaro met a tightly packed throng of supporters outside the government palace in the capital Brasilia. The crowd chanted “myth! myth! myth!” – echoing the president’s dismissal of the virus pandemic.
Protected by bodyguards, he approached the crowd without touching them, although he did pick up two children and put them on his shoulders, and briefly mounted a police horse, to the crowd’s delight.
Brazil’s health crisis has merged with a political crisis, as the far-right president has openly clashed with local authorities that insist on lockdown measures.
Pro-government rallies have intensified as Bolsonaro also faces a court-ordered investigation into abuse of power that could lead to his impeachment.
Bolsonaro, often described as the “Trump of the Tropics”, got help from the real Donald Trump on Sunday in the form of two million doses of the antimalarial medicine hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to fight Covid-19.
President Trump is an outspoken fan of HCQ, which has been used to treat malaria and some autoimmune disorders for decades.
However there is currently no evidence showing that HCQ can be used either to treat or prevent the novel coronavirus – and there are fears that it may worsen patient’s outcomes.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro is an HCQ advocate and has even fired two health ministers who clashed with him over his desire to expand its use.
The White House added that the US will also soon be sending 1,000 ventilators to Brazil.
On the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city, Bolsonaro supporters fought with pro-democracy demonstrators.
Some 500 demonstrators, mostly dressed in black and wearing facemasks, marched carrying banners that read “We are for Democracy” and “Against Fascism”, facing off with a smaller group of pro-Bolsonaro activists.
The march was organised by football club fan groups, especially Corinthians – which during the final years of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship period and led by superstar Socrates was active in the civil rights movement.
Riot police failed to keep the rival groups apart, and fired tear gas in an attempt to break up the fracas.