Brazil leader says army could be called if lockdown chaos


RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has suggested that the army might be called into the streets to restore order if lockdown measures against COVID-19 that he opposes lead to chaos.

In a television interview Friday night with TV Criticia in the Amazon city of Manaus, Bolsonaro repeated his frequent criticism of restrictions imposed by local governments to curb infections — measures he claims do more harm than good.

“That lockdown policy, of quarantine, is absurd. If we have problems … we have a plan of how to act. I am the supreme head of the armed forces,” Bolsonaro said.

He said the army could be summoned to “reestablish Article 5 of the Constitution,” which mentions the right to freedoms of movement and of religion.

Bolsonaro also said the restrictive measures are aggravating hunger in the country.

“I am, together with my 23 ministers, talking about what to do if a generalized chaos is implanted in Brazil because of hunger, because of the cowardly way of how some are making the people stay at home,” he added.

Health experts urged Bolsonaro this month to impose a national lockdown after the nation’s daily toll of COVID-19 deaths reached new peaks. The Ministry of Health says that more than 386,000 have died in Brazil from the disease.

Critics of the far-right president — a former soldier — have long expressed concern about his frequent praise of the military government that ruled the country for more than 20 years following a coup in 1964, as well as his appointment of numerous military figures to civilian posts.

Those concerns rose when, on March 30, the leaders of all three branches of Brazil’s armed forces jointly resigned following Bolsonaro’s replacement of the defense minister. Many analysts suggested the generals were wary of being drawn too far into political affairs.

He also had raised the issue of military involvement in connection with the pandemic in a March 19 statement: “My army doesn’t go to the street to force people to stay at home.”

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