Brazil’s top court, known as the Supreme Federal Tribunal, opened an investigation into right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro on Saturday for allegedly calling for vaccinations against sexually transmitted diseases to be “liberated”.
The move marked a major escalation in Brazil’s response to what it considers Bolsonaro’s dangerous positions. Brazil has been plagued by a growing HIV crisis over the past decade, with 4.28 million people, mostly heterosexual, infected in 2017 alone. That same year, the judicial branch refused to publish a political party promise to curb the spread of the disease. The AFP reported that the same political party has been petitioning the court to invalidate the candidate’s manifesto.
On May 31, in an interview with news website G1, Bolsonaro — who is running second in Brazil’s national elections behind the incumbent President Michel Temer — claimed “they try to free [vaccines] from us,” and that he had “never seen such cruel fascism.” His explanation did not pass muster with Brazilian authorities. In a statement, the SCB, or the Council of Federal Legislators, declared the comment to be “indecent, inappropriate and illegal,” and said that it would petition the attorney general to immediately investigate the candidate.
The SCB sent the letter, signed by the president of the judicial branch, to Temer and to Bolsonaro’s body guard, Jose Avelino, who had given the interview. Avelino’s statement did not specify whether he agreed with Bolsonaro’s statement.
The statement continued: “It’s a fundamental principle of democracy that the state should provide a safe space for vaccination. The culprits of this politically motivated campaign attack on the basic legislation of public health are most likely a section of politicians. This must not go unpunished.”
Bolsonaro is considered a staunch anti-communist and has refused to meet with the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, in the days after the attempted assassination of his vice presidential running mate. Both Morales and Bolsonaro have been deeply critical of drug trafficking gangs. Bolsonaro also criticized the drug war, and vowed to use the army to reduce deaths during police crackdowns on drug addicts. He also has promised to undo a massive security spending spree in the nation, which bolstered the rate of violent crimes in Brazil.
On Saturday, one day after the top court’s statement, Bolsonaro was ordered to appear for an interview with the trial’s anti-corruption unit.