The coronavirus pandemic has halted production of Brazil’s steamy telenovela soap operas – but one small-screen blockbuster is on everyone’s lips.
A two-hour video of a heated and expletive-ridden cabinet meeting chaired by President Jair Bolsonaro last month has become the subject of an extraordinary political arm-wrestle, exposing the intrigues and eccentricities at the centre of Brazilian power.
“This meeting is the perfect portrait of the Bolsonaro administration,” said Bruno Boghossian, a columnist for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper in Brazil’s political capital, Brasília.
“Conspiracy theories, ideological issues, made-up battles, and culture wars – all right there at the heart of government.”
The video of the supposedly private plenum on 22 April was unexpectedly thrust into the public domain by the resignation of Bolsonaro’s justice minister, Sergio Moro, two days later.
Moro says the images contain key evidence supporting his allegation that Bolsonaro tried to meddle in federal police business and must be released as part of a supreme court investigation into those claims.
The footage was privately screened for investigators this week but has yet to be made public.
Even before its release, however, the video is casting a profoundly embarrassing, and potentially compromising light on Bolsonaro and the far-right administration he has led since January 2019.
A partial transcript – produced by the attorney general’s office on Thursday – and a succession of excruciating leaks offer a tantalising glimpse of the world of paranoia, radicalism and curse words around the leader of the world’s fourth-largest democracy.
“I’m not going to wait for [the federal police] to fuck my family and friends just for shits and giggles,” Bolsonaro fumes at one point, according to the official account, apparently in reference to police inquiries involving his politician sons.
Elsewhere Bolsonaro allegedly brands São Paulo’s governor a “shit”, calls Rio’s governor “manure” and seems to recognize the chaos engulfing his government, as it faces economic meltdown and a public health crisis that has claimed more than 14,000 Brazilian lives.
On Friday, Bolsonaro’s government suffered a further blow when his health minsiter resigned less than a month after taking the job.
“The ship is sinking,” Bolsonaro is quoted as saying by the Estado de São Paulo during the assembly at the presidential palace.
Bolsonaro is not the only person compromised by the footage.
Reports suggest his intelligence chief, Gen Augusto Heleno, lambasted the Communist party leaders of Brazil’s most important trade partner, China, during the encounter.
The foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, also reportedly attacked Beijing, accusing it of responsibility for the spread of what he calls the “communavirus”. (One report this week suggested China’s ambassador to Brazil had unfollowed Araújo on Twitter because of the alleged comments.)
On Wednesday Heleno tweeted that releasing footage containing “confidential and even secret matters” was “an unpatriotic act, almost an attack on national security”.
Another cameo reportedly comes from the education minister, Abraham Weintraub. The magazine Veja has reported that during the assembly Weintraub calls for the imprisonment of Brazil’s supreme court judges and calls his country’s capital a “cancer” and “crap”.
Another outlet, UOL, claimed Weintraub admitted “hating” the expression “indigenous peoples”.
“My remarks are republican and polite,” Weintraub said on Twitter this week, adding that he was not in the habit of using blue language.
Bolsonaro’s economy minister, Paulo Guedes, apparently is. On Friday he was reported to have told the meeting the government needed to hurry up and sell “the fucking Bank of Brazil”.
The outbursts – coupled with Bolsonaro’s potentially incriminating remarks about wanting to change the head of Brazil’s federal police – explain the legal battle currently raging to prevent the video seeing the light of day.
Bolsonaro’s foes, who now include Moro, are demanding its immediate release. But on Thursday the attorney general, Augusto Aras, warned broadcasting the video could provoke “public instability” and spark a “fishing expedition” targeting members of Bolsonaro’s administration.
Boghossian said the government’s reluctance to release the footage was unsurprising. The images showed a president who was “cornered and surrounded” and a country that was directionless and hostage to “ideological mumbo jumbo”.
One supreme court justice was this week reported to have branded the meeting the “reunião de insanos” – an assembly of the insane.
“It’s a pretty apt description,” Boghossian said.