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Brazil's Senate Investigates Who To Blame For Country's COVID-19 Crisis

NOEL KING, HOST:

COVID has killed more people in Brazil than in any other country except the United States.

NPR's Philip Reeves says Brazil's Senate is now pointing fingers.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: There is a day Brazilians now can't easily forget. It's a Tuesday three weeks ago. That Tuesday, April the 6, was the deadliest day in the deadliest month of Brazil's pandemic, says Renan Calheiros, a Brazilian senator.

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RENAN CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "It's impossible to erase April the 6," he says.

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CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "On that day, there was one COVID death in Brazil every 20 seconds."

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CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Calheiros is addressing a small group of other senators.

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CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: He asked them for 20 seconds of silence to mark April the 6...

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REEVES: ...And to honor the 395,000 Brazilians who have lost their lives. These senators are members of a parliamentary commission that's about to begin investigating Brazil's pandemic response.

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CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Brazil has the right to know who contributed to the many thousands of deaths," says Renan.

The inquiry members were sworn in yesterday. The conduct of Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, is part of their investigation. They'll want to know why he promoted anti-malarial drugs as a cure in defiance of medical advice. Why does he subvert social distancing? Why did Bolsonaro block the purchase of some vaccines last year? Even now, less than 7% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated. Some can't get their crucial second dose because of supply shortages.

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RANDOLFE RODRIGUES: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "We have a duty to find out why Brazil still doesn't have enough vaccines," says Brazilian Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, who's one of the inquiry's 11 members.

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JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Bolsonaro seems unrepentant.

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BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: On Monday, he again attacked COVID restrictions. He accused governors of using these to subjugate Brazilians and threatened to use the army to protect the public's right to free movement.

Political analyst Marcio Coimbra says that's how Bolsonaro talks when he's in trouble.

MARCIO COIMBRA: I think he's deeply worried because when he feels pressured, he shows that he's feeling pressured.

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BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.