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Brazil's parliament has released a report on President Bolsonaro's handling of COVID

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Brazil's Senate today released a devastating report into President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of COVID-19. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, Bolsonaro stands accused of a crime against humanity.

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RENAN CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Six months ago, these senators were asked to find out how much Bolsonaro and his government contributed to Brazil's COVID disaster. Today, they delivered their answer.

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CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese) President Jair Messias Bolsonaro...

REEVES: Bolsonaro deliberately and frequently encouraged Brazilians to ignore safety precautions, says Senator Renan Calheiros, the inquiry's rapporteur. He's reading a summary of the report.

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CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: It says the gravest failing by Bolsonaro and his officials was deliberately to delay the purchase of vaccines last year. It accuses him of ignoring medical advice and pursuing herd immunity, of promoting ineffective treatments like hydroxychloroquine, of systematically spreading falsehoods. Had they taken the correct measures, says Calheiros, transmission rates could have been cut by 40%.

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CALHEIROS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: And by last March, more than 120,000 lives could have been saved. Brazil's registered more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths. That's more than anywhere except the U.S.

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KATIA SHIRLENE DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: The commission of inquiry comprised 11 senators, the majority of them Bolsonaro opponents. They heard from more than 60 witnesses. The most painful testimony came this week from Brazilians mourning loved ones.

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DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese, crying).

REEVES: Katia Shirlene Dos Santos lost both her parents within weeks of one another. At the morgue, her sister was told by an official to find their father's body herself, she says. It was lost in a sea of body bags.

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DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese, crying).

REEVES: We only had time for a quick prayer, saying goodbye to the man who taught us everything, she says. Brazil's northern city of Manaus was one of the areas hardest hit. In January, it ran out of oxygen. Patients suffocated in their beds. Mayra Pires Lima is a nurse there. She caught COVID twice. Struggling to breathe through damaged lungs, she returned to the front line.

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MAYRA PIRES LIMA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: We saw 10 people die every day, she says. That includes her own sister. Now her sister's baby twins have joined Brazil's growing multitude of COVID orphans.

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PIRES LIMA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: What are we going to do for these children, for these families? - she asks. The inquiry's report calls for Bolsonaro to be indicted for multiple offences. Bolsonaro denies guilt. He's repeatedly argued that shutting down Brazil's economy would do more damage than COVID. Political analyst Thomas Traumann says Bolsonaro is unlikely to be prosecuted, not least because Brazil's chief prosecutor is an ally of the president.

THOMAS TRAUMANN: The public prosecutor is extremely pro-Bolsonaro and has shown no indication that he will process Bolsonaro or any other of the ministers.

REEVES: Yet Traumann believes the inquiry has played a crucial role.

TRAUMANN: This was the most important public investigation done by politicians in the last 15 years in Brazil. I mean, it told the entire story of how President Bolsonaro acted during the pandemic.

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REEVES: Some Brazilians now in mourning hope for something better than just a story.

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DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: The pain is great, says Katia Shirlene Dos Santos, the woman who lost her parents. But the desire for justice is greater. Even so, she says, there's really only one way to beat the pandemic.

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DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese, crying).

REEVES: If you haven't already, take the vaccine, she says. Please, just take the vaccine.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECONDITE'S "LEVO (CLUB EDIT)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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