Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro Pays $184,000 Fine for Not Wearing Coronavirus Mask

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro removes his protective face mask to speak to journalists during a press conference amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at Galeao Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, on May 5, 2021. (Photo by Andre Borges/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Andre Borges/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reportedly paid the government of São Paulo about $184,000 on Wednesday in fines owed for years of public appearances there in which he refused to abide by the state’s sanitary mask mandate.

Bolsonaro, who served as president between 2018 and January of this year, regularly campaigned in São Paulo during the 2022 presidential election cycle, appearing at mass events such as rallies and motorcycle rides, shaking hands and showing his face. Under former Gov. Joao Doria, São Paulo imposed significant civil rights restrictions on residents and visitors during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, including mandating sanitary masks, limiting the right to assembly, and ultimately announcing a vaccine mandate.

Doria’s policies prompted widespread “my body, my choice” protests in São Paulo. He and his center-left coalition lost to current conservative Gov. Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas, who took office in January and has since banned vaccine passports and other mandates.

People protest against mandatory Wuhan coronavirus vaccination at Avenida Paulista on December 22, 2020, in São Paulo, Brazil. (Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

Bolsonaro enthusiastically rejected the coronavirus vaccine and other mandates related to the pandemic while president. He has also publicly stated he would never consume a coronavirus vaccination product and initially condemned foreign vaccine products. However, he ultimately accepted the importing of questionable, Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine products and enthusiastically thanked the Chinese government for sending them.

“The Chinese embassy informed us this morning that the export of 5,400 liters of ingredients for the Coronavac vaccine, [which was] already approved, is already on the way to [Brazil] [and] will arrive in the next few days,” Bolsonaro said in January 2021. “I appreciate the sensibility of the Chinese government.”

While the São Paulo ordinances are no longer on the books, those facing legal repercussions for defying them when they were in vigor remain obligated to pay the fines incurred. Bolsonaro is among them. According to the conservative Brazilian outlet Jovem Pan, which cited Bolsonaro’s attorneys, the former president paid 913,000 Brazilian reais (about $183,791.01) in fines on Wednesday for refusing to wear a mask regularly while in São Paulo. UOL, another Brazilian outlet, reported that Bolsonaro had appealed the fines but visited the São Paulo Court of Justice on Wednesday and handed over the money as the appeal is being processed. The former president will have his money refunded if he wins his appeal.

UOL reported that Bolsonaro currently owes over a million reais (nearly $220,000) in fines for failing to wear a mask at any time during 2020 and 2021. The Banco do Brasil, where Bolsonaro maintains some personal assets, had reportedly frozen his account at the behest of São Paulo over the unpaid fines; Bolsonaro reportedly had access to his account restored this week.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters upon arrival at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 24, 2020, amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Despite positive signs elsewhere, the disease continued its surge in large parts of South America, with the death toll in Brazil passing 22,000 and infections topping 347,000, the world's second-highest caseload. EVARISTO SA / AFP

Brazil’s then-President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters upon arrival at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on May 24, 2020, amid the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. (EVARISTO SA/AFP)

São Paulo’s courts issued an edict in June, freezing the funds, which reportedly totaled about $18,000. At the time, reports indicated that Bolsonaro’s original fines amounted to about $89,000 but had ballooned to nearly $120,000 due to interest.

Brazil’s government runs on a federal system, so the president does not have the power to override local ordinances issued by governors. He first faced legal issues with mask mandates in Brasilia, the nation’s capital, where a judge ordered him to wear a mask in June 2020 or face a fine of 2,000 reais, or about $390, at the time, a day.

“The president has a constitutional obligation to follow the laws in force in the country, as well as to promote the general welfare of the people, which means taking the necessary measures to protect citizens’ right to health,” Judge Renato Borelli wrote in his ruling Monday.

Bolsonaro regularly failed to appear wearing a mask in public, including at mass events such as his signature motorcycle rides, which sometimes attracted upwards of 10,000 people.

He notably appeared shaking hands in public without a mask in July 2020, the same week he tested positive for Wuhan coronavirus.

Confronted about his stance on sanitary masks in June 2021, Bolsonaro told a reporter to “shut up” and dismissed the journalist’s outlet, the Globo network TV Vanguardia, as “shitty media” and “a crap outlet.”

“That Globo is a shitty media [outlet]. You guys are a crap outlet. Shut up, you guys are bastards. You do bastard journalism that doesn’t help at all,” Bolsonaro railed. “You don’t help at all. You destroy the Brazilian family, you destroy Brazilian religion. You’re useless.”

“I show up how I want, where I want – I take care of my own life,” he insisted.

In addition to his appeal, Bolsonaro may ultimately not be required to pay his São Paulo fines if Tarcísio successfully passes a proposal for amnesty to those charged with violating pandemic-era laws. On Wednesday, as Bolsonaro paid his fine, the governor introduced a bill in the state Senate — which is legal in Brazil — that, if passed, would cancel all fines São Paulo imposed on Brazilians over mask and vaccine mandates, as well as limits on gathering.

“The project reviews penalties applied during the pandemic that were meant for education, not profit,” the state government said in a statement to Jovem Pan this week. “Following the end of the state of emergency for health, there is no reason to continue spending taxpayers’ money on judicial and administrative proceedings that overburden public sectors.”

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