I wrote an opinion piece for the Danish newspaper Politiken.
You can read it below (in English), or in Danish on the newspaper’s website.
Most of what I have been researching in my PhD in Information Science at Aarhus University has concerned the critical power of data to shape decision-making and public perception. It is undeniable that those that have the power of collecting and analyzing data, including governments, have immense power and control – which needs to be used responsibly and balanced by strong, independent forms of accountability.
Brazil, the country where I’m from, has become the latest hotspot for the COVID-19 pandemic. There are now over 35 thousand confirmed deaths, and this number continues to grow, as over 1 thousand more sad losses are recorded daily. The government, controlled by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, has largely given up on controlling the situation.
Quite the opposite: Bolsonaro, instead of taking any meaningful action to control the spread and support the hardest hit, has intentionally halted efforts to manage the pandemic. He fired a total of two Health ministers, one after the other, because they opposed his perspective that there should be (almost) no response to the virus. Brazil currently has no appointed health minister, and the virus continues to wreak havoc, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable. As thousands of people die to the virus, Bolsonaro said without any bit of remorse, cynically: “So what? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”
If any of this wasn’t enough, last Friday Bolsonaro and his government “stopped releasing the cumulative numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and obits in its daily bulletin and only supplied daily numbers.” Large amounts of data have also been wiped clean and made unaccessible. The government has also decided to dispute the official numbers, arguing without any proof that they are being exaggerated. This is a clear attempt at manipulation and omission of data in order to reframe the narrative and manipulate the public perception.
The Bolsonaro government has done away with any semblance of transparency and accountability of public data, thus embracing its position as a totalitarian government. But, as described by Brazilian Supreme Justice Gilmar Mendes, “hiding the numbers won’t exempt responsibility for an eventual genocide.”
So far, the international response to the multiple abuses perpetrated by Bolsonaro and his government have been, at most, distant and permissive. Keeping quiet is being complicit. How many more will have to die before there is any international response to this humanitarian crisis in Brazil?
It should have happened sooner, but now it is time for this to change and Bolsonaro’s tactics to be forcefully rejected and reprimanded across the world. As petitioned by Transparency International, “the international community must demand transparency and guarantee the right of access to information in face of this immense setback.”
Which side does Denmark and the European Union take: that of transparency of data and accountability or that of an authoritarian and dishonest regime?
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