In fight over Brazil leader's virus test, crisis looms

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro signals thumbs up to his supporters during a protest against his former Minister of Justice Sergio Moro and the Supreme Court, in front of the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, May 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he twice tested negative for the coronavirus but many, including a federal judge, are demanding he share the actual results. Still, the leader has refused.

The surreal standoff is the latest flashpoint in a broader battle between a president who has repeatedly tested the limits of his power and democratic institutions. There are concerns that as Bolsonaro pushes back, it could spark a constitutional crisis.

Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and has fiercely criticized efforts by governors and mayors to impose measures to control the virus' spread, instead advocating for most people to get back to work.

But the courts have repeatedly curtailed him — on this issue and others: They ruled that governors and mayors have the power to determine shutdown measures. They overturned the president’s decree allowing religious gatherings and are trying to force the release of his COVID-19 test results to put to rest speculation he may have lied. They struck down his pick for federal police director and on Saturday suspended his decision to expel 30 Venezuelan diplomats from the country.

Bolsonaro’s supporters have denounced the decisions as part of a plot to derail his presidency, and the president himself says he is a victim of meddling by obstructionist judges.

“Enough with the interference. We’re not going to allow any more interference!” Bolsonaro said on Sunday. “Patience has run out. We’re going to take Brazil forward.”

Analysts say the court decisions impose constraints on a populist who is testing democratic guardrails and has shown he is not afraid to take his legal battles to the street when he is unhappy with the courts.

Bolsonaro and his base have frequently lambasted the courts when they limit his power. They have decried, for instance, one justice’s recent decision to block the nomination of a new chief of the federal police, seen by many as too close to the Bolsonaro family.