Bolsonaro’s guru and Covid-19 sceptic dies after contracting virus

Olavo de Carvalho gave intellectual veneer to anti-lockdown stance and unproven drugs

Brazil’s president’s one-time ultra-rightwing guru Olavo de Carvalho: Late adviser has blood on his hands, his estranged daughter claims. Photograph: Alan Santos

The former astrologer who became an ideological guru to the administration of Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has died days after contracting Covid-19.

A vocal coronavirus sceptic, Olavo de Carvalho had recently caught the disease, forcing him to cancel the online courses he gave from his home in the US where has lived since 2005. Early on Tuesday his family announced he had died in hospital. The cause of death was not given.

A self-styled philosopher who was derided by academics as a crank, Mr Carvalho had mocked the coronavirus pandemic to his large following on social media. He had argued against lockdowns and defended the use of medicines with no proven efficacy in fighting the disease while attacking vaccines.

Fled clinic

Last year he spent several months in Brazil receiving medical care for heart trouble. During his stay he was subpoenaed for questioning by federal police as part of a supreme court-led investigation into the use of online pro-Bolsonaro networks to attack the country's democratic institutions. Shortly after receiving the subpoena, he fled the clinic he was recovering in and was taken by car to Paraguay from where he caught a plane back to the US.


The Bolsonaro administration was implicated in his escape after it was revealed Mr Carvalho had not passed through Brazilian migration at the border, which is controlled by federal police.

Initially Mr Bolsonaro had used Mr Carvalho's alt-right worldview to provide an intellectual veneer to his reactionary outsider run for the presidency. Shortly after assuming office in 2019, he invited Mr Carvalho to a dinner also attended by Steve Bannon in the Brazilian embassy in Washington.

But after an initial honeymoon period, the two men drifted apart.

Political incompetence

The ministers whose careers Mr Carvalho had promoted proved to be politically incompetent and prone to statements that brought ridicule down on the administration and were eventually forced out.

In a recent interview, Mr Carvalho claimed the president had used him as a “poster boy” to get elected but then betrayed his friends in government. He said he would vote again for Mr Bolsonaro in October’s presidential election but “the fight has already been lost”.

The president took to social media to pay homage to Mr Carvalho, calling him “one of the greatest thinkers in the history of our country”.

In an interview after his death, Mr Carvalho’s estranged daughter, Heloisa, said her father’s scepticism towards Covid-19 helped explain Brazil’s slow start in the vaccine rollout. “I lost many friends. He has blood on his hands, but I don’t commemorate his death. I just feel relieved,” she told the Veja website.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America