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Brazil's president is in the hospital with a intestinal obstruction

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The new year is off to a bumpy start for Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro. He spent last night in the hospital suffering from a blockage in his intestines. He was admitted before dawn on Monday, suffering from abdominal pain. For the latest, we're joined now by NPR's Philip Reeves, who is in Rio de Janeiro. Philip, how serious is this?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, this goes back to September, 2018, when Bolsonaro was stabbed and seriously injured at an election campaign rally. Since then, he's had four major surgeries and a number of other procedures. And he's repeatedly suffered these abdominal problems. And this latest problem started after he had lunch on Sunday and started to feel some pain. It was significantly serious, serious enough for him to be flown in the middle of that night from the coast of southern Brazil, where he spent the holidays, to the city of Sao Paulo, where he's now in a private hospital.

MARTINEZ: Now, this is an election year in Brazil. And Bolsonaro is running for a second term. Could this possibly be a problem?

REEVES: Yeah. I mean, Bolsonaro ended up in that same hospital with the same problem in July last year and bounced back. But it's true. He's getting on in years. In March, he'll turn 67. But remember, he's a populist who projects himself to his base as this super fit army captain, the tough guy who rides a motorbike and leads giant motorcycle parades of his supporters through the streets and so on. In fact, he was out riding around on a Jet Ski over the New Year's holidays and went to a theme park which has a Hot Wheels car show, dressed up as a racing driver and drove around in one of the cars. Now, we can't know, A, how he'll emerge from this latest health issue without knowing more about his medical condition. But I think it's likely he'll be back and will carry on swashbuckling in the - as the October election approaches.

MARTINEZ: (Laughter) All right. Now, how are Brazilians reacting to all this?

REEVES: Brazil is deeply divided. Almost everything is politicized these days and certainly everything involving Bolsonaro. So as soon as the news broke yesterday that he'd been airlifted to hospital, his opponents were online, accusing him of highlighting his health issues, for example, by posting pictures of himself in bed giving a thumbs up while showing little sympathy for the more than 620,000 Brazilians who've died because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And some of his opponents also claim that Bolsonaro uses these health issues related to his stabbing to remind Brazilians of that stabbing back in 2018. In fact, a federal police investigation into that attack found it was carried out by one individual. But his supporters on the far right routinely claim this individual was linked to a party on the far left and use that as a way of generally discrediting the left, who are, of course, Bolsonaro's main opponents.

MARTINEZ: Now, what happens next here?

REEVES: His surgeon, who treated him after the stabbing, was overseas on vacation when this happened but arrived back in Brazil this morning. The latest bulletin from the hospital says Bolsonaro is not in pain and has no fever. When this happened before, last July, he spent four days in hospital. But, you know, this is not a great time for him to be out of action. Brazil is facing a mountain of problems right now. There have been deadly floods in the northeast of the country. In fact, Bolsonaro was criticized for cavorting around on holiday by the sea instead of going there. COVID case numbers and deaths are way down in Brazil these days. But they're beginning to rise again. And there's an awful lot of concern about omicron, not to mention inflation and high employment.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. NPR's Philip Reeves in Rio de Janeiro. Philip, thanks a lot.

REEVES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "OUTLIER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.