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Brazilan democracy's paroxysm

Bolsonaro affirmed that all “minorities” must adapt to the “majority” way of living and thinking. His model is that of a white, Christian, authoritarian and heterosexual patriarchy. Español

30 October 2018, Brazil, Sao Paulo: Demonstrators shake hands in a protest against the new president Bolsonaro. Photo: Andre Lucas/dpa/PA Images. All rights reserved.

The result

The world looks on in shock during the celebrations of Jair Bolsonaro (PSL), the neo-fascist candidate elected by 57 million Brazilians to serve as president of the country and its 210 million inhabitants.

In the first electoral round, victory was already imminent, as his votes totaled almost all the other twelve candidates added together. This demonstrated that Bolsonaro aspired beyond simply opposing the Worker’s Party (PT).

Fernando Haddad (PT) was the candidate hand-selected by Lula, the latter of which was prevented from running in elections where he would have been leading, according to the polls. Haddad made the second round with 45% of the vote, as opposed to the 55% won by Jair Bolsonaro. In absolute numbers, this was a difference of 10 million votes that favored the new ultra-right President (Lula won by 20 million votes in his two past victories).

The federative states

The ultra-right also triumphed in regional elections. São Paulo, the country’s wealthiest and most populous state, remains in the hands of the PSDB, the same government that has ruled for the past 24 years, but now will be led by Governor João Doria, a politician much more akin to Jair Bolsonaro than the traditional representatives of the party founded by Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Rio de Janeiro, the second most significant state, has also elected an unknown bolsonarista, Wilson Witzel, as its governor. His most visible political performance includes when he spoke alongside PSL candidates Rodrigo Amorim and Daniel Silveira, destroying a street name sign that honored Marielle Franco (PSOL), the Rio politician brutally murdered less than a year ago. Both Rodrigo Amorim and Daniel Silveira (PSL) have been elected as well.

These patterns of absurdity and barbarism, which include a former porn star and a journalist infamous for his plagiarism, have underscored the Bolsonaro trend in practically all Brazilian states, with the exception of the Northeast Region, where Lula was able to secure an electoral majority for Haddad. 

Social media and traditional media

Throughout Brazil, it was often remarked that the elections were shaped by social networks rather than television and other traditional media.

The argument went as follows: in the first round, the center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB), had 14 minutes of airtime, versus the 8 seconds of Bolsonaro’s airtime. Although the former had half the airtime, Alckmin was unable to exceed 5% of the vote, while Bolsonaro obtained almost 50%.

Still, the more plausible hypothesis is that there has been a successful effort by traditional media, via the influence of the PSDB, in the medium to long term. For years, they constructed a narrative that associated systematic corruption, present since the decades of the dictatorship, solely with the PT government. A key part of this narrative included swaying public opinion to reject state enterprises (Petrobrás is the most salient example), thus fertilizing the ground for libertarian ideologies of privatization and the minimal state. In fact, the repetition of this narrative was incalculable, as it overwhelmed societal emotion and provided an opening for what a few years ago was an unthinkable path: a change, outside of the traditional spectrum of democratic principles, at any price.

Finally, the stabbing incident that took place with the ultra-right candidate afforded immeasurable airtime with traditional media. It also gave rise to more organic activity in his huge cyber campaign, which is now suspected of illegal financing, as reported by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

PT-MDB-PSDB and a coup in three acts 

Mobilizations in June 2013 and poor management by the PT were the most significant symptoms of a crisis that demanded thorough evaluation of Dilma’s government and the PT itself, which were immersed in allegations of corruption.

Despite the crisis on the left, the PSDB, led by controversial candidate Aécio Neves, was unable to win the 2014 elections. Then, for the first time since democracy, a party officially questioned, without basis, the electoral outcome. This and other poor behavior from the PSDB, were recently confessed by the party’s President, Tasso Jereissati.

Alongside the MDB, a center-right party known for allying with elected governments to form legislative majorities (like with the PSDB and PT), the PSDB was able to initiate Dilma Roussef’s impeachment process. Vice President Michel Temer, together with Senator Romero Jucá and the Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha, all from the MDB, formed the main leadership in this process. They were eventually able to succeed in attacking Dilma whilst protecting most center-right politicians from the threat of anti-corruption investigation. In 2018, the Senate was forced to acquit Dilma Roussef, but not to reinstate her. It was the first act in a coup that sought to remove the PT from the Presidency.

The second act of the coup was the recent imprisonment of Lula, and his prevention from participating in elections where he was the clear favorite. The UN Human Rights Commission, in addition to some of the most respected jurists in the world, including Baltasar Garzón and Hertha Däubler-Gmelin, have vehemently criticized the lack of evidence in Judge Sergio Moro's ruling and cautioned against the behavior of the Brazilian judiciary.

Finally, the democratic apparatus, maimed by these two previous acts, was the third step utilized in providing a false legitimacy. The contest between Bolsonaro and Haddad was little more than a farce. If Haddad’s victory in the polls was so unlikely, his election possibilities were even less so.

A deception regarding extremes 

In electoral analyses, the predominant discourse maintains that the elections treated of two extremes. This is not true, because the extreme left was only represented in the form of a communist phantom: it was projected that the PT would transform Brazil into Venezuela, despite the fact that in the past 13 years, neither Lula nor Dilma ever threatened the country’s democratic order. The only extreme that truly existed in these elections was that of the right. In fact, the neo-fascist and authoritarian positions of the new President, has no place in any democratic order.

The paradox of promise

The facts have vanished from political life in these elections. There is an abundant menu of “fake news” that has supported parallel truths: manipulated polls, communist invasion, homosexual schooling for students, releasing criminals and further nonsense.

Within these alternate realities, in combination with fear, indignation and an aristocratic style that somehow is touted alongside republican ideals, Bolsonaro transformed from a grotesquely perverse caricature to become an anti-system hope. Yet, he is part of the same system since 28 years.

When confronted about his biography or promises, those who voted for Bolsonaro usually claim that it is only rhetoric, and while he promises it, he will not actually do it.

The warning from Joaquim Barbosa and other foreign personalities 

Hours before the second round of elections, Judge Joaquim Barbosa, famous for his condemnation of the PT in the “Mensalão” scandal sentences, made a public statement on his Twitter. Via the social network, Barbosa stated that for the first time he feared for the fate of democracy and encouraged voting for Fernando Haddad.

In recent months, a wave of intellectuals, ex-heads of state and other public personalities of international renown have taken a pro-Haddad position. Even Noam Chomsky, at age 93, visited Brazil. There was no comparable support for Jair Bolsonaro.

The Brazilian triumph?

There was constant comparison made with US President Donald Trump. Although both Bolsonaro and Trump are politically incorrect, the American businessman has not threatened the democratic order of his country. Bolsonaro, in addition to not truly being an outsider, has already advocated numerous times for using force rather than adhering to the popular will and institutions. In the Brazilian case, economic opportunism is the brainchild of Paulo Guedes, a mentor and Bolsonaro’s future minister. There are more similarities to be drawn between the new Brazilian President and his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte.

The geopolitical future 

Trump and his supporters have just won a great ally in South America. A year ago, this scenario was unthinkable, as was the approach of Steve Bannon. Colombia and Brazil will now divide military responsibilities with US guidance, putting pressure on neighboring Venezuela and establishing dominance over the oil and energy matrix. In less than a year, Exxon became the second largest company in Brazil, behind Petrobras.

Argentina’s neoliberal Macri and his recent IMF-backed measures might represent a risky pattern for Brazil, although the country still has over US$380 billions of international reserve.

On a global scale, there is a move towards Zionist policy, with the immediate effects including transferring the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and expelling the Palestinian mission from Brazil.

Europe will most likely adopt Germany’s position and no longer count Brazil as a strategic ally. This will allow Mexico and Obrador’s government to establish itself as the world’s Latin American representative par excellence.

A military theocracy

Brazil has rejected subverting the class order, even after witnessing 40 million quit misery. Values of consumption and individualism have triumphed over ideals of citizenship.

When it came to power, the PT left behind grassroots activities and liberation theology. These tasks were substituted by a neo-pentecostal theology of domination, led by evangelical churches.

This, in addition to two decades of military dictatorship with crimes that remain ignored today and thus produces more nostalgia than cries for justice, can compound together to produce a violent and retrograde Christian Zionism.

The reorganization of the left 

The left must reorganize and remain vigilant so that advances made in values, norms and rights are not completely destroyed. The PT has previously and dangerously insisted on its hegemony as the leaders of progressivism and has made it difficult for other parties, especially Ciro Gormes’s PDT, to reach the second round of elections with better chances.

Now, with President Bolsonaro, his promises to arm the population, his incentivizing of violent policing and his application of the American anti-terrorist doctrine, protests can be classified as group violence or oppositional social movements can be termed terrorist organizations.

A victory discourse 

After his victory was announced, Bolsonaro spoke live on social networks and continued his dangerous conservative, nationalist and religious tone. When he spoke on television, he transformed the interview into a type of religious ritual, and then read in a mechanical and detached way a message that spoke of a need to reconcile the country with governance for all.

He will shortly announce his new government’s members and it is expected that environment and culture will lose priority and may even cease to exist as ministries. The military, religious and ultra-liberals will gain prominence in this new government.

Nationalism versus cosmopolitanism 

The global trend towards ultra-right expansion continues. Unlike Europe and the United States, where it represents a combination of nationalism and economic protectionism, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes took advantage of Brazil’s nationalist tendencies to promote a policy that will benefit the international capital, not Brazilians. In socio-cultural areas, the masses will be hindered by nationalism and religion. In economic terms, the country’s assets are already on auction: Eletrobrás, Embraer, Petrobrás and Amazonia Forest.

On the other hand, the wave of Brazilians that earlier left to live in the democratic Portugal of socialist António Costa, will finally be able to return to their country, the Brazil of Jair Messias Bolsonaro.

The new banality of evil 

Brazil has embarked upon a path of xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny and persecution of those who ascribe to the so-called left. Bolsonaro affirmed that all “minorities” must adapt to the “majority” way of living and thinking. His model is that of a white, Christian, authoritarian and heterosexual patriarchy. His speeches serve as fuel for his followers, who feel legitimized in pursuing and killing the “reds” of the left, people of color, the poor and LGBTs, so as to restore historical relationships of power and privilege.

In order to avoid what Bolsonaro calls “ideological bias” in education, he has instructed students to record teachers with their phones and denounce any who instruct content that he considers “subversive.” Paulo Guedes, who is also an entrepreneur in the educational field, has encouraged the government to dispense with in-person, classroom teaching. The logic of renewing oppressive pedagogy via video conference is simple: less Paulo Freire, and more Paulo Guedes.

The political future is uncertain, and the preservation of democracy is not guaranteed. There are no rational grounds for believing that Bolsonaro will produce any kind of improvement in Brazilian lives. After the collective euphoria passes, and the most obvious of predictions are fulfilled, Bolsonaro voters will be left with no excuses, and will be unable to argue that they were deceived.

About the author

Rafael Heiber es cofundador y director ejecutivo del Common Action Forum, y miembro fundador de la Alianza Académica de Estudios Conciliatorios en el Oriente Próximo y Norte de África por la Universidad Friedrich Schiller. Es doctor en sociología, maestro en planificación territorial y geógrafo. Actualmente está terminando un libro sobre los vínculos políticos entre tecnología, territorio y ciudadanía.

Rafael Heiber is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Common Action Forum, and a founding member of the Academic Alliance for Reconciliation Studies in the Middle East and Northern Africa (AARMENA) at Friedrich Schiller University. A sociologist and geographer with a Masters in Territorial Planning from the State University of São Paulo, he is completing a book on the political links between technology, territory and citizenship.

 


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