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Brazil in the grip of facism

BY MICHAEL DROHAN

The new president-elect of Brazil is a man named Jair Bolsonaro, a frightening prospect for all who believe in democracy. In the first ballot for the Presidency of Brazil on October 7 he received 46% of the votes and in the runoff on October 28, 2018 he received 56%, making him the new President of Brazil beginning January 1, 2019. He is the candidate of a small ultra-right party in Brazil called the Social Liberal Party (PSL), which has few representatives in the Brazilian Congress. He defeated the candidate of the Workers Party (PT), Fernando Haddad, who had been the Mayor of Sao Paolo.

Bolsonaro’s ascendency to the Presidency of Brazil is an amazing story. He succeeds Michel Temer, who essentially came to power by a series of coups in which the former President, Dilma Rouseff, of the Workers Party of Brazil, was ousted. The Workers Party (PT) had come to power in Brazil in 2002 after a few decades of organizing at the grassroots level with an agenda of progressive reform in Brazil.

I have fond memories of visiting a city in the State of Rio de Janeiro named Angra dos Reis in 1991–the leadership of the city had been taken over by a dentist with a platform of universal health care and free education. Their organizing and democratic guidelines would be the envy of any democracy.

The leader of the Workers Party at that time, Luis Ignacio Lula de Silva, a man of humble and poor origins, was elected to the Presidency of Brazil in 2002 and brought a level of economic and social justice to Brazil that it had never seen before. He was succeeded by Dilma Rouseff, who had fought the Brazilian military dictatorship in the 1970s. A series of trumped up charges of corruption and a corrupt judiciary ended with her impeachment in 2014.

The new President elect of Brazil is a kind of Trump on steroids. Ample statements confirm his misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia. He has called people from Haiti and the Middle East the “scum of humanity.” He described a woman who opposed and criticized him as “too ugly to care to rape.” On the economic front, he favors the total privatization of all public assets such as airlines, railroads and infrastructure, with the consequent decreasing of regulation of corporations and private enterprise. He despises welfare programs to help poor and underprivileged sectors. Above all, and this seems to set him apart from Donald Trump, he has a great detestation of communism/socialism and the threat that it supposedly presents to the Brazilian society and economy. He was a member of the Brazilian military from 1977 to 1998, including some of the years of the military’s reign of terror in Brazil.

The years of the Brazilian military dictatorship went from 1964 to 1985. They imprisoned and tortured millions of Brazilians, including the former President Dilma Rouseff. Bolsonaro’s comment on the military reign of terror is that they were too lenient: “they should have killed the protestors and opponents” he asserts. He is absolutely against all women’s rights such as abortion, contraception and equality with men.

Taken together with the victory of Trump in the United States and the Conservative Brexiteers in Britain, the coming to power of Bolsonaro in Brazil is extremely dangerous. Bolsonaro looks to be even more extreme than Trump in his unabashedly hateful views, although his xenophobic outlook is made less dangerous by the relative lack of influence and control that Brazil exerts on the rest of the world, in contrast to the United States. If we describe a fascist as one who is wedded to dictatorial authoritarian rule and seeks scapegoats such as immigrants, minorities, poor workers and Muslims as the cause of society’s ills, then Bolsonaro fits the bill.

Brazil has not been known as a country with fascist tendencies, so why the election to the Presidency of a man who to all appearances seems a full-blown fascist? Some commentators, such as Glenn Greenwald, suggest that the Bolsonaro and Trump phenomena are a result of the ineptitude of the political elite in the US, Brazil and elsewhere. These elites are inattentive to the plight of the great majority of their populations.

Why did 56% of the Brazilian voting population vote for a character such as Bolsonaro? Only about 7% of Brazilians are what we might call affluent, so Bolsonaro got elected through the votes from disaffected women, blacks, indigenous and other minorities. Their vote was saying “A pox on both your houses!” to the traditional parties, including PT, but the voters did not understand the full malevolence of the ogre to whom they were giving power.

Similarly in the US, Trump was not elected by the powerful corporate tycoons, although they cheered his election. He was elected by a large swath of the so-called middle classes, searching for a scapegoat for their perceived lack of wellbeing. Bolsonaro provided them scapegoats– immigrants, minorities, welfare recipients, and Muslims. In the US, many people are pushing back against Trump. Will Brazil do the same to Bolsonaro?

Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and the Board of TMC.

(TMC newspaper VOL.48 No.10 December 2018. All rights reserved)

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