The election of Bolsonaro as President of Brazil, one of the biggest economies in the world, with 55 percent of the votes in the second round, has left me feeling disappointed, sad, and deeply concerned about the human rights of many people. Like many others in Brazil and from around the world, I was shocked by how these elections unfolded, the violent narrative and actions of Bolsonaro as well as some of the things that he promised to do if elected. Furthermore, it led me to think about what people involved in development and activism should do to challenge the violence, misogyny and racism that characterises Bolsonaro’s campaign that has become increasingly prevalent under the rule of other leaders around the globe.
Image credit – As mulheres vão salvar o Brasil do retrocesso. São Paulo hoje no #elenao Foto: Mídia NINJA
Far from an ideal democratic exercise
Even though the people spoke, these elections were far from the ideal democratic exercise. Hate speech towards LGTBQ+ people, women, black people and activists among others, was prevalent in Bolsonaro’s campaign, and helped ignited violent actions towards these communities, reporting cases of violence perpetrated towards left-wing people and groups, feminists, and LGTBQ+ communities by people who identified themselves as Bolsonaro’s supporters. In addition, military police officers confiscated teaching materials, on ideological grounds, from more than twenty anti-fascist university groups, thereby suppressing freedom of speech. Furthermore, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo published an article that exposed private companies financing a large-scale Whatsapp negative messaging campaign against the Workers’ Party, a practice considered illegal by the Brazilian Electoral Tribunal.
Bolsonaro’s actions – pre- and post-election
Bolsonaro says he is not violent, however also that he cannot control his supporters. He has a history of making inflammatory statements, supporting torture, saying black people are not good enough even to procreate or his sons are too ‘well educated’ to fall in love with a black woman, and defending the existence of a gender pay gap. Jair Bolsonaro has described himself as a Trump admirer. As a Chilean, I was shocked when he manifested his support to Pinochet’s sanguinary dictatorship.
A number of these neo-fascist, misogynistic, racist, and LGTBphobic statements, were an important part of his campaign. These included declarations on Brazil leaving the Paris Agreement, taking away protected lands from indigenous communities, and after being elected, the potential merging of the Ministry of Agriculture with the Ministry of Environment, which has raised serious concerns about the protection of the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon. Concerns around the predilection of agribusiness and mining over one of the world’s richest ecosystems is both a Brazilian and a global concern.
- Concerning activism, he has openly spoke about a cleansing of activists from movements such as MTST (Homeless Workers’ Movement) and MST (Landless Movement), and having a law that typifies them as terrorist organisations.
- Regarding his anti-corruption narrative, specifically against the Workers’ Party and Lula, Sergio Moro, the judge who put Lula himself in prison last year and disabled him to run for the presidency, accepted to be his Ministry of Justice.
- Concerning international relations, he announced the moving of the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the sovereignty of Israel over that disputed territory.
How did this happen and what do we do about it?
In the last weeks, there have been lots of theories and discussion of what happened in the Brazilian elections. As expected, a massive spreading of fake news about the election, corruption in the political system, and the perception of the Workers’ Party being to blame for the entire mess. People are tired of corruption, and Bolsonaro’s campaign appealed to an anti-systemic public, even though he has been a professional politician for many years. The intervention of Brazilian elites who control the capital and a big part of the media also played a very important role.
Nevertheless, the majority of people voted from a man who campaigned openly on a neo fascist narrative, and that should worry us all. Does that mean that half the voters in Brazil are neo-fascists? I would not dare to make that asseveration. I do believe we are facing a crisis of political imagination, in which we got stuck between narratives that catalogue socialism as undemocratic or authoritarian and, social-democracies that played within capitalist rules and were unable to extinguish grotesque inequalities. In addition, there is a generalised discredit of liberal democracy, not only in terms of what real representation and participation means and how it should be experienced, but also regarding the unhealthy relationship between politics and money. This context begs the question about why are these neo-fascist narratives emerging? Where they ever really defeated? Are they a manifestation of late stage capitalism decay? I know, difficult questions and with no straight answers. All I know is that, even though people tried to fight these narratives with big campaigns, mostly led by women, such as the “Ele nao” (“Not him”) demonstrations, that were not enough, and Bolsonaro won.
During my research in Brazil, I tried to develop tools for making political imagination happen within the collectives involved in Guilherme Boulos and Sonia Guajajara presidential campaign, trying to convene indigenous, landless workers, and different activist´s narratives into an alternative political proposal for Brazil. I believe everyone that advocates for better developmental models, that respect the environment and basic human rights should be asking him or herself a question about the ways in which we as a species are going to organize life, and how are we going to beat these extreme right-wing visions that are nothing but setbacks for humans and life in general. The truth is, I believe fascism should not be open to discussion, and it should be fought with all the vigor, creativity, international solidarity and strategy that we can collectively muster.
About the author
Carolina Pérez studied the MA in Participation, Power and Social Change at IDS and recently carried out action research with the 2018 radical Brazilian Presidential election campaign of Guilherme Boulos and Sônia Guajajara. She was a Student Movement leader and is member of Revolución Democrática, a political party in Chile that forms part of Frente Amplio, a new political coalition borned from social movements that turned into the third political force in Chile after 2017’s elections for Congress and Presidency.