Jair Bolsonaro’s clear-cut victory in Brazil’s presidential elections (55 percent to 45 percent) poses a critical danger to the 30 years of democratic progress in Brazil since the last dictatorship. This time, a neo-fascist candidate, openly advocating violent repression against all forms of opposition and popular organization, has risen to power not by the force of arms but by popular consent based on a highly explosive combination: a (false) populism of the nationalist and anti-system sort, married with the open support of the most fundamentalist currents originating from American Evangelicalism, which believes it is fighting a war of annihilation against Sodom and Gomorrah.
Brazil isn’t the only country with reasons to be afraid. Bolsonaro will be a far-right president in a region where, in recent elections, voters have been choosing conservative or right-wing leaders. It has happened in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Colombia. While we have not yet returned to the 1970s horrors of Operation Condor, organized by the military dictatorships of Pinochet and Videla and backed by the US, the countries of the Southern Cone of Latin America are in danger of becoming trapped in the vise of an authoritarian block, neoliberal and subordinate to the imperial policy being pursued by the US in the time of Trump.
The consequences will soon be felt in Venezuela, which is now bordered by a country ruled by the right (Colombia) and one ruled by the extreme right (Brazil), which will be all-too-ready to support a possible “humanitarian” military intervention by the United States. Cuba’s situation is similar, being pushed back into Cold War-style politics by Donald Trump’s uber-hawk administration.
As Fernando Haddad, the defeated candidate of the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT), said with clarity and courage in his concession speech after the final results of the presidential elections became known: the Brazil of the people must prepare itself for a period of resistance and struggle for democracy. It is not a matter of defending one party, or some part of the left, but of organizing a vast popular movement for the defense of freedom of expression and popular assembly and of democratic life. All over the enormous South American country, there are many popular and social activist movements, from the Landless to the Homeless, from the ecologists to the feminists. They are all in danger now. “Either they get out of the country or they go to jail”—this is what Bolsonaro has promised for them.
His security program has many truly chilling provisions: harsher sentencing, a reduction in the age at which someone will be tried criminally as an adult (down to 16 years old), the right to carry guns for everyone, and a license to kill for the police, who already have a poor record in this regard compared to other countries on the continent. According to the Forum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, taking into account the differences in population size, Brazilian police kill 19 times more often than police in the US. Bolsonaro, however, believes that is a good thing, because “a policeman who does not kill is not a policeman.”
Brazil’s president-elect has also promised an iron fist policy against the reservations of the native indios and the natural preserves of the Amazon, which are the main barriers still containing the progressive devastation of the largest tropical forest and “green lung” on the planet. “They will not have even an inch of land,” he said. The Ministry of the Environment will be absorbed into the Ministry of Agriculture, which, in Bolsonaro’s words, will act in consonance with the “productive sector”—thus giving a “free hand” to big agro-businesses, to the mass livestock grazing of the large fazendas, to the large-scale soybean plantation owners, to mining activities and to the grileiros: local strongmen who seize public lands at gunpoint and then mercilessly exploit and deforest them.
The “phenomenon” of Bolsonaro—a little-known member of Parliament who in 28 years has failed to get a single bill approved, and who has seen his small party go from only a few parliamentarians to 53 deputies now—cannot be explained without taking into account the support he has been given by all the powers-that-be: military, economic and financial, as well as the largest mass media.
Why did the ruling classes choose to favor someone like Bolsonaro, who often sounds like a downright psychopath, and whose coming government—in the words of analyst Xosé Hermida—augurs a highly polarized society, now given a “license to hate”? As Gramsci observed in his Prison Notebooks, in a situation of “organic crisis,” in which there is a break in the connection between the ruling classes and their political and intellectual representatives, the bourgeoisie and its allies will renounce their traditional spokespersons and look for a providential figure that they believe would allow them to better face the challenges of the moment.
In Brazil’s case, the ruling classes are planning to complete the “coup” carried out two years ago, which Temer, the current president, and his conservative allies have not been able to fully secure: in other words, the plan is to put a final end to the legacy of the PT governments, and start a new era of rampant neoliberalism under a malleable president, who will delegate his economic policy to Paulo Guedes, a “Chicago boy” on steroids who has one solution for everything: privatize, privatize, privatize.
A well-known “liberal” commentator recently argued that at this point, the enemies of democracy in Latin America tend to be the judges (who, for instance, imprisoned Lula in Brazil), instead of the generals, as was the case before—and that this situation represents “progress” for the subcontinent. One need look no further than Bolsonaro’s election in Brazil to disabuse themselves of this notion.
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