Brazilian democracy in crisis
after Bolsonaro’s election
by the Center for Economic and Policy Research – CEPR
The election of far-right extremist Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency throws Brazil’s democracy into “crisis,” Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot warned tonight, following news of the election results. Bolsonaro’s rapid ascent from perennial and provocative fringe politician to presidential front-runner shocked observers and commentators in Brazil and internationally. There is much evidence his candidacy was aided by a massive, probably illegal, disinformation campaign against his opponents.
“This is a dark day for Brazil; Brazilian democracy is now in complete crisis,” Weisbrot said. “The international community must help preserve Brazil’s democratic institutions and stand up for the rights of its citizens by letting Bolsonaro know that there will be consequences if he follows through on his dangerous and hateful rhetoric.”
Bolsonaro has a long history of making statements praising Brazil’s dictatorship and disparaging its democratic institutions — notably when, in a TV interview, he said that voting “doesn’t change anything.” Rather, he said, Brazil would need a “civil war” killing 30,000 people. He’s also expressed admiration for Chile’s infamous dictator August Pinochet, saying Pinochet “should have killed more.”
In recent days, Bolsonaro has again raised alarm by talking of jailing or forcing into exile members of the main opposition Workers’ Party in “a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.” He also vowed that members of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) would be designated as “terrorists.” MST-affiliated schools and other institutions have been raided by police in recent years, and MST leaders murdered.
Bolsonaro is infamous for misogynistic and homophobic statements. He has also made a number of racist remarks in the past, infamously saying that descendants of Brazilian slaves “don’t do anything,” and, “I don’t think they’re even good for procreation anymore.” He’s chillingly told a campaign rally: “Let’s make Brazil for the majorities. Minorities have to bow to the majorities. Minorities will fit or just disappear!” He’s also warned that “Not one centimeter will be demarcated for indigenous reserves or quilombolas [descendants of escaped slaves living on lands claimed by their ancestors]” were he to become president, leading to concern that Indigenous rights — including to ancestral lands coveted by mining and other business interests — may be trampled under a Bolsonaro administration.
Bolsonaro has signaled that he would support business interests over environmental concerns, and has spoken of withdrawing Brazil from the Paris Climate Accord, raising alarm among environmentalists and in the scientific community who have voiced concern over the likelihood of increased deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Brazil has for years been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, and the Bolsonaro presidency could make their situation more dire.
“Governments around the world must make Bolsonaro understand that there will be a strong reaction against antidemocratic actions or rights abuses on his watch,” Weisbrot said. “While he may have been elected democratically, there are tens of millions of Brazilians who voted against him. The international community must help to safeguard the rights of Brazil’s most vulnerable.”
Just before the October 28 vote, 18 members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the State Department “to take a strong stand in opposition to such backsliding; leaving clear that US assistance and cooperation with Brazil is contingent on the upholding of basic human rights and democratic values by its leaders.”
Weisbrot noted that Bolsonaro’s rise was abetted by years of politicized attacks against the left-leaning Worker’s Party, led by hard right actors in the media, the judiciary, and Brazil’s Congress.
Many observers cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election after former president Lula da Silva was barred from running in contravention of the UN Human Rights Committee, and Lula had very restricted access to the media. The contested jailing of Lula, who was sentenced to 12 years on unsubstantiated charges, created a political vacuum which Bolsonaro was able to fill.
“By preventing former president Lula da Silva, Brazil’s most popular politician, from running in this election, the country’s right-wing elites subverted democracy and paved the way for a dangerous fascist to take power,” Weisbrot said.
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