Brazil and Fascism: The Rise of Bolsonaro
Marília Falci Medeiros is doctor in sociology at the University of Picardie, in Amiens, France, and a professor at the Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She explains the success of far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro.
For the original version, in French, click here.
Since 2016, Brazil has been a systematic victim of hybrid warfare, an unconventional strategy that uses linguistic and symbolic narratives developed mainly by the United States to protect and impose its economic interests. It uses “internal allies” to enforce coups d’état through the judicial system, parliament and hegemonic media. It is in this scenario that the right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro has appeared.
Bolsonaro’s surprising electoral performance in the first round of the elections raises many questions. It is a meteoric evolution of voter intentions – how can we explain the rise of a figure whom, for nearly thirty years, had never left the bottom rung of Brazilian politics?
First, Bolsonaro managed to appear as the man capable of restoring order in a country that, according to the conservative spokespersons of the establishment, was disturbed by the corruption and demagoguery instigated by the Workers’ Party (WP) government, with the consequences of public insecurity, crime, sexual minority revolt, tolerance towards homosexuality and the degradation of the role of women, pulled from their traditional roles. The Lava Jato scandal and Michel Temer’s disastrous regime highlighted the most negative aspects of this situation which, in the view of the most conservative sectors of Brazilian society, has reached unimaginable extremes.
The centre-right parties were swept away with few votes. When the dominant elites lose their core power, there is no one better than the unscrupulous and transgressive Bolsonaro, capable of violating all the norms of the “politically correct” to carry out this task of cleansing and eliminating political adversaries.
How the Workers’ Party changed Brazil
To understand this scenario, forged by hybrid warfare, which criminalises governments and social movements in Latin America, we must return to the recent past, to the four presidential terms of the Workers’ Party. In 2015, the WP reached a 13-year milestone of governing. During this period, the Brazilian people made undeniable social, economic and structural progress. Since the arrival of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2003, under the leadership of the federal government, a development model based on income redistribution, job creation and economic growth was put in place.
Lula and President Dilma Rousseff, elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, implemented public policies to ensure that Brazil left the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hunger map last year. With Brazil Without Misery and Bolsa Família (Family Grant), 36 million Brazilians have exited extreme poverty.
The economic policy maintained by the WP ensured the full expansion of the labour market in the country: the increase in the minimum wage and record-high job creation have allowed 42 million Brazilians to become part of the new working class. Between 2003 and 2014, Brazil created 20 million new formal jobs, according to data from the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The minimum wage has also contributed to improving the lives of the population. Real growth, net of inflation, was above 72%. Between 2002 and 2014, the Brazilian worker’s income increased from R$200 to R$724 a month. Currently, 60% of Brazilian workers have a formal contract, with a guarantee of labour rights such as unemployment insurance, 13th salary and holidays.
There was a time when owning a house in Brazil was a distant dream. Reality has changed with the Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My Home, My Life) program. Since 2009, the year it was created by the Lula government, more than three million houses have been delivered. In education, WP governments started a real revolution – 18 public universities have been created and the Ministry of Education’s budget has increased from R$18 billion in 2002 to R$115.7 billion in 2014.
At the same time, more than one million students have access to full and partial scholarships under the University For All (Prouni) programme and 2.8 million students enrolled in universities through the Unified Selection System (USS) in 2015. More than 12 million are enrolled in the national programme for access to technical education and employment (Pronatec).
With regard to international relations, the Lula government regained a concept that had long since disappeared in a Latin American context: development. This political model establishes a close link between internal social integration and the re-democratisation of the extremes of global power. Externally, it seeks to fulfil the following functions: gain international respect, build closer links with the first world and develop multilateralism.
Lula’s main objective was to reduce social differences in the country, which would serve as a basis for Brazil’s structuring on the international scene. And this has happened in places, transforming Brazil into one of the world’s greatest powers. Lula’s foreign policy has not excluded any country at the expense of others. However, the importance given to developing countries is natural and necessary, as it is to these states that Brazil exports more and more.
Brazil has become totally opposed to American unilateralism and hegemony, finding these inadequate for the government’s current foreign policy standards. Lula defined the search for international autonomy as central. If before we were used to direct intervention by international economic institutions such as the IMF, or to an almost automatic partnership with the United States, the WP governments found a different way into the international field, leading new coalitions, political and social relations with neighbours and countries in the South.
With this inclusive model of internal development and its choice against unilateralism, the WP’s second government with President Dilma Roussef faced strong political pressure, particularly from the union of right-wing parties in Congress, a consortium of forces represented by the judiciary and the media having established itself on the basis of serious, false accusations of corruption against the Lula and Dilma governments.
The rise of fascism
Orchestrated by the media for two years, Parliament dismissed President Dilma through impeachment. Vice-President Michel Temer led the movement and, with him, the right and the far right mobilised the middle layers of society and the ruling elites in a fierce campaign against the Workers’ Party’s politicians.
On the other hand, it can be explained that Bolsonaro was favoured by the change in the political culture of the working classes, which made them receptive to such an authoritarian and moralist approach. The breakdown of community integration links in the favelas, aggravated by a lack of political education, as well as the country’s very serious institutional and political crisis, paved the way for a change in mentality.
Is this an exclusive feature of Brazil? All the Latin American governments of the political cycle initiated at the end of the last century with the rise of Hugo Chávez fell into the error of believing that lifting millions of families out of poverty would inexorably convert them into bearers of a new culture of solidarity before the emergence of consumerism, and therefore inclined to support reformist projects.
However in Brazil, like in Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, many of the beneficiaries of the inclusive policies of WP governments have been caught up in talk of the bourgeoisie and middle class order – fearful and resentful of the activation of the popular camp that has abandoned its traditional tranquility – and largely crushed by the hegemonic press with the help of the evangelical churches. They did what the WP and the left could not do: organise and sensitise, in a reactionary way, the most vulnerable communities saved from extreme poverty by the Lula and Dilma governments. And they have done so by strengthening traditional values regarding the role of women, gender identity and abortion and by promoting a reactionary and self-accusing world view of the poor, and confidence in the role of religion. Another important factor in this interpretation concerns the effective – and obviously harmful – role of the dominant media in the lynching of Lula’s government and all that it represents.
The rich evangelical churches have more than enough money to support this deadly communications infantry. All this media artillery has been downloading a torrent of defamatory information and “fake news” (with the development and broadcasting of many programmes on the web) for years, which, over time, has eroded the value of the WP’s inclusion policies and the credibility of its key leaders, starting with Lula. The legal travesty by which he was sentenced, without evidence, to spend many years in prison did not receive any criticism from the press, who maliciously and thoroughly attacked the public image of the former president and his staff.
However this whole movement, the first phase of which was the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff, the second stage leading to Lula’s illegal arrest, conviction and ban on his candidature, was the only way to prevent his safe return to the Planalto Palace. Judges and prosecutors, with the help of the media, wiped out the former president’s political rights.
But the legal, media and parliamentary coup d’état that deposed an honest president was orchestrated with another motive at its root, the interests of international companies that are already privatising Brazil’s greatest asset: oil.
Marília Falci Medeiros
Featured image Pablo Albarenga / Mídia NINJA under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0