A Threat to Democracy in Brazil

In October, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil, beating the left’s candidate, Fernando Haddad, in a result which sent shockwaves around Latin America and globally. (25/11/18)

His election was a triumph for the Trump administration, welcoming an ally against less compliant governments in the region. Vice-president Pence had warmly greeted him prior to the campaign.

And while he posed as an ‘outsider,’ the massive amounts of money spent on his campaign – including a dirty social media campaign from the Steve Bannon textbook – are just one signal of how he is in fact the candidate of the mega-rich, whom he will now reward with a privatisation bonanza.

His victory also presents a major threat to democratic, social and economic rights, fuelling violence and repression against the left and the labour movement. Days before his election, Bolsonaro said if he was elected “leftists will have to… leave the country or go to jail,” adding “reds will be banished.”

His reactionary views have been widely covered.

There’s sexism: he told a congresswoman “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it.”

Homophobia: he said he would be “incapable of loving a homosexual son… I would prefer my son to die in an accident than show up with a moustachioed man.”

Racism: speaking about visiting Quilombo (a territory inhabited by Afro-Brazilian descendants of escaped slaves) he said “They do nothing. They’re not even good for procreation.”

Bolsonaro’s programme also encourages state violence, giving armed police forces a free hand to shoot and kill. The actions of his supporters, from those on the streets to regional and national politicians, have also caused alarm. In the campaign, there was a spate of violence against journalists, activists and others. Romualdo Rosairo Da Costa was stabbed to death in a bar after proclaiming support for rival candidate Haddad. A women carrying an LGBT flag and wearing an anti-Bolsonaro t-shirt had a swastika carved into her skin. A transgender woman was beaten in the street by Bolsonaro supporters.

This follows a pattern of increased violence and repression since the 2016 ‘parliamentary coup,’ which saw right wing senators remove the elected president Dilma Rousseff and install Michel Temer’s hardline austerity presidency. Most notably this included the assassination of black human rights campaigner Marielle Franco and the jailing of former president Lula, who would have won this election had he not been barred from standing.

Bolsonaro has declared Lula will “rot in prison” and after his election said he intends to treat social movements as terrorists, singling out the Landless Workers Movement.

Even before taking office, Bolsonaro has been working closely with the outgoing coup president to fast-track harsh attacks on civil liberties. The left, labour and social movements have deep roots, so these attacks are central if he is to weaken their capacity to resist his agenda.

Legislation is currently being debated which could allow for peaceful demonstrations to be deemed terrorism and social movements to be deemed criminal organisations. These changes, and a decree issued by the current president to create an ‘intelligence task force’ involving the army, air force, navy, federal police and government, have been condemned by the Sao Paulo Lawyers’ Union as unconstitutional, illegal and having extremely serious consequences. Alongside Bolsonaro’s attacks on civil liberties, he is planning a further intensification of the coup government’s harsh austerity measures, including offering up the country’s oil resources to US multinationals.

Bolsonaro also has far right allies in powerful positions throughout Brazil who threaten repression and violence. Wilson Witzel, the new governor-elect of Rio de Janeiro, for example, has outlined how the Rio police, already among the world’s most violent, will have a carte blanche to kill even more than they already do in the poorest areas. Over 1,000 were assassinated by the police in this state in 2017.

The left, social, labour and other progressive movements are, and will be, resisting though, with large street protests. At the encouragement of our comrades in Brazil, and with the support of Labour MPs, trade unions and many others, the Brazil Solidarity Initiative has been set up to stand shoulder to shoulder with those Brazilians fighting the far-right. Please support us.

  • Matt Willgress edited No Coup in Brazil, a blog site which has now launched the Brazil Solidarity Initiative. For information and to sign up go to www.brazilsolidarity.co.uk
  • Join Chris Williamson MP, Karen Lee MP, Dan Carden MP, plus guests from Brazil and across Latin America, at the Latin America Conference on 1st December from 9.15 am at Congress House, London. Tickets and information at www.latinamericaconference. co.uk

This article was originally published by Labour Briefing here

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