The Rise of Authoritarianism in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

“Despite the huge economic, social and political crisis that is plaguing the country, the government seems to be more concerned about further radicalising its supporters, and is putting the Brazilian electoral system in check.”

Nathalia Urban, Brasil Wire, tackles the growing authoritarianism taking place under far-right President Bolsonaro – threats against the electoral system, false claims of fraud and the arrests of those speaking out against him.

The election of Bolsonaro was very significant in Brazil for several reasons, not only for the interruption of progressive projects started during the years of the Workers Party (PT) administrations, but the arrival of fascist ideologies to power.

Bolsonaro is the consequence of the manifestation of the far right that has been growing around the world. The advance of his political figure was driven by two fundamental factors: a strong idea of ​​meritocracy, that is, “that people are born in the same places and have the same opportunities”;  and the creation of an enemy responsible for all the country’s problems (socialism, in his view).

The patriotic slogan of Bolsonaro’s campaign (which was also the name of his coalition) takes its inspiration from a well-known phrase among the Nazis.  “Brazil above all, God above all”.  We recently saw the president smiling from ear to ear hugging Beatrix von Storch, one of the leaders of the far-right German party Alternativ fur Deutschland (AfD), during a meeting that was not on the president’s official agenda last week. His son congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and his ally congresswoman Bia Kicis were also with the German parliamentarian.

Unlike the president, they registered the meetings on their social media. Eduardo said that he and von Storch are united around the ideals of “defence of the family, protection of borders and national culture”. Bia Kicis described the AfD as a “conservative” party. She said her meeting with the German deputy was in the context of a “union of world conservatives to defend Christian values ​​and the family”.

Bolsonaro, the president who has never found time to receive vaccine company representatives in a country where more than half a million people have died as a result of the pandemic, easily made room in the agenda to meet the German in order to solidify an alliance.

The apparatus of state bodies has, in fact, been a hallmark of the Bolsonaro government.  Bombarded with criminal accusations, the Bolsonaro family tried to influence the choice of the last attorney general of the Public Ministry of the State of their home state Rio de Janeiro.

Furthermore, the persecution of popular militants has never been so severe since the country’s re-democratisation period.  Paulo Galo, an important part of the Anti-Fascist Delivery Drivers movement, is unjustly imprisoned for an illegal decision made by the São Paulo Court.

Galo had his preventive detention decreed by the São Paulo justice, along with two other people, due to a police investigation into the act of burning the statue of Borba Gato, a murderous conqueror and symbol of the cursed heritage of the colonization period, in the southern zone of São Paulo, which took place shortly before the anti-Bolsonaro act on July 24, São Paulo’s Justice Department does not hide the political nature of its decision. 

Another emblematic case was that of Rodrigo Grassi, known as Rodrigo “Pilha”, arrested on March 18 for peacefully protesting on the Esplanade of Ministries with a poster calling President Jair Bolsonaro a “genocide”, and released only on 11 July.  Pilha was serving his sentence in a semi-open regime, despite a court decision for him to go to the open regime, Pilha even sent a letter to friends and family informing him that he was starting a hunger strike to protest against the torture he suffered in prison and the delay of the court decision. 

Despite the huge economic, social and political crisis that is plaguing the country, the government seems to be more concerned about further radicalising its supporters, and is putting the Brazilian electoral system in check. In recent weeks, Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked electronic voting machines used in Brazilian elections since 1996 and has even declared that if the country does not adopt a printed voting system, the election scheduled for next year will not take place. 

Bolsonaro has argued that without this voting mechanism he will be a victim of fraud to favor one of his opponents and he repeated, without ever having presented any evidence, that he was already the target of this strategy because he would have won the presidential elections in the first round in 2018, inspired by the booklet of Trump he puts the voting system in check for fear of defeat at the ballot box, calling for a more radical speech to try to perpetuate himself in power by mobilizing supporters.

The possibility of defeat has haunted the current Brazilian president since former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had court victories that overturned two convictions in Operation Car Wash lawsuits in the first half of 2020. With this, Lula da Silva was once again eligible and appeared in front of the current President in polls about the 2022 elections. Such a change in the political scenario coincided with the increase in attacks on electronic voting machines.

Bolsonaro has made at least 192 statements against the current model of electronic voting and in favour of printed voting since he came to power, but 160 of these statements took place as of April, when Lula da Silva regained his political rights.

Although all polls show that Lula will win the 2022 elections, there is a very real fear among Brazilians that something will be done so that Bolsonaro will continue to perpetuate his power and thus be able to finish his project of destroying the working class in the country, privatising everything he can and selling all the natural resources without any regards for the environment.


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