Greta Browne and Guy Gray
“If the poor of this country knew what is being planned for them, there wouldn’t be enough streets to fit all the people protesting against it.”Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff
From our viewpoint on a small farm in the interior of Brazil, with limited access to the internet and other media, we watch the unfolding of a frightening phenomenon. This coming Sunday, October 28, we have a run-off election between the top two vote-getters in the October 7 presidential election. On the far-right a former army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, won an impressive 46% of the vote. Known by his last name, Bolsonaro came to the country’s attention, after 27 unremarkable years in Congress, when, during a congressional hearing on rape, he told a colleague that she was too ugly to deserve to be raped by him. That caught the media’s attention and amused the large portion of the population that doesn’t mind laughing at the expense of women, or anyone else, even themselves. Bolsonaro became a figure, a character who caught the fancy of a people who were disgusted with politics as usual.
On the moderate left the Workers Party (PT) candidate, Fernando Haddad, mayor of S‹o Paulo, the largest city in South America, from 2013-2017, and political science professor, received 29% of the vote. The remaining 25% of votes went to the ten other presidential candidates along with a significant number of blank votes. Our candidate, Marina Silva, former Minister of the Environment from 2003Ð2008, the only candidate with a clear position on protecting Brazil’s biomes and in favor of maintaining the country’s participation in the Paris Treaty, dropped from a favored third or fourth place in the presidential race, polling up to 30% in the weeks before the election, to a meager 1% as voters switched their preference to Bolsonaro, and to a lesser extent, Haddad.
One would think that in a country that elected socialist Lula of the Workers Party in 2002 and 2006, and his chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, in 2010 and 2014, Lula’s hand-picked candidate Haddad would have gained more votes. However, a mere for years after Dilma’s re-election, a hefty number of Brazilians thoroughly reject the Workers Party, condemning Lula and other party leaders for their role in the governmental corruption scandals, and this rejection extends to anyone associated with the PT:presidential candidates Marina Silva, Ciro Gomes, Henrique Meirelles, and Fernando Haddad all served as Ministers in Lula’s presidency. Former president Lula, who left office with an 80% approval rating in 2008, now languishes in prison, sentenced to 12 years for an unclear and lesser crime of receiving an apartment as a bribe during his time in office, while a large number of congressmen, senators, and governors with much more serious corruption charges enjoy the freedom guaranteed by the “foro privilegiado,” which protects those in office from indictment. There is general agreement among the leftist intelligencia that Lula’s trial and imprisonment were prioritized and pushed through the judicial system to get him out of the way.
The question that few Brazilians ask is who is behind Bolsonaro. And are they the same people that wanted Lula out of the way? If there has been a deliberate attempt to vilify the Workers Party, making Lula and his cohorts the scapegoats for all that is wrong with Brazil, it has worked. Who really orchestrated the 2016 impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party? Who convinced Brazilians of the absurd notion that the country is in danger of becoming a Venezuela?
Several times in the last few years I’ve heard Brazilians, including people I truly respect, voice their dislike for foreigners, the international media, who try to explain what’s happening in Brazil. ÒThey don’t know,” they say. “They don’t understand Brazil.” When with a jerk of the knee you dismiss the involvement of foreigners, are you more likely to be blind to the international neo-liberal cartel that infiltrates nations on all continents? Would you accept without a bat of the eye that Bolsonaro’s economic advisor is Brazilian Paulo Guedes, trained in Chicago and involved in the neo-liberal coup in Chile?
Bolsonaro’s supporters see him as the handsome devil-may-care loner riding into town. They like to believe that he will save Brazil from violence and corruption, and his rants against feminists, gays, blacks and Indians, against abortion and drugs, resonate with the huge socially conservative evangelical population. He claims that he will empower people by placing guns in the hands of all citizens. Talk of killing- shooting revolutionaries, gays and blacks, even environmentalists that get in the way of “progress”- comes easy to him, and to his most ardent followers. Already threats against PT supporters and gays have increased, and at least one murder is on record, that of a beloved martial arts (capoeira) master who voiced his support of the Workers Party in a bar and was stabbed 12 times by a Bolsonaro follower.
This is the scary scenario we are witnessing, with just a glimmer of hope. Three days before the election there seems to be an increase in the number of those who disapprove of Bolsonaro, and a gradual increase of people willing to overlook their anger with the PT and vote for Haddad in order to keep Bolsonaro from winning. The pundits doubt that it will be enough.
Greta Browne and her husband, Guy Gray, are former residents of the Lehigh Valley who now live on a farm in the central highlands of Brazil, about 70 miles west of Brasilia.’
Editor’s note: On January 1, 2019, Jair Bolsonaro joined the other two far-right leaders who have won power in the hemisphere- Ivan Duque in Colombia and Donald Trump in the US. Bolsonaro won 55.1% of the votes three days after the article above was written. Many now worry about the fate of Brazil’s fragile democracy, as do the authors of this article. But, this may also be a defining moment for the region. Brazil’s GDP is the 8th largest in the world. Close to 209 million people live in Brazil – that is nearly half of the entire South American population. Watch out Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia!