Following a longstanding analytical tradition, Anglophone media outlets have been quick off the mark in drawing parallels between Latin America’s largest democracy, Brazil, and its North American neighbour in recent weeks. In today’s political climate, it is hardly surprising that the country’s newly elected president has been branded as the ‘Trump of the Tropics’ not only for his anti-conservationist stance, but also for his shamelessly sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, militaristic and fanatical remarks — you name it, he has said it. These circumstances do, in some respect, encourage us to jump to certain conclusions; however, we shouldn’t assume that Bolsonaro rose to power by merely riding the populist tide and exploiting US intervention from the likes of Steve Bannon. This is a different country: an autonomous nation with its own history to which we cannot apply an identical logic. The causes of this historical outcome were much more intricately woven, and the results reflect both global and national turning points that can point us towards their possible impact.
Given our typically limited coverage of Brazil’s current affairs, the impulsively critical response to the general election held on October 28th was nothing new. At the dawn of the millennium, the country’s international image was improving as things really started to look up for a place with so much potential: the famous Seleção won its fifth World Cup title in the same year that Luiz Ignácio da Silva became the world’s most voted-for president second only to Ronald Reagan in his 1984 victory. Who would have thought that the evolution of the BRICS would be tainted by a corruption scandal so politically widespread that Lula himself would eventually end up behind bars? What was meant to be an emerging economy watched football stadiums and Olympic training facilities rot; more patients died queuing in hospital corridors, and public education continued to appall as enrollment in state schools plummeted. O Gigante adormecido, the Sleeping Giant, as Brazilian’s have often called their country, still lies dormant for all that it has yet to offer while we tut and shake our heads at the abysmal situation.
This contextualisation is key to understanding why the people, o povo brasileiro, elected a man with such fascist tendencies. The career politician due to take office in January next year actually left the army in 1988 to join the Chamber of Deputies a few years later. During his time in the Planalto he has been a member of nine different parties and passed only two of around 170 bills, one of which was suspended almost immediately after by the Supreme Court because the phosphoethanolamine pill, which he wanted to legalise, hadn’t been under enough testing to prove that it truly treated cancer. It’s safe to say that, had he appeared on The Apprentice, Jair Bolsonaro probably would have been fired. So why the sudden rise in popularity after almost three unproductive decades in Congress? The simplest answer is most likely that Lula couldn’t be the Worker Party’s candidate while he was in jail, so PT had to find a rapid substitute, in this case, Haddad, who carried the baton reasonably well, but couldn’t secure the votes needed to win a majority. There was, in fact, one man largely responsible for this turn of events.
His name, Sergio Moro; the judge in charge of the Lava Jato, an operation to incriminate government officials involved in Brazil’s mindblowingly sweeping money-laundering scandal, has recently been appointed Minister of Justice. He had originally claimed he would not accept such an offer so as not to tarnish the reputation of his anti-corruption project with the Federal Police, so it’s difficult to tell whether he has taken on this new responsibility to help bring about much-needed political reform, or if he was involved in some sort of mission to eradicate the left from his country for good. In any case, Bolsonaro’s heightened presence is symptomatic of much more than a far right-wing resistance of “communism”. This is the collapse of the neoliberal order and years of technocratic management that haven’t given the people what they desperately needed. Last year alone, more than 60,000 were murdered on the streets of Brazil — this is the last straw for families and friends who have lost their loved ones, and all they want is for law and order to be restored.
However dictatorial his measures may seem, planning to open up protected Amazonian land to industry and threatening some of the most vulnerable people in society, Bolsonaro has undoubtedly offered more change than any of the other presidential candidates. His focus on tradition, protection, and progress, no matter how relentless, gives many Brazilians hope for a safer, more prosperous future. In a world so desperate for security and stability, perhaps he doesn’t seem like such a monster after all.
Isabella Garcia Foster
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