First of all, as a matter of fairness, I have to say that I do not believe in impartiality. Everyone has its political and personal opinions about the world, society, and life itself. Here, in this paragraph, I want to express mine. To summarize the essence of my opinion I quote Rosa Luxemburg: “For a world where we are socially equal, humanly different and totally free”. Although this is the essence of how I perceive politics, I believe we must also do our best to understand our historical moment, and thus be pragmatic. Furthermore, I should not overestimate the importance of my political opinions. I am just a simple and unimportant person. Realizing this is actually a key point that allows me to be completely free. I am only contained to my own personal views and, most importantly, constrained to the coherence between personal and political views. Finally, I must say that I have accepted the fact that I will never see the perfect society I dream. Since I believe that this is the only truly fair and stable society my main goal is to be part of the collective that pushed towards this society, even if with small and local changes. In other words, I believe that we should “think globally and act locally”. This is how I see the world and the sequence of this text reflects this.
Second of all, I believe it is fundamental to understand the public in which I am writing to. I understand that the main public for this text is or should be Italian students (I apologize for not being able to write in Italian). Thus, the main message here is about the rise of fascism and its raising all around the world, but here focused on the recent Brazilian experience. Following my previously stated opinions, I just want to raise awareness. The rise of fascism is a phenomenon I personally neglected in the past. Now I regret that and, most importantly, I recognize my own mistake. Fascism has been rising for quite some time and it is up to our generation to fight it again. We have the advantage of the historical knowledge and the disadvantage that a reasonable part of our society denies this reality. We have a different challenge if compared to the past anti-fascists movements, but the threat is real. I remark here that I used the term anti-fascists on purpose, acknowledging that, aside from the communist and anarchists, there was also a fraction of people that have other ideologies that also were against the fascists. In the current Brazilian context, this might be a key element in our near future.
I must also clarify that I use the term fascist to refer to a part of the spectrum of the Brazilian political in which Jair Bolsonaro is included. For some of his supporters, this is not accurate. I simply disagree. I believe his authoritarian vision allow doing so. In order to properly disagree, I quote him: “Vamos varrer do mapa os bandidos vermelhos do Brasil” (Let’s sweep the red bandits out of Brazil) and “Ou vão para fora ou vão para a cadeia” (Or they will go out of the country of they will go to jail) 1, among many others sayings, which in my opinion is enough to classify him with this term. Despite that, he is openly in favor of torture and the torturers in the Brazilian dictatorship, with a special “affection” for Brilhante Ustra, who was one of the cruelest torturers in this period. I am basing my main argument in the Brazilian electoral curt TRE-RJ (tribunal regional eleitoral do Rio de Janeiro), which deiced that holding a flag with the saying “Direito UFF Antifascista.” (UFF stands for Universidade federal Fluminense – Federal University of the Rio de Janeiro city – and says Law faculty of UFF antifascist) is an illegal form of propaganda against Bolsonaro 2. Therefore, following a basic logical argument allow me to call Bolsonaro a fascist from their decision. In addition, to provide an external point of view, Roger Waters, the ex-Pink Floyd member, in a recent series of concerts in Brazil, advocated against Bolsonaro’s candidature 3. In his last concert, Saturday 28th October, he showed the following message: “They told us we cannot talk about the election after 10 o’clock. We have 30 seconds. This is our last chance to resist fascism before Sunday. Not him!”. Or even more, interestingly, I might also cite Jason Stanley, author of the recently published book “How Fascism Works”, who explicitly classified Bolsonaro in his video at Democracy now 4.
With all that said, I exposed my personal views, defined what I believe what will be my main public and clarified the terminology I have been using. Now I feel comfortable enough to actually write this text. I intend to expose a couple important historical facts about Brazilian history that might be interesting to correlate with our present. Then I will jump to our recent past, more precisely from 2003 to 2016, which was the (PT, Partido dos trabalhadores) workers party period, with Lula and Dilma. Then, I will discuss the main movements that took place in Brazil during 2013 and 2014, which I believe were the initial signs of right-wing and fascist movements in Brazil. These movements created the ideal scenario for Bolsonaro, who was able to capture the attention and capitalize the feelings of a reasonable part of our society. This is, up to a certain extent, a fraction of the population, middle and upper classes, that felt unrepresented during the PT’s government. Finally, I round up this text with the elections themselves. I remark that the main point of the whole text is the rise of these fascists and fascist-like movements in Brazil. From this perspective, the elections are simply another chapter in this ongoing story.
Brazil is a very particular country, it has a unique history. Quite often Europeans neglect this when analyzing our current political situation. It is not trivial. Neither the Brazilians realize how big our historical paths are. I must emphasize that I am mentioning that because I believe it is a relevant piece of information. It does not explain every aspect of our current situations, but might be interesting for who that are interested in a more “in-depth” cause-effect relation. Many argue that, in many contexts, that our history is so unique that other countries could not be used as an example. Here I would like to remark a couple (among many others) events that, in my opinion, are key to understand our society. To begin with, the first university in Brazil was built in 18085, 308 years after Brazil’s “discovery”. Note that the first university in Italy was built in 1088 6, 720 years before the one in Brazil, which is older the country itself. Regarding age, it is not fair to compare an American university with a European university, but the important comparison here is regarding Hispanic countries, which were “discovered” in the same century. For instance, Peru and Mexico city had their first university in 1552 7. Before the 19th century, Hispanic America had 28 universities according to the list provided in. Another key factor in our history regards slavery. Simply quoting Wikipedia 8: “Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery. By the time it was abolished, in 1888, an estimated four million slaves had been imported from Africa to Brazil, 40% of the total number of slaves brought to the Americas. For reference, the United States received 10 percent. Despite being abolished, there are still people working in slavery-like conditions in Brazil in the 21st century”. This does not explain our current problems but is certainly related to them. Moreover, these facts give us a different perspective into the analysis of the Brazilian society.
Now, I drastically jump to our current society, but before that, as could not be different, since one of the presidential candidates, Jair Bolsonaro, praises our dictatorship period I must make a brief comment about this period. Although some Brazilians deny our dictatorship, it is not necessary to present the details about this period. It is really well documented. There is not much to discuss. It was a violent period of our history, it was based on torture and repression for those that did not believe in the regime. Their slogan was Brasil, ame-o ou deixe-o (“Brazil, love it or leave it”). I remark that our dictatorship started at 1st April of 1964 (a “fun” – but not so fun – fact, in Brazil it is Fools’ Day) and ended in 1985 9 with a relatively smooth transition to democracy. Relatively in the sense that a similar transition in other countries was more violent.
In the period from 2003 to 2010, with President Lula, Brazil (PT, Partido dos trabalhadores workers party) experienced a shift to the left. Increased investment in social programs and infrastructure. It shifted its diplomacy in a slightly more south-south orientation if compared to the previous governments. The Brazilian GDP had a substantial growth. His period was followed by the president Dilma Rousseff (PT, Partido dos trabalhadores workers party), which held the presidency from 2011 to 2016 when she was impeached. Without focusing on the details of this period, I must emphasize that both Lula and Dilma focused their projects on the lower income classes. As key examples, I might cite the “Bolsa Família”, which was the largest income transfer program in the world 10. This program was crucial to take 39 million out of extreme poverty in Brazil. This allowed Brazil to leave the “hunger map” in 2014 11. Additionally, during PT’s time in office, they have built 18 new universities, 173 university campi, and 360 federal institutes. The number of people in the universities jumped from 3 million in 2003 to 8 million in 2016.12 This data is interesting to emphasize that their focus was drastically different from the previous president, but also to show that their investments were not only on the lower income classes. It is also fundamental to remark that many structural changes in Brazilian politics were not made in this period. For instance, in Brazil today we have 35 registered political parties 13. Most of them do not have a clear political ideology or project. Our laws need to be changed in order to adapt to our current society. This is just one among many important reforms we need and were neglected. However, recognizing this failure does not exclude, in any means, PT’s social achievements, which are undoubtedly remarkable.
An important remark regarding the “impeachment” has to be made at this point. In the 2014 elections, two very clear projects were presented: (i) PT’s project, willing to maintain social investments and (ii) a neo-liberal project, carried on by PSDB. The important remark here lies on the fact that Dilma was elected with the first project and after the “impeachment” the second project was implemented. This “impeachment” is called by many as a coup. This is also the vision I share. In order to present a different perspective, I recall that two days after the “impeachment” the new government managed to pass a law that allows the government to do a “budget revision” (remanejo do orçamento in Portuguese), the so-called “pedaladas fiscais”, which was the supposed reason for the “impeachment”.14 Furthermore, many governors and mayors have done this in the same period as Dilma, but, obviously, she was the only punished. After Dilma’s impeachment, many social programs, as well as the university and even the basic public services, are under threat. In 2016, the new government manages to approve the so-called “PEC do teto de gastos”, which is a constitutional amendment that limits public investment for 20 years 15 16. Note that the same government that approved this amendment had at that time about 2 years ahead and had not been directly elected. More importantly, during the elections Brazilians voted exactly against this type of project.
This coup showed how polarized our society is. It is true that this polarization has been increasing throughout the last years. Since it is not my ambition to cover everything, I will focus on three events. The first event, in 2013, is what started as protests against raising of the public transportation tickets in São Paulo city and gained an unimaginable (at the time) inertia. Following what the journalist Marina Amaral said, those protests were incorporated and had their meaning changed by the right. More importantly, in 2014, a march self-proclaimed “Marcha da família com Deus e pela Liberdade” (family march with God for liberty), inspired in a similar march that took place in Brazil a couple week before the 1964 military coup 17. In my opinion, this is a key event because it showed the first signals that our society had a considerable fraction of people that actually defend the dictatorship and it was also possible to see some signs of fascism too. The second event is the 2014 election. After 12 years with PT, the right-wing parties were especially concerned about the election. Regarding the society, a considerable part of the middle class felt unrepresented because PT focused on the social issues, thus the lower income classes. This middle class saw that those lower income classes were entering in the middle class, and they do not fell they were ascending to a higher class with the same rate. This feeling is real for many Brazilians. However, the reality is more complicated. Without entering into details, the main remark here regards in this feeling of being unrepresented in the government and, at the same time, viewing their privileges threatened by an apparently more equal society. Obviously, this phenomenon itself can be further discussed, but it is not on the scope of this text. Finally, the third event is the “impeachment”. As I previously mentioned, a lot can be said, but here I would like to focus on how the society reacted in this situation and how the media used their power in order to push for their own agenda. In Brazil, usually, the right-wing movements and protests happen on Sundays. They are not frequent but happened several times in our recent past. The media covered most of them nationally, with reports all along the day, interrupting their programs and even football matches. On the other hand, when Dilma’s supporters were protesting in defense of democracy, which was characterized by the indirect defense of the government, the media barely mentioned them. When those movements were mentioned, they do not spend the same amount of time or tried to disqualify their arguments.
This three events are intimately related and provided the necessary polarization for the rise of someone like Bolsonaro. During the protests in 2013, we could already see signs of fascist-like ideas being spread. However, at that time there was no leader, no one that could capitalize on this movement. Right-wing parties used this inertia into the 2014 campaigns. The elections in 2014 were based in this polarization. Especially in the second round. However, I considerable fraction of the population felt unrepresented. Right after the election results the party that lost the elections, PSDB, began to seek for reasons to take power. They asked for an auditorship of the elections 18 and even started talking about impeachment before Dilma starts her second mandate. Recently, the president of PSDB recognized that those were mistakes that his party made 19. Thus, the society remained polarized, creating the perfect environment for Bolsonaro. In this scenario, the “impeachment” was the perfect political event to thrust an opposition politician (opposition of PT, which was in power at that time). The main problem for the opposition was the lack of a “strong” politician. In this context, Bolsonaro began to grow. He was a member of the parliament (câmara dos deputados) for 28 years. He only managed to approve two projects in his “carrier” 20. Although as a member of the parliament he did not have much success, he gained followers due to his conservative political views. Mainly among the far-right supporters with his anti-left 21, misogynist 22 23 (he believes that women should have a lower wage), militarist and racists quote.
Another important fact is the operation called “Lava-jato” (car wash). Here I do not want to spend much time on this topic due to two reasons. First, because I am assuming that most of my reader already had at least some knowledge about this. Second, because the investigations seem to be extremely biased against PT, with a strong political bias, therefore, to the best of my knowledge, it does not follow the basic principles of a justice system. It is unimaginable in a European country nowadays. In fact, this operation, in association with the media, was used many times during the “impeachment” processes, boosting the right-wing protests. It was not unusual to have this kind of “breaking news” about corruption in a Friday that preceded a right-wing protest that was scheduled in a Sunday. Obviously, it could be a simple coincidence. I am simply reporting a fact. I must remark that I am not discussing the corruption itself. Like any government, I believe that it also happened in PT’s government too. However, my point is that the way in which it has been carried on is unfair and moved mainly by political reasons. The defendant seems to be assumed guilt, and then he has to prove its innocence. Proves do not seem to be fundamental. Although this operation played an important role during the “impeachment”, I would like to emphasize its role after this. This operation was responsible for the arrest of president Lula in an unprecedented “velocity” 24. In addition to that, he was accused of corruption, where the supposed proof is an apartment evaluated in 2.2 million reais (500.000 euro) 25. A considerable fraction of the population acknowledges that it is an enormous mistake as discussed here. The judge never allowed anyone to enter this apartment. However, a social movement invaded the place claiming that “If its Lula’s, it is ours. If it is not, why arrested?” 26. In this invasion, they showed that the supposed luxury apartment was in fact very simple without many of the items described in the judicial process. When we are discussing corruption in other countries it might be enlightening to carry it out in comparison, in order to have a better idea of the scale. In this way, I recall that Geddel Vieira Lima (PMDB), got caught with 51 million reais (12 milion euro) in cash 27. He is ex-minister of Temer, the president that took office after Dilma.
By all means, I am not judging anyone, but after seeing the media attack Lula all these years (his whole political carrier in fact) and the supposed proof is an apartment with 2.2 million reais for someone that held office for 8 years. I am not convinced. All of this persecution against Lula seems to be a mechanism to prevent him to run for president since all the polls indicated that he would win the elections, even inside the jail. This sets our current political situation, bringing us to the 2018 elections. Although the UN’s human rights committee manifested that Lula should be able to run in this election 28, the Brazilian courts did not obey this decision. In order to minimize this, Lula supported Fernando Haddad (PT), asking all his supporters to vote for him. Haddad is opposing Bolsonaro in this election. He began the campaign very late due to the uncertainty of Lula’s situation, but he managed to rise very fast. Rui Costa Pimenta, president of PCO (Partido da causa operária), a small left party and very critic about the PT, argues that the whole electoral process is a step back in the fight against the 2016 coup. Now, most of the energy of the left parties and activists are focused on the elections, but, as an example, Lula is still a political prisoner. On top of that, he defends the thesis that Brazil is not a democratic country, the judiciary proved to be completely unreliable and uncommitted to the defense of the democratic institutions. He continues, saying that the elections are not magic solutions and even if Haddad wins the elections there are many distortions that have to be fought. Regardless of the outcome of the elections. A considerable fraction of the Brazilian population voted for Bolsonaro, from those, probably an important fraction is actually fascist. Bolsonaro himself uses as his campaign lemma “Brazil above everything and God above all”.
We might also recognize that the whole world is experiencing a conservative wave. Brazil is not a developed country, but its importance in Latin America is unquestionable. Brazil never forgot its colonial past. It is very clear for Brazilian society. The way a considerable fraction of our population sees the United States as an example. Bolsonaro himself (a supposed nationalist and, as important as that, a military) saluted their flag. This is one of the signs of how our society function and how are our values. This conservative wave has already its victims. I could not finish without mentioning the murder of Marielle Franco 29 and how it is still not solved, even if similar cases were solved faster 30. All of this increase the suspicions about the crime, which seem to be carried out by “professional”. It is important to emphasize that this crime has nothing to do with Bolsonaro and I do not want to create this confusion in the reader. But, it is important to remark how Bolsonaro’s supporters see this crime. The candidate for state deputy in Rio de Janeiro, Rodrigo Amorim (PSL), the same party as Bolsonaro, broke a plaque honoring Marielle Franco, restoring the old one with Marshal Floriano 31. I should also remark that Rodrigo Amorim said that he is in favor of the punishment of Marielle’s murderer, but he is just against the plaque honoring her name. Obviously, all these right-wing movements have been fought. The main movement in the opposing direction is the “ele não” (not him). This was a huge national-wise protest against Bolsonaro’s misogynist ideas 32.
While writing this text I had to decide which would be the key factors I should present and discuss. Thus, based on what I believe would be my reader and how I could eventually contribute, I focused on the presented augments. I would like to emphasize that many events and parts of Brazil’s history were neglected. However, I hope that with the presented fact I was able to show share some of our history and current political situation. Hopefully, based in this my reader is able to have a different perspective about Brazilian current political and social situation. Even better, how our political experiments might help to shape new anti-fascists movements. Ariano Suasuna, a unique character, and a remarkable Brazilian writer, once said on how we should be: “neither optimist nor pessimist, the best is a hopeful realist”. With this in mind, it important to recognize that our near future will not be as bright as we would like. However, regardless of the election results, it is fundamental that the social movements strengthen. In a scenario where we have Haddad as a president, this is necessary because the parliament is very conservative. In the opposite scenario, the reasons are even clearer.
PS1.: This was all written before the election outcome. I did know the election results before, but the key elements of my discussion do not change with the outcome of our election process. Our near future is definitely attached to this event, but I am pessimist enough to affirm that our future is not as bright as we all hope. I hope to be wrong.
PS2.: I decided to write this text in the first person to emphasize this is my opinion. To the best of my knowledge of English, this is not a problem. In Portuguese, I would have done it differently.
PS3.: The references I am presenting here are definitely superficial. It is not on the scope of this text to present an in-depth analysis. I am certainly not the right person to present this depth analysis. Although I am presenting a simple and personal (and maybe superficial) analysis, this is based on unquestionable facts.
PS4.: I am not proposing solutions, but as I stated in the first paragraph my goal is a fair society. If my notion of “fair” and “justice” is not clear so far, in order to clarify this, I quote Confucius: “where there is justice there is no poverty”.
Cover image by Marcos Oliveira/Agência Senado, originally posted by Senado Federal on Flickr under CC-BY-2.0 license.
- https://brasil.elpais.com/brasil/2018/10/22/actualidad/1540162319_752998.html – in Portuguese
- https://noticias.uol.com.br/politica/eleicoes/2018/noticias/2018/10/24/fiscais-do-tre-rj-removem-bandeira-antifascista-em-faculdade-da-uff.htm – in Portuguese
- “How Fascism Works”: Jason Stanley On Trump, Bolsonaro and the Rise of Fascism Across the Globe – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1udxbLV_NY
- https://super.abril.com.br/mundo-estranho/onde-e-quando-surgiu-a-primeira-universidade-2/ – in Portuguese
- https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universit%C3%A0_di_Bologna – in Italian
- https://brasil.elpais.com/brasil/2018/10/22/actualidad/1540162319_752998.html – in Portuguese