Brazil­ian front-run­ner de­fies la­bels

Calgary Herald - - NP - Pe­ter Prenga­man

• The front-run­ner in Brazil’s pres­i­den­tial race says he wants to lib­er­al­ize a largely closed econ­omy, so why is he be­ing called a pop­ulist?

His speeches are laden with ref­er­ences to vi­o­lence, but does such lan­guage de­serve to be de­scribed as far­right?

And is Jair Bol­sonaro be­ing “fas­cist” when he makes deroga­tory com­ments about blacks, In­di­ans and gays? What about when he says po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents should be shot or waxes nos­tal­gic about the 1964-1985 dic­ta­tor­ship?

As Sun­day’s elec­tion ap­proaches, fierce de­bates are un­fold­ing in Brazil and beyond over how to de­scribe a can­di­date whose eclec­tic mix of poli­cies and harsh lan­guage thrills sup­port­ers and ter­ri­fies de­trac­tors. Bol­sonaro’s rise par­al­lels that of other politi­cians world­wide who of­ten em­ploy sim­i­lar rhetoric, in­clud­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte and sev­eral lead­ers across Europe.

His op­po­nent, Fer­nando Had­dad, fre­quently says Bol­sonaro is “ex­treme” and rep­re­sents “a risk” to democ­racy. Had­dad’s Work­ers’ Party has gone so far as to liken Bol­sonaro to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in cam­paign videos.

So what ad­jec­tives are ap­pro­pri­ate for the for­mer mil­i­tary man? Opin­ions abound.

“The press in­sists on call­ing him a right-wing pop­ulist,” Je­sus Silva Her­zog Mar­quez, a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant in Mex­ico, re­cently wrote in his blog. “He is not. He is a fas­cist, and it’s im­por­tant to make the dis­tinc­tion.”

Bol­sonaro “is not a fas­cist, but rather a pre-mod­ern, con­ser­va­tive can­di­date from the 19th cen­tury,” said Car­los Pereira, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst with think-tank Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion in Rio de Janeiro. “He never mod­ern­ized.”

The de­bate comes in part be­cause Bol­sonaro’s pol­icy po­si­tions are some­times at odds with his pub­lic state­ments and with the nar­ra­tive that he pushes about him­self: that he is a tough, no-frills for­mer army cap­tain ready to an­ni­hi­late crim­i­nals and cor­rupted politi­cians for the good of the na­tion.

Take the term pop­ulist, which many lo­cal and for­eign news agen­cies rou­tinely use to de­scribe him.

Bol­sonaro’s rhetoric em­pha­sizes “the peo­ple” against “the elite,” words that en­com­pass the most com­mon def­i­ni­tions of the term. But ex­perts note that what he has promised to do with the econ­omy, the largest in Latin Amer­ica, can hardly be called pop­ulist.

He has said eco­nomic ad­viser Paulo Guedes, a Univer­sity of Chicago-trained econ­o­mist and banker, will as fi­nance min­is­ter over­see a ma­jor over­haul, in­clud­ing re­form­ing the pen­sion sys­tem, sharply cut­ting spend­ing and un­der­tak­ing mas­sive pri­va­ti­za­tions.

Per­haps the big­gest de­bates cen­tre on the terms “hard right,” “far right” or “ex­treme right.” The can­di­date him­self takes is­sue with these de­scrip­tions.

“I’m not on the ex­treme right. Show me an act that makes me ex­treme right,” said Bol­sonaro ear­lier this month.

He ap­par­ently be­lieves the de­scrip­tion arises from his past state­ments on im­mi­gra­tion. Bol­sonaro has called im­mi­grants from sev­eral poor coun­tries “scum of the world” and said dur­ing the same event that Brazil can­not be­come a “coun­try of open borders.”

“I’m an ad­mirer of Pres­i­dent Trump. He wants Amer­ica to be great. I want Brazil to be great,” he added.

News or­ga­ni­za­tions, aca­demics and po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants de­fend their use of the terms based on Bol­sonaro’s state­ments that range from a den­i­gra­tion of blacks, gays and Indige­nous peo­ples to as­ser­tions that Work­ers’ Party stal­warts should be shot.

Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s lead­ing daily news­pa­pers, put the de­bate front and cen­tre ear­lier this month when it pub­licly de­bated a memo that had been sent to the news­room that said Bol­sonaro could be de­scribed as “right-wing” but not “ex­treme right.”

The terms “ex­treme left” or “ex­treme right” are “for groups that prac­tise or preach vi­o­lence as a po­lit­i­cal method,” the memo said.

Let­ters-to-the-edi­tor crit­i­ciz­ing and sup­port­ing the de­ci­sion poured in, and the paper’s om­buds­man re­viewed the is­sue. Her take: the news­pa­per was wrong in not call­ing Bol­sonaro “ex­treme right.”

Paula Ce­sarino Costa wrote that the term fit be­cause Bol­sonaro had ex­plic­itly de­fended the vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights, ques­tioned the rights of mi­nori­ties and de­nied that the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment had been a dic­ta­tor­ship that used tor­ture.

The most con­tro­ver­sial term some­times used to de­scribe Bol­sonaro and his cam­paign is “fas­cist,” and its use goes beyond op­po­nents or so­cial me­dia trolls.

On Sun­day, for­mer pres­i­dent Fer­nando Hen­rique Car­doso said com­ments by one of Bol­sonaro’s sons, a con­gress­man and close ad­viser, “smelled of fas­cism.” Video sur­faced of Ed­uardo Bol­sonaro ar­gu­ing dur­ing a talk in July that the coun­try’s top court could be shut down with just a few sol­diers if for any rea­son his fa­ther was not al­lowed to as­sume of­fice.

Bol­sonaro ad­vo­cates for strong, even au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­er­ship and ex­alts the state over the in­di­vid­ual, cen­tral tenets of fas­cism. His cam­paign motto is: “Brazil above all, God above ev­ery­body.”

But peo­ple who ar­gue that the term does not ap­ply note that it’s a huge leap to talk about Bol­sonaro in the same cat­e­gory as Ital­ian strong­man Ben­ito Mus­solini or Hitler.

“We need to stay alert in the fu­ture,” wrote He­lio Gurovitz, a prom­i­nent blog­ger for Brazil­ian G1 news por­tal.

“But to­day the gen­er­al­iz­ing of terms of pre­cise his­toric sig­nif­i­cance, such as ‘fas­cism’ or ‘Nazism,’ is a cat­e­gor­i­cal er­ror that only serves to nour­ish (Bol­sonaro’s) cam­paign and ob­scure the real risks he rep­re­sents.”


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