Brazil flirts with a neo-fas­cist

The bit­ter re­al­ity is that there is a real chance of the coun­try re­turn­ing to a dic­ta­tor­ship and its dark­est days

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Fo­gel

On Sat­ur­day Septem­ber 29, in the largest sin­gle demon­stra­tion of the year, hun­dreds of thou­sands of women in Brazil took to the streets to say “not him”. The him in ques­tion is Jair Bol­sonaro, the neo-fas­cist can­di­date of the small So­cial Lib­erty Party, who is lead­ing Brazil’s polls go­ing into this Sun­day’s elec­tion.

The mass protests were ig­nored by Brazil’s main­stream me­dia, which in­stead fo­cused on urg­ing Brazil­ians to re­ject the sup­posed ex­tremes of, on the left, Fer­nando Had­dad and the Work­ers’ Party (PT) and Bol­sonaro on the far right, who seem likely to face off in the se­cond-round vote. In the face of mass unem­ploy­ment, col­laps­ing liv­ing stan­dards, high crime rates (more than 63000 Brazil­ians were mur­dered last year) and in­creased po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, one can be for­given for think­ing the cen­tre has col­lapsed.

But, out of the fron­trun­ners, there is only one threat to Brazil­ian democ­racy and he is the 63-yearold for­mer army cap­tain and Rio de Janeiro con­gress­man, Bol­sonaro. He and his sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing se­nior ac­tive mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, have openly stated that they will not ac­cept any other re­sult in this elec­tion than a Bol­sonaro vic­tory and there is open talk of a mil­i­tary coup, which can­not be dis­missed as idle chat­ter. The sim­ple choice in this elec­tion is be­tween those who want to pre­serve democ­racy and those who don’t think it is worth sav­ing.

The word “fas­cist” has been re­duced by overusage to a sim­ple pe­jo­ra­tive, used to end ar­gu­ments or la­bel some­body be­yond the pale rather than to de­scribe a dis­tinct po­lit­i­cal phe­nom­e­non but Bol­sonaro is a neo-fas­cist — there is no get­ting around it. Un­like tra­di­tional fas­cism, “Leg­end”, as his sup­port­ers dub him, doesn’t have a mass move­ment be­hind him and he is com­mit­ted to an ex­treme ver­sion of ne­olib­er­al­ism. Bol­sonaro rep­re­sents a dark spirit of vi­o­lent re­ac­tion that has arisen from the process that im­peached Dilma Rouss­eff af­ter right-wing anti-cor­rup­tion protests.

Although some la­bel him a cul­tural war­rior or com­pare him with United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, this is wrong. Trump prizes his “deal­mak­ing” abil­i­ties above all else but Bol­sonaro pro­motes vi­o­lence as a so­lu­tion to po­lit­i­cal prob­lems. In this he is some­thing akin to a Brazil­ian ver­sion of Filipino Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, who also ad­vo­cates ex­tra­ju­di­cial mur­der.

Bol­sonaro and his brood of large and un­in­tel­li­gent sons openly cel­e­brate the bru­tal mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, even if he chides it for not killing enough peo­ple. He cham­pi­ons vi­o­lence against Brazil’s in­ter­nal en­e­mies — the fem­i­nists, the com­mu­nists, the fag­gots and the indige­nous and Afro-Brazil­ian peo­ple. What is needed to fix Brazil’s cri­sis, his sup­port­ers in­sist, is a strong­man lo­cated out­side the cor­rupt and bro­ken po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

Bol­sonaro stands for the mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the state com­bined with ex­treme free-mar­ket poli­cies cham­pi­oned by his eco­nomic ad­viser, Paulo Guedes, a Chicago School econ­o­mist and for­mer mem­ber of Chilean dic­ta­tor Gen­eral Pinochet’s eco­nomic team, who prom­ises to pri­va­tise ev­ery­thing.

Bol­sonaro’s pro-mar­ket rhetoric and vir­u­lent anti-leftism means that he is the dar­ling of much of Brazil’s busi­ness com­mu­nity, which pre­sum­ably has no prob­lem with some of Bol­sonaro’s open big­otry, such as cel­e­brat­ing the tor­ture of Rouss­eff, or claim­ing that a con­gress­woman was too ugly to be worth rap­ing, or in­sist­ing he would rather have a dead son than a gay son.

If elected, he will try to in­crease the num­ber of Supreme Court jus­tices, pack­ing it full of his sup­port­ers, al­ways one of the first steps in es­tab­lish­ing a dic­ta­tor­ship.

Bol­sonaro’s run­ning mate, Gen­eral Hamil­ton Mourão, has openly stated that he would lead an “auto-coup” to ward off “an­ar­chy” and that Brazil needs a new Con­sti­tu­tion writ­ten with­out demo­cratic over­sight.

Bol­sonaro has been able to es­cape pub­lic scru­tiny for his open hos­til­ity to democ­racy and has been treated with kid gloves through­out the cam­paign by a me­dia trained to at­tack the left and cel­e­brate up­stand­ing cit­i­zens, such as white for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cers like Bol­sonaro. He doesn’t even need to cam­paign fol­low­ing his near-fa­tal stab­bing by a de­ranged con­spir­acy the­o­rist at a pub­lic rally last month.

How then does Had­dad, a tech­no­cratic uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor and for­mer pro-busi­ness mayor of Brazil’s fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal, who is best known for build­ing bike lanes, run­ning on the ticket of a party that bal­anced macroe­co­nomic or­tho­doxy with in­no­va­tive so­cial pol­icy that lifted mil­lions out of poverty, be­come the mir­ror im­age of a fas­cist threat­en­ing a mil­i­tary coup?

Im­pris­oned for­mer pres­i­dent Lula da Silva, who would win the elec­tion if he was al­lowed to run, is also no rad­i­cal.

If any­thing, the sce­nario mir­rors the last French elec­tions when the coun­try ral­lied be­hind the can­di­dacy of Em­manuel Macron to ward off Marie Le Pen’s ex­treme-right Front Na­tional. But the dif­fer­ence in Brazil is that a large sec­tion of the elite and mid­dle class seem to pre­fer fas­cism to mod­er­ate re­formism and democ­racy.

Will the same in­ter­na­tional lead­ers rally be­hind Had­dad in the se­cond round to pro­tect democ­racy and hu­man rights? This is by no means cer­tain be­cause, af­ter all, most of them ei­ther ig­nored or sup­ported Rouss­eff’s im­peach­ment, which brought about this mess in the first place.

In much of Latin Amer­ica, in­clud­ing Brazil, the Cold War didn’t end with the fall of the Soviet Union. The Brazil­ian left, fol­low­ing the rise of the PT and its trade union and so­cial move­ment al­lies, had gained new rel­e­vance and power dur­ing the fi­nal years of the Soviet bloc.

Be­gin­ning with the elec­tion of Hugo Chavez in 1998 in Venezuela, cen­tre-left gov­ern­ments rose to power across the re­gion. As a re­sult, the vi­o­lent anti-com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy that killed hun­dreds of thou­sands dur­ing the Cold War had an after­life.

Vi­o­lent anti-com­mu­nism is alive and well, even if com­mu­nism isn’t. For the right, the mod­er­ate so­cial democ­racy of the PT is akin to the worst ex­cesses of Stal­in­ism and Lula is the leader of a con­spir­acy with Cuban and Venezue­lan back­ing to de­stroy Brazil. These con­spir­a­cies are spread by word of mouth and What­sApp groups among Bol­sonaro’s sup­port­ers, although it is not too dif­fer­ent from some of the more hys­ter­i­cal anti-PT jour­nal­ism in the main­stream me­dia.

Anti-com­mu­nism is also en­twined with anti-cor­rup­tion pol­i­tics; cor­rup­tion func­tions as a catchall phrase for hos­til­ity to the PT’s so­cial poli­cies. Even these rel­a­tively mod­er­ate so­cial poli­cies were in­ter­preted as up­set­ting the nat­u­ral order — an al­leged “mer­i­toc­racy” — by lift­ing up the sup­pos­edly un­de­serv­ing poor. Right-wing me­dia cast so­cial se­cu­rity as “bribes” to the poor and work­ing class.

The cen­tre-right, led by the mis­lead­ingly named Brazil­ian So­cial Demo­cratic Party, thought they would ride this wave of anti-PT sen­ti­ment to power but in­stead they find them­selves iso­lated and dis­cred­ited af­ter sup­port­ing the im­peach­ment of Rouss­eff (in­di­cat­ing they don’t value democ­racy) and prop­ping up cur­rent Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer’s dis­cred­ited gov­ern­ment.

In this en­vi­ron­ment, the cen­tre of Brazil­ian pol­i­tics is about pre­serv­ing Brazil’s 1988 Con­sti­tu­tion, warts and all — in other words try­ing to main­tain democ­racy. This is what the PT and the can­di­dacy of Had­dad rep­re­sents. In a mo­ment of his­tor­i­cal irony, the PT, once a rad­i­cal force against the es­tab­lish­ment, is the ma­jor party try­ing to pre­serve a Con­sti­tu­tion that they op­posed at the time.

The sup­posed (mostly white) re­spectable cit­i­zens of Brazil are flirt­ing with fas­cism. If Bol­sonaro is de­feated, it will be the re­sult of a wide­spread re­jec­tion by Brazil’s un­touch­ables — in par­tic­u­lar the poorer and blacker cit­i­zens of the north­east and women. Let’s hope, then, that it is they who make sure it is not him who wins Brazil’s elec­tions.

Bol­sonaro and his brood of large and un­in­tel­li­gent sons openly cel­e­brate Brazil’s bru­tal mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship

Fas­cist threat: For­mer army cap­tain Jair Bol­sonaro (above), who stands for the mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the state com­bined with ex­treme free-mar­ket poli­cies, will be up against the Work­ers’ Party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Fer­nando Had­dad (left), in Brazil’s elec­tion this Sun­day. Photo: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters and Pi­lar Oli­vares/Reuters

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