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Confronting the Bolsonaro threat

Sean Purdy, Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), São Paulo, Brazil

November 20, 2018

On October 28, the far right politician Jair Bolsonaro, a former soldier with close ties to the Armed Forces and the powerful evangelical churches, won the Brazilian presidential elections handily with 55% of votes against 45% by the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, Fernando Haddad. Bolsonaro’s neoliberal, racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-democratic agenda represents a massive threat to democratic and social rights in Brazil, the world`s third largest democracy and the largest economy in Latin America.

Already during the election, at least 3 people were murdered by supporters of Bolsonaro and there were more than a hundred of cases of aggression of left-wing activists.

Many deputies from Bolsonaro`s Social Liberal Party were also elected to the federal congress and state legislative assemblies with record numbers of votes, riding the wave of popularity of the presidential ticket.      

One week before the election, he promised to “wipe red criminals off the map” and soon after his election explicitly attacked the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement and the Homeless Workers’ Movement. In the few weeks since the election, he has continued to advance a vicious privatization and cutback agenda as well as attack social, labour and environmental rights.

His choice for Ministers in the new government, which takes office on January 1, 2019, range from a neoliberal University of Chicago-trained economist, a crusading anti-corruption judge, a climate-change denier and a host of poorly-qualified politicians and bureaucrat hacks who recently jumped on his bandwagon.

Despite his supposedly anti-corruption agenda and promise to “do away with everything” in traditional politics, he has gathered around him advisors facing corruption charges and has already began to cynically negotiate with traditional power brokers in the country, including supporters of the parliamentary coup that impeached President Dilma Rouseff of the PT in 2016 and members of the thoroughly corrupt Temer government that replaced her.

How did this happen?

The right was able to capitalize on the very real, if frequently exaggerated and distorted, history of corruption by PT governments, the grave economic crisis, a highly orchestrated and illegal campaign of fake news about the economic policies and social positions of the left and the implicit backing of the corporate media and many traditionally corrupt parties. Desperate after 6 years of severe recession and high unemployment and buying into the supposed “anti-politics” and “corruption-free” campaign of Bolsonaro, many believed that he offered a fresh alternative. The PT erred in launching Haddad as the candidate late in the process and despite tacking to the left during the campaign was unable to turn a tide which had began months earlier.

From 2016 until the present, the centre and right under the coupster president Michel Temer have consistently shifted the terrain of politics in the country, advancing outright austerity politics, cuts to social programs and attacks on the social rights of LGBT, blacks and women. It was in this climate that Marielle Franco, a black lesbian activist and city councilor in Rio de Janeiro for PSOL, was brutally murdered in March 2018.

Racist and anti-poor law and order politics and a disastrous incarceration policy, which has seen Brazil’s prison population rise to the third highest in the world – something  which the PT did not nothing to change or even fed – proved to be a strong point in Bolsonaro’s campaign. He has promised to liberate the personal use of guns, a disastrous policy in a country where 70,000 people were murdered in 2017. Not surprisingly, the number of people murdered by the police, disproportionately poor and black, has risen steeply since 2016.

The only bright light of the elections was the gains by the radical left Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). It more than doubled its number of federal deputies from 5 to 11, including two black women and a gay activist and elected many more deputies in state legislative assemblies, including several black women and two transgendered women.

Yet it is highly likely that the traditional honeymoon for new presidents will be short-lived. Bolsonaro has not even assumed office and has already come under intense fire for breaking some campaign promises and cozying up to the traditional corrupt political class in Brazil.

He has already back-tracked on several proposals – such as the promise to combine the Finance and Environmental Ministries and his support to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – after intense international criticism from crucial European and Arab trading partners. 

The principal question in relation to a Bolsonaro government will be his inability to solve the economic crisis which could provide space for the mobilization of the organized working class. But this will require sustained arguments from union militants against the timid union bureaucracy largely controlled by the PT. A national demonstration against privatization of pensions has been called for November 22 promises to be a good first step in resistance to the Bolsonaro government.

There will be a tension between the neoliberal policies which he has recently adopted and support among many of his voters for decent social programs, job creation and labour rights. His supposed anti-corruption policies will come under scrutiny as he staffs his government with a band of long-standing corrupt criminals and shady army generals.

International solidarity will be essential for Brazilian unions, social movements and the left in the coming months and years. A Bolsonaro regime needs to be denounced by the international workers’ movement, the left, all democrats and supporters of human rights. Our struggle is your struggle.


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