By Marcelo Zero
The fall of egalitarian and sovereign Brazilian democracy
At the moment that I write this article (October 2018), Brazil is about to elect Jair Bolsonaro as President of the Republic. He is an ex-military officer and politician who is openly fascist, homophobic, misogynist and racist.
Intellectually very limited and with a political career that is absolutely mediocre, Bolsonaro has already publicly declared that “Democracy is good for nothing,” and that the only way to solve Brazil’s problems, is through a new dictatorship that would kill at least 30,000 people. His idol is the great torturer of the Brazilian military dictatorship, Colonel Brilhante Ustra, who used to insert rats in prisoners’ vaginas.
Besides this, he has a habit of saying that homosexuality is the result of lack of physical punishment for children and that women should earn less than men. He once told a left wing congresswoman that she “didn’t deserve” to be raped because she was ugly.
His Vice Presidential candidate, General Mourão, has made similar declarations. He said in public that Brazil, unfortunately, inherited the “dishonesty” of the black race and the “laziness” of the Indians.
No, these declarations are not fake news. Everything is registered on video. Unfortunately it’s all true.
This democratic debacle is developing in the middle of the worst political, institutional and economic crisis in Brazilian history.
President Dilma Rousseff, who was recognized, even by her worst enemies as a serious and honest politician, was deposed in an apparent media and parliamentary coup d’ etat, based on a posteriori claims of illicit conduct. Since there was no crime whatsoever, it was generated in the coup’s imagination. A majority ultra-conservative and corrupt Congress was encouraged to ratify the charges as if they were true.
She was replaced by corrupt and profoundly conservative politicians like Michel Temer, who took advantage of the coup to implement the orthodox and socially regressive economic agenda that had been rejected in the 2014 elections. This coup greatly deepened the economic crisis that began in 2015, increased unemployment which now affects nearly 13 million Brazilians and under-employment, which affects around 24 million people. Brazil is returning to the UN World Hunger Map, extreme poverty has returned and the working class was hit hard by labour reforms which removed a series of historic rights.
The worst, however is the damage to democracy. The coup created a State of Exception which, among other things, imprisoned former President Lula based on a fake conviction, without any concrete proof.
The “judgment” was only made to remove him from the elections. According to all polls, Lula was the clear favorite and would have beaten Bolsonaro by a wide margin if he had been allowed to run. It is important to note that the UN Human Rights Committee ruled, two times, that Lula had the right to run for office. However the coup government simply ignored the legally binding UN ruling.
Furthermore, cases of violence against gays, blacks, women and leftist activists have become common on the streets of Brazil. Marielle Franco, a feminist, leftist activist and community leader, was barbarically assassinated. To date, the culprits have not been found. In Bahia, an important cultural leader, Moa de Katendê, black like Marielle, was assassinated after saying that he voted for PT.
The situation in Brazil today forms a stark contrast to Brazil under Lula, when the country developed with the elimination of poverty, distribution of income, and democracy and protaganism on the international stage.
To understand Brazil’s abysmal fall one needs to understand the structural weaknesses of Brazilian democracy, the slave master and exclusionary DNA of its social structure and the role that the country plays in world geopolitical conflict.
In post military dictatorship Brazil, disputes generally involved forces from the left and centre left against forces of the centre-right and right who competed for the vote of the political centre and the undecided.
There was a kind of implicit pact by which all the relevant political forces recognized democracy as a universal value that was indispensable to advance national development.
Even with the obvious structural limitations of Brazilian Democracy, which denied the majority of the population of its basic political and social rights, there was a practically consensual disposition to deepen it and consolidate it, a natural feeling in a country which had just come out of decades of military rule.
However, this pact, embodied in the 1988 Constitution, was respected in its basic aspects while the left was a controllable minority that served as a legitimizing element to a democracy that was still under construction. Left parties composed a tolerated opposition that was incapable of really contesting power.
In this manner, contrary to what happened in Europe, for example, the Brazilian democratic “stability” was based on a structural imbalance of political power and an absence of any real alternation of power.
Evidently, this scenario changed with the arrival of PT in power in the 2002 elections. Many believed that Brazilian democracy had matured enough to handle a moderate centre-left government that was dedicated to promoting social inclusion and eradicating poverty and inequality.
For a brief historic moment, it seemed like we emulated, mutatis mutandis, the successful experiences of classical European social democracy. Our democracy appeared to be capable of dealing and negotiating with the distributive conflicts inherent in capitalist economies. Despite much resistance and prejudice, the Lula and Dilma governments managed for a time to promote social inclusion for vast segments of the population and substantially reduced poverty and inequality, in a context of fierce opposition but relative democratic stability.
However, this picture changed suddenly and drastically when the economic crisis, coupled with the pressures of distributive policies on profits, began to affect the interests of big business, especially large financially-owned capital and its allied political sectors.
In a flash, the illusion of maturing Brazilian democracy was thrown to the dirty ground of a banana coup. The historic structural imbalance between the political forces on opposite sides of the political spectrum was reestablished based on force, against 54.5 million votes. It broke with the democratic alternation between the political forces and the pact that was embodied in the 1988 Constitution.
It is no secret to anyone that there is a general crisis in democracies and in the political representation systems, strongly damaged by the inequality caused by neoliberal policies. As Piketty makes clear, 21st Century capitalist accumulation seems less and less compatible with democracy.
However there is a serious aggravating factor in Brazil. To the contrary of what occurs, for example, in Europe, here the traditional right and center right fanned the flames of fascism and bet everything on a rupture of democracy. Our economic and political oligarchies broke with democracy. They broke with democracy and with popular sovereignty. They inflated the most backwards forces in Brazil to conduct a coup against an honest president and put in power what was called the “bleeding class” – a band of corrupt politicians who are mostly rich, white men.
They also heavily engaged with the arrest of Lula, who was the man who was in the best position to oppose rising fascism.
The coup supporters came out to the streets together with Bolsonaro and other proto-fascist groups that were demanding military intervention. They condemned democracy and politics in a general manner. They planned to only “destroy the PT” but they laid the egg of the serpent that would inject mortal poison in all of the democratic institutions. The Temer government transformed into the Brazilian Weimar Republic. The traditional forces of the Brazilian right lost control over the political process. The traditional parties of the center and the right were swept away and the extremist, fascist right assumed political and ideological hegemony over the Coup project.
With the support of the military, of a good part of the judiciary and extensive sectors of national and foreign capital, Bolsonaro became the one to consummate and deepen the 2016 coup’s ultra-neoliberal agenda. To do this, he will not hesitate to use force and persecute and repress all and every type of “political activism”. This is written in his program for government.
From its current form as a type of semi-democracy and State of Exception, Brazil is expected to slide into a disguised dictatorship, supported by a caste of ultraconservative military and judiciary members.
International Context and Imperialist Intervention
These deep, rapid and tragic changes were mainly caused by internal economic, social and political factors. Nevertheless, we can not rule out, a priori, that there are not also international interests committed to destabilizing Brazilian democracy and supporting the conservative economic agenda put in place through the 2016 coup.
Whenever one tries to raise this issue, people try to discredit it as mere conspiracy theory. This is inappropriate. After all, the history of Latin America and Brazil shows that external interference in national affairs has been, and still is, prevalent in our region. A 2005 study published in the Harvard Review of Latin America shows that between 1898 and 1994 the US successfully caused regime changes in the region 41 times, which comes out to an average of one every 28 months. It is important to note that this study, published at Harvard University, does not analyze recent possible US interventions such as those in Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012) and Brazil (2016).
There is, therefore, a long history of interventions, which includes the Brazilian Military Coup of 1964. This suggests that wider and deeper analysis needs to be made of the 2016 parliamentary coup, of Operation Car Wash and its modus operandi, and above all, of Bolsonaro’s meteoric rise and his fascism.
US interference in Brazil’s internal affairs was shockingly evident in the Bolsonaro campaign. There was an overwhelming growth of Bolsonarist fascism in the final stretch of the campaign, fueled by an avalanche of fake news against PT spread over the internet. It is an old tactic, developed by the American and British intelligence agencies, to manipulate public opinion and influence political processes and elections. It was used in Ukraine, the Arab Spring and Brazil in 2013.
Documents released by Edward Snowden prove that the US and UK intelligence services, as well as those from other countries, have specialized and sophisticated units that are dedicated to manipulating information that circulates on the internet and changes the direction of public opinion.
There are also private companies which, in collusion with these agencies, specialize in manipulating public opinion. The Bolsonaro campaign has had active collaboration from Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist, and it used and abused these tactics to discredit Fernando Haddad, the adversary of fascism.
The many barbaric messages that were widely distributed through WhatsApp against the PT include the lie that Haddad distributed a “gay kit” to public school children to transform children into homosexuals and that, starting from the age of 5, children would have to be delivered to the State to be indoctrinated and that Haddad himself was a pedophile. The list of dirty lies with grotesque manipulations of photos and videos is enormous and varied.
Bolsonaro’s team, made up of people as coarse and unprepared as their candidate, does not seem to have the financial or technical conditions to promote such a massive, destructive campaign.
This is why there have long been suspicions that this overwhelming misinformation campaign had the fingerprint of foreign intelligence agencies, as well as big national and international corporations, committed to promoting this so-called “hybrid war.”
This suspicion was confirmed by a story in Folha de São Paulo, a newspaper that has no sympathy for the PT, on October 18, 2018. The story revealed that Bolsonaro’s social network campaign of lies and hate is being financed by dirty money from big companies that is used to contract tech firms that specialize in boosting information through social networks.
Just one of these companies spent around $3.5 Million USD to spread fake news through the Brazilian social media. Most of the telephone numbers used were based abroad, mainly in the USA. Apparently, this story is just the tip of the iceberg and many actions are continuing without any investigations whatsoever.
In Brazil, this type of activity constitutes a serious electoral crime. However, the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) has been washing its hands of it, and its current President, Minister Rosa Weber, has already received death threats if she refuses to confer victory to Bolsonaro in the second round election.
The commitment of foreign governments and companies to the annihilation of the PT and the Brazilian left, as well as the promotion of the coup and now of a fascist candidate, is not surprising.
There is a lot at play and Brazil is a key country in world geopolitical strategy. The big world geopolitical conflict is clearly defined. On the one side are the big emerging countries and their allies like China, Russia etc, which are working for a politically multipolar order that is more balanced economically, and on the other is the USA and some allies, which desperately try to restore the previously unchallenged hegemony of the great world superpower and impose a unipolar and deeply asymmetrical world order.
Because of this, the new US security doctrine no longer considers terrorism as its top priority. According to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the “Mad Dog” who recently visited Brazil, “the great competition for world power, and not terrorism, is now the main focus of US national security.”
After the coup, Brazil took a favorable position towards North American geopolitical interests in this great dispute, and transformed itself, once again, into a geopolitical satellite of the USA.
Indeed, with the coup, our country has rapidly passed from being a great international actor – the creator of the BRICS that was courted and respected throughout the world – to a mere pawn of the United States in its struggle for the restoration of hegemony. Brazil created the BRICS but has now become the weak link of the group.
The active and haughty foreign policy which so elevated Brazil on the world stage was replaced by a passive and submissive policy that makes us crawl on the world chessboard as an outcast of international relations.
Brazil is now a country that is inexorably sliding toward geopolitical irrelevance, but that can be extremely useful to the US and its allies’ strategic interests.
After all it is a country of continental proportions that has one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves, the pre-salt petroleum reserves, the planet’s greatest biodiversity, abundant mineral reserves, a large availability of arable land, and 14% of the world’s fresh water. Furthermore, despite the crisis, it’s still the world’s 8th largest economy.
The fact is that the US’ recent strategic dominance, fueled by the 2016 coup, was at risk in the face of the possibility of the PT returning to power, which was certain to happen if Lula ran.
Therefore, it is absolutely vital to US geopolitical interests and the interests of the international capital committed to exploiting Brazil’s vast natural resources, that Bolsonaro wins the election. Perhaps they preferred a more civilized candidate, but in practice he was the only one capable of defeating Haddad and the PT. Between moderate reformism and fascism, they chose fascism.
Although Bolsonaro is a former Brazilian military man, he has already publicly saluted the US flag, pledged support to Trump, agreed to participate in a military intervention in Venezuela and said he will cede the Alcântara rocket launching base to the United States. In other words, he has made it clear that he will be an unconditional ally in the support of North American geopolitical hegemony. A man like Bolsonaro does not really bother those who supported Pinochet.
This article was first published on the New Socialist. Marcelo Zero is a sociologist, international relations specialist and technical advisor to the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party) Senatorial leadership.