Bolsonaro's threat to Brazil

Submitted by AWL on 23 November, 2018 - 10:55 Author: Alessa Alegre

Shortly before he was elected president of Brazil on the second round (28 October), Jair Bolsonaro made clear the extent of his intolerance to political opposition, saying of his political opponents “either they go overseas, or they go to jail”.

He plans vastly to increase the powers of the militarised police, which will have a significant impact on working-class, predominantly black, communities.

A few days after his election, one of his political allies in the chamber of deputies proposed amendments to anti-terrorism, and stated openly they want to criminalise social and political movements such as the Movement of Landless Agrarian Workers (MST).

The amendments would include in the definition of terrorist activity any acts done to “coerce the government” to “do or stop doing something, by political, ideological or social motivations”, and would include in the list of terrorist acts “setting fire, stoning, stealing from, destroying or exploding any means of transportation or any public or private property”.

The inclusion of these terms in the definition of “terrorism” had been previously vetoed by president Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party), although the existing anti-terror laws had already been used to penalise activists in the 2013 demonstrations.

Two of Bolsonaro’s main campaign pledges were to allow the possession of fire arms by civilians without the need to get a licence and to lower the minimum age for gun possession from 25 to 21 years.

Bolsonaro has also stated: “I will give the police carte blanche to kill”, and “police who kill thugs will be decorated”.

Currently, it is only legal for the police to shoot someone if they are defending the lives of someone else or themselves, yet an average of 14 people are killed by Brazilian police per day.

Bolsonaro’s election marks a huge threat to the Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest in the world, of which nearly two-thirds is in Brazil.

Bolsonaro has stated that environmental protections are hampering Brazil’s development, promised to ban meddling international NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF from Brazil, and stated that there “must not be radical environmentalism in Brazil”.

Bolsonaro has confirmed that the minister for both agriculture and environment in his government will be Tereza Cristina, current leader of the ruralist (or “beef”) bench of the chamber of deputies.

The Amazon is already being deforested at a rate of 52,000 square kilometers per year. An increased rate of deforestation would not only reduce the globe’s capacity to re-absorb CO2, but also mean the release of the CO2 already stored in the trees, and would have devastating environmental impact.

Bolsonaro has stated that he will not recognise protections on indigenous lands, saying that “not one centimetre will be demarcated for indigenous reserves”. There are currently 690 indigenous territories, covering about 13% of Brazil, and it is thought that there are about 80 uncontacted groups living in the Amazon.

According to statistics from Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council, 110 indigenous people were killed in 2017. This will only worsen under Bolsonaro, who once stated: “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians.”

The upcoming assault on indigenous rights is not a new trend, but one that has worsened since the current president Michel Temer took office in 2016.

One of Bolsonaro’s main points of attack on his opponent Fernando Haddad (PT candidate), and topic of “fake news” spread during the electoral campaign, was the so-called “gay kit”, that many of his supporters alleged would teach young children how to have gay sex.

The reference was to the “School Without Homophobia” project that was presented during Haddad’s time as Minister of Education. The material was vetoed by president Dilma Rousseff for being too controversial.

Bolsonaro’s presidency will aim to wind back rights already won by LGBT people in Brazil. Evangelical Christianity is a powerful force in Brazil, having grown from three percent of the population in 1970 to nearly a third today, with the evangelical caucus making up a fifth of Congress.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Brazil in 2013 through the judiciary rather than through legislation, which means that some marital protections will likely remain, at least for some period of time. The Brazilian Order of Lawyers has recommends that LGBT couples get married before Bolsonaro takes power to avoid losing the right to do so.

Federal deputy Jesse Faria Lopes from Bolsonaro’s party PSL has questioned his followers on social media whether Brazil should have a law against gay kissing in public (as in Russia) in order to protect the innocence of children.

The rise of the right has already empowered a hostile environment towards LGBT people, itself strengthened by Bolsonaro’s campaign and victory. There was a reported 30% increase in LGBT hate crime from 2016 to 2017.

Examples since the election campaign include a number of videos of football fans chanting “Bolsonaro will kill queers”, and a number of high profile attacks of LGBT people by Bolsonaro supporters, including a swastika carved into a woman holding an LGBT flag. A trans woman was murdered in Sao Paulo on 16th October, with the attackers shouting “Bolsonaro” as they stabbed her.

Early government attacks on LGBT people may appear in the form of cuts to HIV treatment funding. The public health network currently provides free universal healthcare for all Brazilians, but during the election campaign, Bolsonaro stated that government money should not be spent to treat people who get sexually transmitted diseases.

The president-elect, guided by his financial advisor Paulo Guedes, is promising a widespread liberalisation of Brazil’s economy, continuing the post-coup program of the current president, Michel Temer.

It is expected that the Brazilian Central Bank will be given total autonomy from the government, and that many state companies will be privatised.

Bolsonaro has promised to “simplify” the tax system by introducing a flat rate of 20% tax for those earning above five times the minimum salary (minimum salary currently at R$ 954, approximately £200), down from an already insufficient 27.5% maximum for an equivalent earner, with the assurance that those earning below five times minimum salary (below the equivalent of £1000/month) will not have to pay federal income tax.

The current president Michel Temer, has already introduced a freeze on spending, and it is clear that all areas of government spending will be cut significantly if these tax reforms proceed.

How we got here

In 2003, Lula became the first PT (Workers’ Party) president to take power in Brazil, and initiated 13 years of PT governments in Brazil (eight years of Lula’s presidency, followed by five years of Dilma Rousseff’s).

Various social democratic advances were made in those years, including taking 20 million people out of poverty, and introducing the benefit system “Bolsa Família”.

In 2013, demonstrations against rises in bus fares took place in SĂŁo Paulo and were met with a lot of police repression. In response to the state violence, and in the context of an unfavourable global economical situation that no longer allowed for the PT to implement social democratic reforms without introducing a more progressive taxation system, massive demonstrations sparked up all over Brazil.

The messages and demands from the demonstrations quickly became watered down to simplistic demands such as “better health and education” or “no corruption”, and slogans such as “o gigante acordou” (“the giant is awake”, referring to Brazil).

A shift to the right began. Demonstrators carrying red flags and wearing PT T-shirts were often met with hostility and even beaten up by other demonstrators.

By the time of the next wave of demonstrations, they had morphed into a much more moralistic, anti-PT and anti-corruption movement, led by “new” right wing organisations such as the MBL (Free Brazil Movement).

In August 2016, a parliamentary coup against Dilma Rousseff took place, and she was impeached for using a type of fiscal manoeuvring widely used in Brazil and never before cited to contest someone’s place in office.

Michel Temer, Rousseff’s former Vice-President and coalition partner, leader of centre-right party Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), and major player in the impeachment, became acting president.

In January 2018 Lula was sent to prison. His trial, conviction and subsequent imprisonment has been a highly politically motivated affair.

Not only has it been a symbolic victory for the right, in taking down one of Brazil’s most cherished public figures, but it has also had particular practical effect.

Lula’s popularity is such that, even if there were allegations of corruption, he could have won the presidential election if free to stand.

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