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Esther Solano: For some people Bolsonaro’s agenda would mean death

Less guarantees for employees, no protections for minority groups, a weaker public sector and a criminalised left wing. These are just some of the consequences that the victory of the far right brought after the elections. An expert in the field is pessimistic about the future of this Latin American country.


Esther Solano

Nathan Raia


At the end of last year, Brazil began a very difficult time: the far right won the previous elections and this will affect the more vulnerable social communities, the economy of the country and the Brazilian political system.

The day after the elections, on October 7, 2018, Brazil woke up a different country. Former army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, was elected president of this, the largest Latin American country, with 55% of the votes. It was an amazing victory over his rival Fernando Haddad, who represented the Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT (Workers’ Party). The difference between the two candidates was 11 million votes: not that much considering that Brazil has two hundred million people.

The party of Bolsonaro, the Partido Social Liberal (Social Liberal Party), surprised the world with its victory, because it was a very small party and had only eight representatives after the previous elections.

This is what Esther Solano, Associate Professor in International Relations at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, thinks. She was invited by the Brazil Solidarity Initiative to a meeting at SOAS, University of London, where she spoke to The Prisma. Solano talked about the Brazilian elections and the social and political consequences for the country of the victory of the far right.

Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Wikimedia

According to Solano, there are three political processes happening now in Brazil.

One of the reasons for the success of the far right in Brazil is the criminalisation of the PT through the police investigation known as Operation Car Wash (Operaçao Lava Jato). Also, to many, the right represents the solution to all these problems.

During the PT years, poor people gained more power, while now it is the military, the evangelical church and the young judiciary whose power is growing.

Solano described Bolsonaro as “a mediocre man” who, because he hasn’t been involved in any corruption scandal, has this image of an uncorrupted man. This “was  his trump card in gaining power…plus he talked about traditional values which are very important to many Brazilian people”.

What is happening in Brazil?

There are three different political processes happening in Brazil. The social democracy that was destroyed at the elections and the traditional right-wing groups that used to be the balance for the right in Brazil lost almost all their voters, who moved to the far right – giving birth to a radicalization of the political process.

The second process concerns the PT, the workers’ party. The right wing, with the help of the media, succeeded in criminalising the political image of the PT. It started with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and ended with her being charged with criminal administrative misconduct and disregard for the federal budget. This was followed with the imprisonment of Lula, who was sentenced to 12 years and 11 months of prison during a second trial, increasing the 9-year sentence of the first trial.

Photo: Pixabay

Moreover, a third political process exists in parallel to these. The social hegemony of the left with the workers’ party, has been destroyed and the evangelical church and military are gaining more and more influence in public debates. As a matter of fact, the right is in power both in parliament and government, but it’s also gaining more and more strength in society in general.

What are the reasons that led the right to gain all this power?

The far right presents itself as the solution, as the outsider, as anti-system and anti-establishment like Trump and his far-right movement in the US. People are so frustrated with the system. There is this corruption element. The Operation Car Wash link has been used to criminalise politics in the eyes of the public. The right owns the newspapers and they are using them to develop and send out a message that the state and political system are corrupt. Thus, the new right-wing leader presents himself as a saviour – a messiah. There are five social classes in Brazil, and during the PT years the poor gained more power and had the opportunity to start going to university or travel by plane and that provoked anger among the middle class and elite.

As a result, (middle class) people that used to vote for the PT, are very angry, because they considered that they governed for the poor too. And this created class conflict.

In addition, new elements are moving into the spotlight. The military has five generals as ministers in the government. The evangelical church is gaining more power, and the young judiciary too. Sergio Moro, a judge, is today the Minister of Justice and Public Security. A complex scenario involving the neoliberal group, judges (through Operation Car Wash), the evangelical church and the military exists, with all of these coming together to shape this new Bolsonaro government.

Photo: Pxhere

Does Bolsonaro still have power in the army?

Yes, a lot. I think he was the perfect figure the time. He is quite a mediocre man and did nothing during his time in politics, so he wasn’t involved in any scandal involving corruption because he was no-one in Congress. This was perfect for him as a platform, because he presented himself as an honest man – a genuine man. He is clean because he didn’t participate in politics at all.

So, he is the typical misogynistic, racist, macho man. Normally, he would be nothing in politics, but now is a good time for mediocre people to act, and with Lula in prison the time is perfect for Bolsonaro, because if Lula were running in the electoral campaign, Bolsonaro would get nowhere.

What are the reasons that led to the victory of Bolsonaro and the far right in Brazil?

There is this idea that the far right brought politics back onto the scene. They talked about values and traditions; about the importance of religion and principles; and about the importance of security – public security. For example, Bolsonaro has this punitive policy, this idea that we must be hard-handed.

During the PT’s time, they showed interest in public policy, but they didn’t produce this narrative. The PT has very important policies for the black population, but they didn’t initiate any debates about racism. They had a lot of important policies for the poorest classes, but they didn’t hold any debates about equality. Bolsonaro highlighted some of these questions but from a very moralistic, punitive, racist point of view. He managed to provide a stage for some of the biggest debates, from the point of view of the right. Also, corruption has been a trump card for Bolsonaro.

I interviewed people that voted for Bolsonaro and they always say that they voted for him because he is a different kind of guy – he promises something new. So, I think there is a real appetite for the ‘new’. We don’t want professional politicians, we want someone like us, people say. He is an ordinary man, like Trump, perhaps. Someone outside of the political classes.

Photo: Pixabay

Do you have a completely new government, now?

It isn’t completely new, because we already had these elements in parliament. We already had the evangelical church and military groups, but now they have gained more power and more visibility. We had some small groups that are representative of the extreme right before, but now they have got a lot more power. It’s grown exponentially.

What is the agenda of the far right? What’s the agenda of Bolsonaro for the coming years in Brazil?

It will be a neoliberal agenda – an ultra-liberal agenda. He has this Ministry of the Economy run by Paulo Guedes who is a Chicago boy. Guedes worked for Pinochet when he finished university: this, it appears, is a neoliberal government. For example, we have this phase of reforms: reform of the pension system, a future agenda to privatise  public sectors and then, running alongside this, we have a new conservative agenda. The minister of human rights is saying that we don’t need any public policy for LGBT groups. Brazil is one of a number of countries where LGBT groups are repressed.

Also, we have another agenda against feminism – against women. There is this idea of criminalizing abortion. We have a harsh policy against indigenous communities – they are not well protected in Brazil, but the few protections they enjoy will all but disappear with the government of Bolsonaro.

He has a very aggressive minister of agriculture and the ministry of environment barely exists, so what we have is this neoliberal agenda and another agenda pitted against human rights and activists – against the blacks, women and LGBT community

How do you think this agenda will affect the daily lives of those people?

For some people, it probably means death. For indigenous people, there is a very violent struggle going on in rural areas – in the countryside. Against the big land-owners, they are very unprotected. The new laws that Bolsonaro is signing will generate more violence in the countryside and for an increasing number of indigenous people, these laws will literally mean death.

Furthermore, genocide against black people in Brazil is taking place. Sergio Moro has just signed another package of laws. Anti-crime laws he says, but in practice, what he is saying is the police have the power to kill with impunity. For those people, it will mean that they will be killed. For other groups, such as LGBT groups, there won’t be any policies to protect them.

So, I would say, that for some people it will literally mean death, while for others, it will mean losing employees because of the austerity rhetoric – losing purchasing power.

Those communities gained a little with Lula, with the PT and now they are losing everything again so we will have more and more poor people. We will have, probably, more unemployment, or at least more flexible terms of work and more precarious employment.

We have, now, since Michel Temer became president, something that Lula fought against: misery – it is coming back to Brazil. For example, child mortality is increasing very rapidly again. Some analysts say it’s like going back to the ‘90s.

You just mentioned the economy of the country, fewer jobs, more precarity, what else can you tell me about it?

With President Michel Temer we have already seen this neoliberal agenda, this austerity agenda, so what he did, basically, was to cut the public budget for education and for health. We have an unemployment rate of 11.7%. The problem is that side-by-side with this unemployment, we have an extraordinarily rapid rise in casual employment, so we have a precarious situation, and what Bolsonaro wants to do will make it even more precarious.

He says, that Brazil, is a country that has very strong laws to protect workers and he wants to make all these laws more flexible. So, I think the rights of workers will be far less protected.

Then there is privatization. Many people depend on the public health system. If you privatize all of this there will be people living on the outskirts of cities and in the countryside who won’t have health care and the same goes for education. Bolsonaro won’t privatize everything at the same time, but there will be less and less money for these institutions.

Foto: Pixabay

What is Bolsonaro getting from making the country poorer?

Bolsonaro has the blessing of businessmen, which is very important. When we are talking about this country, Brazil never went through a process of agricultural reform, so we have an enormous quantity of land in the hands of very few people. Owners of enormous areas of land, who are very powerful. The same goes for factory owners – they are very few and very powerful and what they want to see is terms of employment made more flexible and a weakening of the rights of workers, and of  rules governing the granting of licences (for mining for example). What he is gaining is the support and the blessing of this neoliberal elite in Brazil. It is a country that was built by an enormous number of poor people and a small powerful elite. So, he is the right person for this elite.

(Next week: Esther Solano: In Brazil the left has lost connection with the people)


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