Additionally, the hegemony of the media does not allow a left-wing point of view. But Bolsonaro’s neoliberal agenda – that mirrors the far right’s – would worsen Brazil’s economic problems. There will come a time of general disillusionment, and the Left has to be intelligent enough, to galvanise all that anger, all that frustration y and build something.
The scenario is not very optimistic: child mortality is increasing rapidly, there has been an enormous rise in casual employment, and workers’ rights will be far less protected.
Brazil is a very unequal country whose democracy is in deep crisis, but paradoxically it is the far right which is offering a solution, says Associate Professor in International Relations at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, Esther Solano.
According to Solano, this is because the left has lost its connection with the people. People are dissociating themselves from Bolsonaro’s message and from what is really going to happen. And this is going to happen. Additionally, the hegemony of the media “does not allow a left-wing point of view”. “A return to the day-to-day politics is what is needed”. Social groups are trying to fight it, but they lack an institutional channel through which to go.
Invited by the Brazil Solidarity Initiative to a meeting at SOAS University of London, Esther Solano spoke to The Prisma.
Bolsonaro spread a lot of propaganda against the LGBT community, indigenous people and women, but still, a very wide group of them voted for him. How can you explain that?
There are mainly two groups of voters for Bolsonaro. I’d define the first one as the hardcore: the fascist, misogynist and racist ones who voted for him because he is what they really want.
Besides them, the majority of his voters, who are what I call the ‘soft’ voters, elected him for other reasons: because he is something new, because they really believe that he is going to fight against corruption and because they believe that he can change the economy etc. At a deeper level, it is because Brazil is a racist and misogynist country, so, when someone says something racist or misogynist, to a lot of people it sounds quite normal as it is engrained in society. This doesn’t mean that those people who voted for Bolsonaro are racist. It means that they are not aware of what racism is, because they live in an atmosphere, in a country, that already has this racist structure.
Are they aware of the consequences?
I was doing research with women and black and LGBT people who voted for Bolsonaro. They think, now, that nothing is going to happen to them, that it is impossible: they think he was just making noise, that he is just joking. But that is not true. ‘Bolsonaro loves women, Bolsonaro loves LGBT,’ they say. They are dissociating themselves from the message and from what is really going to happen. And it is going to happen.
In this picture that you just described it seems that in Brazil the rule of law has failed. Is my perception right? If so, how?
I wouldn’t say the rule of law has failed. I would say that to understand Brazil, people have to understand that it is a very unequal country. The law works for the richest. This is the idea. We have a way of saying it: ‘the institutions are working, but they are working for the elite, for the rich’. And that is the concept. It is a country that was borne from this idea that a large division in society exists between the poor and the elite.
Institutions work well, but only for the ‘owners’ of these institutions. I think maybe during the period of the PT this was more moderate because they had this public policy of redistribution. Now, it is very obvious to everyone that this elite owns the justice system, the economic system and the political system. So, it is not a failure of the institutions: they are fulfilling the function there were set up for, which is to protect the elite. Consequently, it means that the rest of the people are unprotected.
During the last decade all over the world we’ve seen many countries turning to the right, do you think there is a correlation between these political changes?
I think some movements are connected – some strategies are very similar. For example, if you look at the rhetoric of Donald Trump, Salvini, Viktor Orban or Bolsonaro, they are very similar. So, I think there is a communication strategy that is very similar.
What we have is a global problem. There is a crisis of democracy, a crisis of capitalism, and what these politicians are offering is a solution, salvation. Certainly, it is wrong, but they are offering something. We just need to look at Germany which is becoming very Nazi. We have a social and economic crisis, and there is a “hero” offering salvation. I think this crisis is global and the solutions the far right is offering are very similar because answering in this way- with hate and exclusion – is all they know
Is there anything that the Left could do to stop or to change this?
The problem for the left is that it became isolated from the people as a result of its being in power, on a daily basis. The mediocrity of politics in office, the alliances they had to make, the governmental problems they had to face, made them lose their connection with the people. As bureaucratic parties, parties of the “power machine”, they lost a lot of emotional connection with the people, the psychological connection.
These bureaucratic leftist parties don’t make the same effort to talk with the people, to communicate with them. This, absolutely, has to change. For example, the PT was borne in schools, in Catholic churches and in the outlying areas, but now it is completely disconnected from them, because it became a very powerful party and in so doing lost a lot of its connection with the people.
During the last few years, we saw many politicians on the left being publicly accused of corruption, kidnapping, murder and more. Many of them have been convicted, like Lula, and have to spend many years in jail. Do you think that now, in Brazil, the ‘Lawfare’ system has been employed by those in power?
In Brazil, the justice system is very racist. What we saw with Lula, is what we see every day with black people for example. There are no legal guarantees. Forty percent of the people in prison, in Brazil, don’t go to trial. What we saw with Lula is everyday justice, as it works for everyone on the margins of society, every day.
What happened, is that after 2016, the justice system started to operate like a political machine. Justice became very politicized with this figure of Sergio Moro; and Operation Car Wash became an instrument for criminalizing those in politics, for criminalizing the PT.
It was a very important tool for opening the way for Bolsonaro in the elections. They didn’t only put Lula in jail: it was as if they put the PT in jail because Lula is the symbol of the Party. The story would be completely different if Lula were out of prison, so, Operation Car Wash was, maybe, the most powerful tool in ensuring Bolsonaro got into power.
What role did the media play in this process and during the elections?
The media is very conservative and is concentrated in the hands of a few families. So, the public see the same narrative everywhere. The conservative media didn’t directly support Bolsonaro, they supported the anti-PT candidate, but the anti-PT candidate was Bolsonaro.
So, the media played a very important role in this anti-PT attack. This hegemony of the media is very important in Brazil because we don’t have a single newspaper or magazine of note with a left-wing point of view. Every newspaper or television channel of note has a very conservative political outlook, so people are only influenced by this source of information. If the media support Dilma Roussef’s impeachment or Lula’s imprisonment, the audience will be influenced by it, so we don’t really have a balanced media.
Is there anything that could stop this growth of the Right?
We will have more poor people and a weaker public system ultimately. So, I imagine that there will come a moment when people who voted for Bolsonaro, will be disillusioned. They will realise that they are poorer now than before, and there will be a lot of frustration – they will be angry.
My only concern is: when that moment comes what will the Left do? Because we have to be prepared. There will come a time when there will be general disillusionment, but the Left has to be astute enough, intelligent enough, to galvanise all that anger, all that frustration, and build something, I don’t know if we are prepared for that now. I hope so.
Maybe people won’t be able to do that: maybe they won’t protest and nothing will stop it. What do you think?
It’s like there is this feeling that people are exhausted, that they are very tired and very frustrated. Outside the party, no one really believes in society – they don’t really believe in the power of politics.
People are buying this idea of individualism, this idea of ‘me and my network’, ‘me and my own’. So, I think this is the challenge. We have to resurrect politics and this doesn’t depend only on one party, i.e. the PT. It depends on everyone, so we have to empower schools, women, and black people. It is the day-to-day politics that we have to resurrect.
Are there any organisations that are trying to fight this apathy?
We have a very powerful social movement in Brazil, there is a very powerful feminist movement. Women in Brazil are real fighters because it is a very misogynist country.
There are people fighting against racism in the marginal areas, against the police. We have LGBT groups: last year Gay Pride in Sao Paulo had three million people, it was something spectacular, enormous.
We have indigenous groups. Now, in the wake of the PT problem, they have lost what is an important institutional channel for them. There are lots of very powerful social movements among the student population, for example, but they need a common guiding force.