As I started to write this text to inform the public about the threats that the Diário do Centro do Mundo (DCM), has been receiving, our website’s lawyer called me with worrying news.
A far-right politician, linked to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, had presented a cautionary action to the courts seeking to shut down the website, today one of the reference points of independent journalism in Brazil.
Celso Russomanno, the politician standing for election to the mayoralty of Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America, had made a formal complaint that the website’s registration information with the internet service provider was out-of-date.
Yes, this is the grave offence that we had committed: failing to update the ISP registration, still in the name of one of the site’s founders, the journalist Paulo Nogueira, who died in 2017.
Obviously, the allegation by the extremist Russomanno was a pretext, part of a campaign of intimidation against journalists who are not aligned to Jair Bolsonaro’s project. As an alternative measure, Russomanno asked the judicial authorities to take down a report I authored that reveals the disreputable (not to say, criminal) facts that have marked his career.
The curious thing is that Russomanno is a journalist himself with a consumer protection slot on one of the country’s principal television channels, Record.
In the neofascist wave that threatens Brazil there are even journalists who don’t know that, without freedom of expression, there is no press, only propaganda.
Bolsonaro’s adherence to the authoritarian project has reached the point where an unusual scene took place at the national football team’s last match, a World Cup qualifier. In the middle of the broadcast, the presenter and the commentators stopped talking about the match to express their affection for the President of the Republic and showered him with compliments.
In 39 years in the profession, I have never seen anything like it, not even during the military dictatorship which governed the country between 1964 and 1985 and which always counted the army captain Jair Bolsonaro among its most ardent supporters.
The adherence of the media to Bolsonaro’s project is one of the characteristics of the so-called “new politics” or “new democracy”.
This movement was born as a consequence of an unholy alliance between sectors of the judiciary and the corporate media, which in Brazil is conspicuous for its defence of the financial system and the rural oligarchy. This alliance led to the persecution of the politicians of the left that governed the country and smoothed the way for the rise of far-right populism which makes use of a national passion, football, to consolidate its position.
The most serious thing is not what its representatives do openly, but the supporters, the ordinary people who threaten independent journalists and authorities that resist Bolsonarism.
They are of the same ideological lineage as those who set fire to the Amazon to create pastures or areas for the cultivation of soya, or who promote illegal mining on indigenous land and invade indigenous spaces. Bad businessmen trust the promise Bolsonaro made during the campaign, that he would “take away environmental red tape”.
One of those bandits was accused in a DCM report of threatening the journalist Patrícia Lellis who, finding Brazil hostile, moved to Virginia in the United States. “If you don’t take this report down, your next report will be about how many shots hit you”, threatened the engineer Leonardo Antonio Corona Ramos in a WhatsApp message sent to the reporter Pedro Zambarda, the report’s author.
Corona Ramos, believed to be living in London now, served as an advisor to Captain Conte Lopes, who was elected to parliament after proudly saying that he had killed dozens of people. He says, of course, that he only killed criminals, but a newspaper investigation showed that his victims had not been convicted by a court.
Conte Lopes became famous, it should be noted, when he was identified as the person who fired the shot that killed a man who had kept a child hostage in the 80s. Bolsonaro is the politician who embodies the maxim, popular in Brazil, that “good bandits are dead bandits”.
With this maxim, Rio de Janeiro’s paramilitary organisations, the so-called militias, have grown and have exploited cases of apparently ordinary young people (mostly blacks) murdered by the police, known by the initials PM (military police).
If Bolsonarism represents genocide in the peripheral areas, it is no less true that it is difficult to carry out the profession of journalist in Brazil in these dark times. But we cannot forget that we are neither the only nor the biggest victims.
The Pastoral Land Commission points out that seven indigenous leaders died in conflicts in the countryside in 2019, the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, compared to two in 2018.
Father Júlio Lancelotti, known for helping Sao Paulo’s homeless, suffered a death threat after a former Bolsonaro ally, Arthur do Val, also a far-right politician, promoted a hate campaign against him.
Among other expressions, he called him a beggar pimp, responsible for the presence of down-and-outs in the centre of Sao Paulo, the same place that he would like to see occupied by large property developments.
The population living on the streets, which includes drug addicts, grew in the big cities in inverse proportion to the reduction of the wage bill and in line with the explosion of unemployment, a direct consequence of the media-judicial-parliamentary movement that led to the ousting of former president Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
The offensive against the free press, including DCM, is part of the institutional ruin that exists in Brazil today. But we know that we are not alone.
We have seen our audience grow. It has now reached 56 million accesses from 18 million unique users. This shows that Brazil demands independent, quality news.
The other side of this growth is the fury of the extremists. We know that this phase will pass, and we will resist, in defence of full democracy.
Adaptation of a well-known Brazilian poet, Mário Quintana, *“Those who would my path deny, are bound to falter…And I to fly!” Brazil is bigger than Bolsonaro and company.
*The original verse in Portuguese is “eles passarão, eu passarinho”, in Poeminho do Contra:”Esses que aí estão Atravancando o meu caminho, Eles passarão… Eu passarinho!”