The most important presidential race in Brazilian history (plus statements from MST & PSOL)

By James N. Green October 13, 2018
— Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from NACLA — The unexpected strength of the far-right demagogue Jair Bolsonaro in the October 7 Brazilian elections sent shockwaves throughout the country. Capturing 46% of the popular vote in the first round of the presidential contest, Bolsonaro now faces a run-off race on October 28 against Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party, who trailed with 29.3% of the votes.Ciro Gomes, the center-left candidate of the Brazilian Labor Party polled 12.5%, while three presidential candidates from the center-right garnered less than 7% and lost considerable strength in Congress. Many observers consider their poor showing as a rejection of the policies of the Michel Temer government that came to power in 2016 after the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party, in what has often been referred to as a soft or parliamentary coup. The first post-election poll places Bolsonaro in the lead 58% to 42% against Haddad. Brazil is unquestionably at a crossroads. If a pro-democratic front led by the Workers’ Party doesn’t hold back the conservative wave, Brazil will be the next victim of the reactionary- populist international groundswell.During his 26-year career as a legislator, Bolsonaro, a former army captain who defends neo-fascist ideas, has created an image of himself as a hardline and vocal opponent of the Brazilian left, feminism, Afro-Brazilians, LGBTQ+ people, and the social and cultural changes that have accompanied the country’s democratization process over the last four decades.He has publicly commented that his children wouldn’t marry black people because they were well brought up, and that if a son were gay, he would beat him up. He voted against granting labor rights to domestic workers, and denounces teaching “gender ideology” in public schools. During the 2016 vote in favor of impeaching Dilma Rousseff, he unabashedly defended the military dictatorship and praised the notorious torturer of the president when she was incarcerated in 1970 for her opposition to the authoritarian regime.Although a self-styled “nationalist,” Bolsonaro has anointed Paulo Guedes, a University of Chicago-trained neoliberal economist, as his main economic advisor. His policy recommendations include privatizing almost all state-run companies and opening up the Amazon to foreign development. Ironically, while Bolsonaro’s campaign relies heavily on an anti-corruption discourse, Guedes is currently under investigation for possible securities fraud.Left-wing activists were stunned by the results. Nonetheless, there are many factors that explain the growth of the far right in Brazil. The Great Recession of 2008 reached Brazil several years after it created economic turmoil in the United States. The country is still facing record unemployment, which in turn has caused an uptick in crime. Bolsonaro’s law-and-order rhetoric appeals to many voters who fear urban violence.The 2013 June mobilizations, which began as a protest against a 20-cent bus fare hike in São Paulo, ballooned into protests throughout the country with a highly eclectic social and political composition of its participants. Many who took to the streets called on the Workers’ Party-led government to expand spending on social services, education, and transportation, rather than investing in stadiums for the 2014 World Cup. By mid-month, however, right-wing youth had joined the mix and explicitly called for an end to the Rousseff’s rule.The former left-wing guerrilla fighter managed to win reelection in 2014, but she soon became entrenched as the Right challenged the election results and then moved to impeach her based on dubious charges of budgetary mismanagement. The center-right government that followed implemented a neoliberal economic plan designed to slowly dismantle the social welfare state that had been strengthened since Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became president in 2003.At the same time, a string of investigations, known as Operation Car Wash, alleging the Workers’ Party’s involvement in money laundering and kickback payments, severely tarnished its image and fueled anti-politician sentiment. While moving quickly against the Left, the judicial system spared suspected center-right politicians from any serious corruption investigations.To prevent Lula from being a candidate in the 2018 elections, Sérgio Moro, the judge heading Operation Car Wash, sped up investigations against the former president, ultimately seeing him condemned to 12 years in prison for allegedly receiving an apartment in exchange for favors given to a contractor.Jailed in April, Lula’s popularity as a presidential hopeful increased from 30% to 39%. This alarmed the tendentious Supreme Court, which barred Lula from running for president from his jail cell, based on the Clean Slate Law that prohibits people whose conviction has been upheld in an appeals court from running for a public office, even if the case is still under consideration in the Supreme Court.The country’s highest judges also ignored a finding by the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights that defended Lula’s right to stand for office. After carrying out a series of unsuccessful appeals and waiting to the last minute, Lula chose Fernando Haddad as his successor.Haddad, a mild-spoken lawyer and professor of philosophy of Lebanese descent, had served as the Minister of Education for six years under Lula’s administration. He is credited with carrying out a massive expansion of public universities, which coupled with affirmative action programs has resulted in a dramatic increase of Afro-descendant and indigenous students in higher education. As mayor of São Paulo from 2012 to 2016, he tried to rethink the metropolis’ transportation problems, and was recognized internationally as one of São Paulo’s best mayors. Yet, he failed to win reelection, as anti-Workers’ Party sentiment grew in 2016 in the aftermath of Rousseff’s impeachment.With less than three weeks before the next round, Haddad has shifted more to the center to attract voters who have traditionally supported the Brazilian Democratic Movement and the Party of Social Democracy, which formed the core Michel Temer’s current government. These parties’ poor showing in the polls and a split between their moderate and conservative wings have meant that many of their politicians have thrown their support to Bolsonaro. The sharp drop in the number of their congressional candidates elected to office is also a sign that voters have lost confidence in their legitimacy to govern.Perhaps Haddad’s core ally at this point is Ciro Gomes of the Brazilian Labor Party and the former governor of the northeastern state of Ceará, who has offered critical support to the Workers’ Party’s candidate. Northeastern Brazil, which has historically has been the poorest and most underdeveloped region of the country, benefitted tremendously from Lula’s and Rousseff’s social programs, beginning with the Bolsa Família cash transfer to low-income families with children in school. Haddad won the majority in all of the state from this area. However, Bolsonaro captured a majority of votes from the country’s other regions.Already before the first round in the presidential elections, social movements mobilized against Bolsonaro. A massive movement known as #EleNão or Not Him, organized first by feminist activists as a social media campaign against Bolsonaro, brought over a million people in 140 cities into the streets a week before the election. A group called Jews against Bolsonaro gathered 10,000 signatures from members of Latin American second largest Jewish community. Another initiative entitled Muslims and Jews against Bolsonaro received the endorsement of ten associations. LGBTQI activists have also been vocal in the campaign against the right-wing figure.International alarm about the election has motivated renowned sociologist Manuel Castells to issue an open letter, which begins: “Brazil is in danger. And with Brazil the world. Because after the election of Trump, the coming to power of a neofascist government in Italy and the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe, Brazil could elect a fascist to the presidency, who defends the military dictatorship, is misogynist, sexist, racist, and xenophobic…”Seventy-five academics based in the United States have issued a manifesto expressing their fear that Bolsonaro’s “proposed policies would effectively undo all of the political, social, economic, labor, and cultural gains of the last four decades, efforts by social movements and progressive politicians to consolidate and expand democracy in Brazil.” Now collecting support in U.S. universities, the organizers of the initiative plan to release the text with several thousand signatures a week before the elections.Should Bolsonaro win the popular vote at the end of October, he will have the backing of a conservative majority in the Congress to carry out his far-right agenda. Should the Left manage to flip the projected outcome and elect Haddad to the presidency, it will undoubtedly be a weak government. If social polarization persists regardless of who governs, the armed forces will be waiting in the wings ready to seize power.

James N. Green is Professor of Brazilian History and Culture at Brown University and author, among other books, of We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States (Duke University Press, 2010).

#EleNão (not him): defeat Bolsonaro and defend rights!

By Socialism and Freedom Party, PSOL International Viewpoint — The elections in the first round ended up maintaining the same scenario of instability and polarization provoked by the 2016 coup and which deepened an economic and social crisis that had already unfolded. It also deepened a crisis of political representation of such a magnitude that it generated the conditions for the emergence of an extreme-right candidate that reached the second round with considerable support from the ruling classes. The election knocked out oligarchs that have traditionally dominated the political system, allowing the extreme-right to capitalize on the social rage against the "system". The second round is the continuation of the struggle against fascism and the coup. The central task at this moment is, therefore, to defeat Bolsonaro. His defeat would open the possibility of blocking the agenda initiated by Temer, guaranteeing national sovereignty and gathering the conditions to continue defending democratic conquests against authoritarianism. For this, the PSOL will support from now on the candidacy of Haddad and Manuela, while maintaining our political differences and preserving our independence. We call on all our militants to take the streets to continue saying loudly and clearly: not him! The PSOL and the alliance we formed in the first round around Boulos and Sônia, with social movements and the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), intellectuals and artists will continue to defend the dignity of the Brazilian people against inequality and privileges. This candidacy marks the beginning of a new cycle in the Brazilian left and PSOL is proud to have welcomed and stimulated this construction. Therefore, we will continue to defend the causes that no other candidature has had the courage to support. We will be in the campaign to defeat Bolsonaro and elect Haddad and Manuela defending national sovereignty and the rights of the majority of our people. We will be in the streets and at the polls demanding the repeal of all the measures of the Temer government, against pension reform and labour reform, for the end of genocide against the black population, the end of violence against the LGBT community, the demilitarization of the police, the legalization of drugs, the official recognition of indigenous and quilombola (Afro-Brazilians who escaped from slavery) lands, zero deforestation and the defence of women’s rights and all their demands – for wage equality, against sexism and for the legalization of abortion. And therefore, we will not give up the fight for our energy sovereignty with the defence of oil reserves, of Petrobras and of Eletrobrás, in the perspective of a transition of the energy matrix and of the transport system. PSOL understands that the fight to defeat Bolsonaro in the second round is to defend and expand rights and not to negotiate them away. We will continue to confront privileges and fight for the people to take centre stage. Only then will it be possible to guarantee a cycle of hope, justice, equality and sovereignty in Brazil. We orient our militants to building broad committees under the slogan #EleNão. The example of the women, who took to the streets on September 29, inspires us and strengthens new mass demonstrations to defeat the far right. We will be in the campaign to raise Haddad and Manuela to victory and for the will of the people to be respected. Where there is a second round for state governments, we direct our militancy to support those that publicly oppose Bolsonaro’s project. In each state, local activists will define ways to contribute actively to popular mobilizations to defeat backwardness, prioritizing the construction of plural spaces that incorporate all those who defend democracy, maintaining our principles and the coherence that mark the PSOL. We will continue in the streets together without fear to change Brazil. Not him! National Executive of PSOL São Paulo, 8 October 2018

Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) João Pedro Stedile on Brazil elections: ‘Projects and interests will become clear in runoff’

Brasil de Fato — After votes were counted last Sunday and confirmed a second round between Brazilian presidential candidates Fernando Haddad and Jair Bolsonaro, the member of the national board of the Landless Workers’ Movement João Pedro Stedile spoke with Brasil de Fato Radio about the next steps in Brazil’s presidential elections, saying voters will now have the opportunity to learn more details about the platforms and interests each candidate represents. Stedile argued it is necessary to show people that Bolsonaro’s economic plan, devised by ultra neoliberal economist Paulo Guedes, includes raising taxes on the poor and reducing them on the weathy.He said Bolsonaro is getting a lot of votes because he claims to be an “anti-system candidate,” even though, right now, he is the one representing capital the most.Even in case of a democratic defeat, Stedile believes it will be possible to carry on a progressive political struggle. “In case of an eventual a Bolsonaro administration, there is no reason for despair. Contradictions will increase, problems will increase. We must strengthen our grassroots work, our ideological work. Strengthen the work toward resistance.”Brasil de Fato: What is your take on this Sunday’s elections?João Pedro Stedile: Well, there was a scenario where voters wanted change. To change what they saw in old politics. Old politicians. And, in a way, the elections did not follow so much the strength of traditional parties. And that change was found in [Luiz Inácio] Lula [da Silva]. Unfortunately, the dictatorship of the court system, clearly breaking the laws of this country, barred Lula from running. [If if hadn’t done that], at this point, we would be celebrating his outright victory in the first round.Bolsonaro, in a way, was appealing to these nonpolitical, nonpartisan voters who wanted change from the beginning. So he managed to galvanize the idea that he is the anti-system candidate, even though, right now, he is the one representing the most the Brazilian bourgeoisie, capital, and this political system of domination.He made it into the second round exactly because he has the ideological skill to fool the poor and say, “I’m against the rich.” He replicates, in a way, the role [Fernando] Collor played in 1989, when, as a legitimate representative of Globo [Brazil’s largest media conglomerate], he made that speech against the ‘maharajahs,’ fooled the poor and defeated Lula in the elections.There were surprises, especially unpleasant ones, in [the elections for] the Senate, because we lost several valuable [candidates for] senators that proved to be, in the latest term, fighters against the coup and all this attack against national sovereignty. But, on the other hand, they also lost [names] that represented the oligarchy.Haddad won in most northeastern states. How do you see this victory?There is no surprise in the Northeast. When we look back at previous elections, that happened with Lula as well. I think that, in the runoff, it is not going to be about parties. Of course Haddad will have to negotiate with parties, especially the PDT [Ciro Gomes’ party]. Of course there will be conversations between parties, but that is not what is going to make up voters’ minds.I think that, in the runoff, it is not going to be about regions. What it is going to be about is a battle between projects and classes. Haddad won in the Northeast, but not because they live in the Northeast. It’s because there are poor people there whose lives changed with the Lula and Dilma [Rousseff] administrations, and therefore they raised their class consciousness.As now it’s only two candidates [running in the second round], it is clear that it’s about two projects. Bolsonaro, despite his hypocritical speech, obviously represents this country’s reactionary forces. It’s not a coincidence that most of the armed forces support him, most members of the military police support him, most bankers, represented by [his economic guru] Paulo Guedes – who is a partner at the investment bank Bozano. So I think it will become clearer to the people. And that is what I hope Haddad can explain to the people. More than being a spokesman for Lula, he has to be a spokesman for the working class.Will this argument, showing the project that Bolsonaro represents, produce results on the ballot?It has to. After all, in the first round, Bolsonaro hid behind the stabbing incident.And what is the role of the activists in this process?First, let’s keep showing the powers that are behind Bolsonaro. He is being provided intelligence services from abroad, which means the power of international capital backing him up. Just like it is necessary to expose all these bots, which we know cost a lot of money, and which he is using to make a media warfare online.We have to show the people, we have to engage with workers, with the poor. And to do that, we have to use arguments, facts. We have to tell people not to fear – because they are using fear a lot – and show that, even though Bolsonaro has fascist ideas, there is no fascist movement in Brazil. There is no grassroots movement in society for fascism in Brazil.Is it surprising that Bolsonaro won in the North? Is that connected to his alliances with the ruralist lobby?The Center-West and North regions of Brazil are where latifundia [system of large estates and big monoculture] are very hegemonic in society. It’s not just that they win the elections: they rule the churches, it’s where security forces barracks are, they rule society’s life. It’s very hard for the Left to thrive there, because there is no working class. The working class migrates, they come looking for jobs in the Southeast or other regions.That does not worry me. What worries me is that, now, in the second round, we have to do grassroots work, go door to door, hold meetings at parishes, at churches, call progressive ministers to explain to the people that voting for Bolsonaro is voting for LP gas price hikes, rental price hikes, bus fare hikes. And, looking at Brazil’s map to see how contradictory that is, most governors [who won outright majority in the first round] are progressive. So we are good with candidates for governor. That does not mean that people drank a ‘fascism tea’ and is now voting for fascism.Most people who vote for Bolsonaro are thinking about change, but it’s only a small part that really agrees with his more aggressive views.You’re right. Bolsonaro’s big strength is that he was able to mobilize activists, military police officers, the Armed Forces, especially retired officers, most of the Freemansonry, and these intelligence services that helped him online [with a strong campaign on social media and messaging apps]. Just like they managed to convince some ministers, who are not evangelical at all in the sense of the gospel, who are spreading fake news, [talking about] topics such as gay marriage to terrorize people who have conservative values, and ministers who openly campaigned for Bolsonaro. That explains why Marina [Silva]’s campaign melted down.What are the possible challenges of a Bolsonaro or Haddad administration?In case we have a Bolsonaro-led government, there is no reason for us to despair. On the contrary. We must strengthen our grassroots work, strengthen our ideological work, strengthen our political power in other spaces in order to be in opposition. So, if we lose space in the executive branch, that will be a reason for us to be more careful in the political struggle: replenish our energy to develop people’s communication outlets, to be able to convey the ideas of the working class and how the working class collectively understands the political scenario. They don’t have a platform for Brazil. A Bolsonaro-led government will mean four years of deep crisis.