Is Brazil Willing to Let its Young Democracy Die?
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
When the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro won the elections, on October 28, 2018, some political scientists and journalists were already warning that Brazil’s democracy is on the brink of collapse. Back then, most Brazilians would simply shrug about this, but now, it is becoming clearer that this Commander-in-Chief seeks absolute power - whatever it takes. We should not underestimate him.
Although Bolsonaro is supported by Brazil’s Armed Forces, if there was to be a Coup d’État, it is expected that the Brazilian military would act in the backstage, not by taking power on their own - like it was in 1964 during Brazil’s military dictatorship.
Nowadays, a Brazilian dictatorship would probably not have the same support and sponsorship of the United States like it had in the 1960s, but maybe isolating an authoritarian Latin-American country like Brazil would not be the smartest move for them - especially now that China is trying to consolidate its influence over South America.
It would be naïve to ignore that Brazil’s democracy is at risk. Of course, we are not in the 20th century anymore and social media platforms play a huge role in politics nowadays, but that is not the only factor which should be accounted for. From the very beginning, Bolsonaro’s tactics have involved eroding the political institutions from the inside and this has grown more dangerous. There’s a chance that our young and somewhat fragile democracy will not bear this erosion much longer.
Since he was just a mediocre congressman from a tiny and irrelevant party, the president has been woozing the worst period of Brazilian dictatorship, which he, like most of the Brazilian Army, calls a “revolution”. This goes without mentioning all the homophobic, misogynistic, racist and the most perverse speeches an Alt-Righter could ever give. Meanwhile, Brazil faces, once more, an economic crisis with more than 14% of the population unemployed and extreme poverty is on the rise.
Journalist Pedro Doria, in his YouTube channel, Canal Meio, reminds us that Bolsonaro awarded Army Commander, Paulo Sérgio Oliveira, after he decided to archive a case against General and former Minister of Health, Eduardo Pazuello, who illegally participated in a pro-Bolsonaro event. We should not take the military forces for granted, especially because it is an historically non-democratic institution.
Also, this proto-dictator entered the Republic's General Attorney Office, headed by his “friend” Augusto Aras, and he has succeeded in controlling it as he pleases. In addition, he constantly incites a “coup movement” against the Supreme Court, calling them a band of outlaws. Bolsonaro has disrupted the Federal Police to block an investigation against him and his sons who, like him, are in political positions and involved in possible corruption schemes. One of his sons said, during a speech in 2018, it would take only a “soldier and a corporal” to put an end to the Supreme Court.
Brazil über Alles
If you paid attention in your history classes, you would notice a similarity between the Brazilian government’s slogan “Brasil acima de tudo, Deus acima de todos” [Brazil above all, God above everybody] and Nazi Germany’s “Deutschland über alles” [Fatherland over everything]. The connection becomes clearer when you know that, in July of 2021, Bolsonaro had a meeting with German congresswoman and white supremacist Beatrix von Storch, leader of Germany’s Alt-Right political party, the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland).
In How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt note that there are four key indicators of authoritarian behavior. The first indicator: reject democratic rules of the game. This is something we have already seen in Former US President Donald Trump’s attempt to undermine the legitimacy of US elections. Now, it is Bolsonaro’s turn at questioning Brazil’s electronic voting system and inciting violent protests to force a change. Just in case you are from the U.S. and are wondering if Brazil’s ballot system is safe, I can assure you it is.
The second indicator: deny the legitimacy of political opponents. Bolsonaro has done this ever since his days as a presidential candidate. He continues to deny his opponent’s legitimacy especially by attacking the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) [Workers Party] and his main opponent and PT’s leader, Luís Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Now that Lula is leading the polls for the next election, Bolsonaro has gone mad with disqualifying him.
Indicator number three: tolerate or encourage violence. This has always been part of Bolsonaro’s rhetoric. He has ties with members of militias and supports pro-gun decrees, and like Hitler with his Nazi salute, this leader has his own “symbolic” gesture for his minions to admire: the finger gun. When he was asked by a Brazilian journalist about a police officer who was filmed hurling an unarmed and surrendered suspect from the rooftop of a house, Bolsonaro jokingly responded: “It had to be a building”.
The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” was never so necessary these days. The president’s favorite pastime is attacking and threatening the media. In 2020 this behavior worsened, because the news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic was a pretext for dozens of attacks by the president, who not only denied it, but encouraged his supporters to do the same. As the fourth indicator describes: “Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media”.
Maybe one good thing will result from all these years of this terrible administration and its reign during the most deadly pandemic of the century. Because of the total and irresponsible mess that was the government's handling of the pandemic, senators instated a Congress' Parliamentary Investigation Committee (CPI), an inquiry that is getting somewhere. The CPI revealed Bolsonaro rejected one of the most effectives vaccines against COVID-19 - on several accounts.
It also showed that the pandemic was a means for politicians to get illicit money and that the government tried to obtain an inefficient vaccine through deceptive private companies. More recently, there is evidence of a forged document written by an employee intended to be a false admission of overreporting COVID deaths in Brazil.
Now, Bolsonaro’s rejection is on the rise: 64% of Brazilians disapprove of his administration, which is a record so far. On the other hand, this means that 36% either approve of his administration or are unsure of it. So I wonder what else could this guy possibly do to show Brazilians how bad he is? After all, with almost 600 thousand people dead, Brazil has the second highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.
Politician Ulysses Guimarães, who promulgated the law that re-established the fullness of democracy in Brazil, said during his iconic speech: “We hate and disgust the dictatorship”. Meanwhile, I just hope all Brazilians agree with this statement, so that I will not be arrested if I decide to go outside wearing a T-shirt with those words written on it. Because even with all of its flaws, I love and respect Brazil’s democracy.
About the author
Alessandra Marimon is a Brazilian environmental journalist based in the Amazon and with a Master’s Degree in Science and Culture Communications. She is passionate about travelling by boat with a pen, a notepad and a camera to look for inspirational and emotional socio-environmental narratives.
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