Brazil Elects Extreme Right Candidate Jair Bolsonaro President

Interview with Alexander Main, director of International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, conducted by Scott Harris

Following years of political and economic upheaval, Brazilians went to the polls on Oct. 28 and elected Jair Bolsonaro president, who as a candidate, praised his nation’s military dictatorship, advocated torture and regularly made misogynistic, racist and homophobic remarks.   Bolsonaro, who won Brazil’s second round election 55 to 45 percent over the center-left Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad, threatened to destroy, jail or drive into exile his political opponents.  He’s also pledged to open up the fragile Amazon rainforest to development and pull Brazil out of the Paris climate accords.
Bolsonaro’s victory comes after conservative political forces in Brazil succeeded in impeaching Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, and imprisoning former Workers Party President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva on dubious corruption charges, who polls indicated would have won the presidency again if he had been permitted to run.
Brazil’s lurch to the right with the election of Bolsonaro, follows the rise of extreme right-wing politicians across Latin America, Europe and the United States. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Alexander Main, director of International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who discusses grave concerns over the fate of South America’s largest nation under Bolsonaro, and the political and social movements that have vowed to challenge his authoritarian agenda.

ALEXANDER MAIN: Once (Luiz Inácio da Silva) “Lula” was out of the equation, you had no sort of major popular figures in Brazilian politics that could sort of take on Bolsonaro, who did a good job as posing as a complete outsider – as not being corrupted – someone who would help “clean up” Brazil in a variety of ways: very aggressive rhetoric towards his left-wing adversaries that he said he would jail or force into exile and even at times has threatened to execute them – labeling others as terrorists and so on.

But one further point which I think really needs to be emphasized. And it’s interesting because people like Steve Bannon have actually praised the Bolsonaro campaign on this very point, which is that they were very successful in spreading all sorts of disinformation about (Fernando) Haddad, the rival candidate from the Worker’s party through social media, primarily WhatsApp, which is very heavily used in Brazil. Essentially they had an army of trolls putting out all sorts of fake news in a very, very effective way. They managed to reach millions of Brazilians and much of what was put out there was taken at face value.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Alex, Bolsonaro is elected to office on a pledge of many repressive and authoritarian programs that he intends to put in place. Tell us about the checks and balances in the Brazilian system, namely the legislative branch. There are elections for the legislative branches. Well, in the first round of the elections, I believe, and the Workers’ Party as I understand it, will play a prominent role in the Brazilian congress.

ALEXANDER MAIN: Not necessarily because while they have more seats than any other party, they are far from having the majority of seats. And in fact, there’s no single party that has the majority, and Bolsonaro’s party is actually second. It went from having literally 2 or 3 members in the Brazilian parliament to having 52. I think to the Workers’ Party, I believe they have around 57 at this point, but you have many, many parties. And actually when you do the math, you can see that the right has really the strongest coalition in the parliament – or what is assumed will be a future coalition. In terms of the broader checks and balances, including from the judiciary and so on. You know, let’s note that the judiciary is extremely, extremely conservative; has shown itself to sort of been playing a partisan role against the Workers’ Party with its corruption investigations and you know, there’s a good chance that they will soften up to Bolsonaro. Dhould they not, there’s a real threat from the military, I think.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Alex, tell us about the social movements in Brazil that had been very active in pushing progressive policies and working with the former incumbent party, the Workers’ Party, in raising the standard of living for millions of Brazilians. How are they likely to react to a Bolsonaro presidency?

ALEXANDER MAIN: Well, they’re reacting very badly and quite understandably Bolsonaro just last week, labeled some of the major social movements, including the MST, the Landless Workers Movement, and also the MTST, the movement of people without homes, homeless people to enormous urban and rural movements that have been very organized – and as you said, have been sort of involved in pushing progressive policies. He’s labeled them as terrorists. You know, once you do that, you can essentially, you have carte blanche to really carry out widespread repression and jailings and so on.

Already over the last two years, certainly, the Landless Workers Party has been targeted by the police; targeted by right-wing militia. They’ve had leaders assassinated. They’ve had a number of people jailed without justification. So, we can expect this to get worse. Interestingly, (Guilherme) Boulos, who was a candidate in the first round of the elections for a left-wing party called the Pistol. He is also the leader of the MTMS, or the homeless people’s movement.

And, he came out with a very strong statement after the election of Bolsonaro, saying we will not be jailed, we will not be forced out of the country. And then two things that Bolsonaro said that he would do with his left-wing opponents, instead we’ll have said, “We will take to the streets and I expect we’re going to see a very strong organized movement. I fear that could be violent repression of this movement. And I think it’s really time for the world to pay more attention to what’s going on in Brazil because things could get bad very quickly.

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