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Bother in Brazil

You may remember the days of the coy acronym ‘BRIC’ being bandied around by Western analysts as they predicted the rise of nations and the fruitful economic and political relationships which Brazil, Russia, India and China would offer. Well, there is not much fruit being borne from the authoritarian regimes of Russia and China as they pursue quasi-imperial tactics, and judging by the recent events in Brazil, do not expect positive turns to come from them either. The mendacious Jair Bolsonaro gained 43% of the vote in the first round of the Presidential election last Sunday, forcing his opponent Lula da Silva into a rerun in October, as neither gained an outright majority.  

You would have thought one term of Bolsonaro, whose outlook reflects the more militant wing of the Latin American Right, was enough for the people of Brazil. Under his first term Brazil suffered from 685,000 Covid deaths, an abnormally high number exacerbated by the sitting presidents refusal to take the virus seriously and his encouragement of dubious treatments. The number of people facing real hunger rose from 19 million to 33 million and the rate of deforestation in the Amazon reached record levels. Not an ideal advertisement for his prospective second term. 

However, it is his relationship toward democracy that should really make us shudder. He glorifies the military dictatorship which brutally ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, reinstating the commemoration of the coup on March 31 which imposed the rule. Under the regime, opposition voices were quelled and dissidents removed. Such shocking examples include the killing of the journalist Vladimir Herzog in 1975 whose son Ivo commented on Bolsonaro’s sympathies stating, “It is offensive, it’s torture for the families of those killed.” 

Inspired by the Brazilian dictatorship of days past, Bolsonaro has made his own contemporary assaults on democracy. Throughout his first term he restricted access to information law, impeding the right of citizens to access information which may be of interest to society. At the beginning of September, he refused to listen to any ruling made by Supreme Court justice Alexandre Moraes and has routinely threatened him physically. It was almost as if the former military officer was laying down the foundation for a Pinochet-esque regime in his second term and in a political climate fraught with corruption and instability, the problem is this strongman approach has proved popular with many voters. Remember, this strong man is the leader of a country we are supposed to have conducive relations with. 

Perhaps most menacing of all is his chumminess with Vladimir Putin. In June the two leaders agreed to closer ties and for Russia to begin exporting cheap agricultural fertilisers to Brazil. So it seems that in creation of the term BRIC, the only trend Goldman Sachs foresaw was the rise of an adverse authoritarian block that was to be at odds with the West and its values. Whilst Brazil has not plunged into dictatorship just yet and it’s not our place to tell the people of Brazil who to vote for in their democratic elections, if the themes of Bolsonaro’s first term are anything to go by, we should at least keep an eye on this area of the world where dictatorship has proved recurrent in history. And perhaps it is time we looked at the democratic situation of these malicious, self-serving regimes before rushing to do business with them.

Image Jair Bolsonaro by Jeso Carneiro is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.