The lesson from the first round of the Brazilian elections has a clear conclusion: the Brazilian people are not stupid. Brazil did not elect a Trump.
For those in the international community following the Brazilian Presidential (and legislative) election, the new kid on the block fighting for the corner of populism is one Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing career politician and ex-army officer who gained 46 per cent in the first round of Sunday's election. He will now dispute the second round in three weeks' time with Fernando Haddad (PT, Workers' Party), a respected academic and politician.
The fact that almost fifty million Brazilians voted for Bolsonaro (31 million for Haddad, giving him around 29% of the vote) is yet another manifestation of the power of a populist discourse. It is politics from the heart, blood-red slogans aimed to strike a chord with the sector of the population which reacts with knee-jerk responses to social issues created by social terrorist policies practised by the conservative approach they find so attractive.
So when an absence of social investment creates ghettoes, with millions flocking to the big cities from poorer areas (for instance North-East Brazil) and from the interior and having no option but to build ramshackle huts, called "favelas" or shanty towns, then finding there are not enough jobs for all, the problem starts. It is compounded with the second generation, which feels itself marginalized and separated from the "haves" who are visibly and ostentatiously rich. From there to the sub-world of drug use is a small step and when the drug used is crack cocaine, worse are the social consequences.
Add to this a relatively easy network of the supply of weapons and bullets and the riches which come about with the supply of drugs and it is not difficult to imagine the vast social problems caused by the cartels gaining the power of a state within a state, with a ready supply of foot-soldiers and a dark cloud of addiction cast wide over millions of young Brazilians, with the ensuing robbery and violence this entails.
In some Brazilian cities, the death toll from turf wars reaches between sixty and one hundred every weekend and the feeling of insecurity, punctuated by stories of muggings and rapes and home invasions, is real. Going out for a meal is not just a case of getting in the car and going, in many places. First you leave your jewelry at home, along with your cash and your wallet, but take "robbery money" to give to the first bandit that robs you (making no eye contact, not resisting or saying anything otherwise you will be shot), then you either call an Uber or else take the elevator down to the garage, drive out of the condominium as the armed guards open the gates, then put your foot down, not daring to stop at traffic lights as you make a bee-line for the restaurant. Bon appetit.
With crime hitting the front pages of the newspapers and special crime channels on TV parading criminals lined up in handcuffs admitting what they have done "I shot my aunty dead but didn't mean to", enter front stage Jair Bolsonaro, with an easy answer to everything.
Exterminate the criminals, take back the streets, machine-gun the favelas, to hell with everyone, to hell with everything, Hallelujah! And from the stalls one hears a gigantic roar of support. "Get the bastards!" This sort of discourse works very well among the Satanic Christians who vote for something like Bush or Trump, it works very well among the uneducated and uncivilized, the uncultured and the plain stupid because it sells a dream.
Bolsonaro's dream, or the one he sells (because he has other dreams up his sleeve) is to clean up Brazilian society with the Bible and the Bullet, just as western European nations did when they "civilized" Asians and Africans, with the bible and the bullet, shooting "natives" in the whites of their eyes if they "got too close" and leaving them illiterate after three hundred years of colonization.
Bolsonaro's dream is a chimera, a Quixotean quest for the irreal, a surreal populist discourse which is as meaningless as it is vapid and sinister. The only way to get Brazil out of the mess it is in, is first, to regulate the corridors of power so that endemic corruption (and this is not just a feud of the Partido dos Trabalhadores) does not syphon off funds before Federal policies can be implemented. Secondly, it is to promote policies of sustained social investment, which the PT was doing under Lula and Dilma before they were so rudely removed by a Putsch and a trumped-up court case which would have been thrown out at the first level in any civilized system which followed due legal process.
True, social investment costs money and in times of crisis and low oil prices (a nice weapon for the richer nations to remain rich and for the poorer nations to be pushed under the water-line), money is scarce. Thirdly, the solution is to create a justice system which works properly, attacking the drugs cartels heavy-handedly, weeding out corrupted policemen paid to look the other way for an hour or receiving a part of the drug money as a monthly wage, creating a system of life imprisonment and not a maximum term of 25 years, taking traffickers and murderers out of society, forever. Fourthly, it is to use community-based schemes in the favelas to wean addicts off drugs and into a healthier lifestyle. Brazil is big enough.
Of course, one who makes stupid statements about gays, women, blacks and native Americans cannot begin to understand the complexities of such delicate and complicated social policies and here I am not going to bother mentioning the idiocy of some of Bolsonaro's slogans and statements in interviews because I believe that nobody can be that stupid and seriously believe what they are saying. If they are, then they do not deserve to be President because they will make their country a laughing stock in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Brazil is not a clown. Under Lula it was growing in esteem and respect and clout, was a major player on the international stage and then just when everything was going well, back it goes to being the sick man of Latin America, prostrated on the ground being stabbed in the back by its own political class. Yeah, the country of Samba and Soccer and Carnival and Caipirinha, nice beaches, cold beer, good seafood or if you are poor, a bottle of cana (sugar cane spirit) and a plate of beans and rice. Nothing more. That is the image which has been designed for Brazil and that is what people expect of it. Nothing more.
However, Brazil can grow, that much has been proved, but this comes with investment in social policies. And this comes with Fernando Haddad who has a Degree in Law, a Master Degree in Economics and a Doctorate in Philosophy from the world-renowned USP (Universidade de São Paulo). He does not say he would want his son to be killed in a car crash if he was gay, he does not say that there is no danger of his children falling in love with a black because they were brought up properly, he does not say to a Congresswoman "I am not going to rape you because you don't deserve it", he does not say he is favourable to torture (remembering the Brazilian dictatorship tortured and murdered and raped).
And that is why Fernando Haddad will be the next President of Brazil because the Brazilian people are not stupid.
He has a massive job ahead of him but he has the common sense, preparation and intelligence to deal with them in a structured way, using competent people and adopting a balanced discourse, not a "Get the bastards!" approach which will sow more social chaos and division in a country which needs a healing process. The key words for the next four years for Brazil are social justice which means a crack-down on corruption (starting in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies), an efficient justice system and the D-word, Development through social investment schemes and not chaos through social terrorism, nor enrichment of the few at the expense of selling the Amazon to Uncle Sam.
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru. He is an official translator, a coach, a consultant and a professor.
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