The run-up to the Brazilian presidential election to be held on 7 October reminds spectators of the coming to power of Donald Trump two years ago. Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing politician, is running for the election, and while many are cheering him on, others are watching aghast as he heads the polls. In this article, Marina Graciolli de Paiva looks at the implications of the election of Bolsonaro and shows how the Brazilian women’s resistance movement is countering the rise of a fascist government.
Leading in the polls
The upcoming Brazilian presidential election is interesting for several reasons. Being in prison, former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva cannot run as a presidential candidate. When Fernando Haddad was appointed as his replacement, he proved less popular than expected, and now polls show that nationally, only 16% of Brazilians support him as candidate. Alarmingly, far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro now leads the polls at 28%. Seven other presidential candidates share the remaining remaining 56% of votes in the polls.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, spent 27 unproductive years in the Brazilian Congress before becoming Social Liberal Party presidential candidate in 2018. Known as the ‘Brazilian Donald Trump’, his political career has been fuelled by social media. Even centrists are worried by far-right sentiments in the country. Although Bolsonaro is unlikely to beat a left-wing or WP (Workers’ Party—Partido dos Trabalhadores) candidate in the second round of Presidential elections, many middle- and upper-class voters, who blame Lula and the WP for Brazil’s problems, could ‘carry Bolsonaro in their arms’. The situation remains worrying as his coming to power threatens to shake the liberal foundations laid in the country over the past years, when the politician questions democratic rules, encourages violence, denies the legitimacy of his opponents and shows a willingness to restrict civil liberties.
Why worry about Bolsonaro?
Bolsonaro is an evangelical Catholic, known for his offensive and violent remarks towards almost everyone. His targets include descendants of African slaves, indigenous people, women, and LGBTQI groups, as well as the poor. The Federal Senate (2018) estimates that a woman is raped every 11 minutes in Brazil. Yet Bolsonaro says he will reverse femicide legislation if he is elected. He claims he would rather his son died than be a homosexual. To television cameras, he told one congresswoman that he would never rape her, as she was far too ugly (NY Times, 2018).
As a consequence of such shocking statements, Bolsonaro is often called a fascist. German International Relations teacher at PUC-Rio, Kai Michael Kenkel is worried:
‘When you live with well-developed antennae for the rebirth of intolerance and fascism, the alarm could not sound more clear than in the case of this man and his supporters. Just replace LGBT, black and woman for “Jew”, and we are clearly in 1933… concentration camps also began with words.’
Not happy to confine his comments only to homosexuals, racial minorities and women, Bolsonaro defends forced sterilisation of the poor. He favours the death penalty, and like Trump, he hardly believes that public education or social protection can help economic growth. Instead, he favours deregulation and letting large capital run the show. There is much more: he has mocked torture victims, wants to end land rights for indigenous Brazilians, and claims Afro-Brazilians are ‘lazy’.
Why is this happening?
What is causing this rise of the Brazilian far-right? Bolsonaro’s main supporters are men coming from a higher social class and schooled backgrounds. Since 2014, another factor has been Lava-Jato (carwash). This became the biggest anti-corruption drive in Brazilian history. Yet it exclusively targets the Workers Party of the Left. As a result, right-wing parties have emerged and now exploit Brazilians’ growing distrust of state institutions. The right promises radical and ‘moral’ solutions for the growing economic and political crisis in the country. From a fight against corruption, this has become a crusade for reaction.
Bolsonaro’s supporters demand changes; they share a few broad ideals: fighting corruption, supporting the military, shrinking government, deregulation, Christian ‘family values’, the right to bear arms; hatred of the left, especially the Workers Party. Among Bolsonaro’s voters, 87% have stated that they place greater trust in the military than in democratic government. They oppose sex education in schools, women and minority rights. Unfortunately, such ideas emerge among the least empowered and represented as well as among powerful elites.
Interestingly, Bolsonaro is ‘rejected by 49% of female voters’. Only 17%’ of women support him. Not surprisingly, therefore, the resistance movement against Bolsonaro’s ‘fascist’ views started with Brazilian women. On August 2018, the resistance movement was launched, and now includes other social groups (LGBTQI), also artists, journalists, academics and more. The movement uses the popular social media hashtag #EleNão (#nothim). Resisting his explosive mix of machismo, misogyny, racism, homophobia and anti-poor rhetoric, and other types of discrimination, the movement brings opposition by refusing to use the politician’s name. Instead they refer only to ‘Ele’ (Him).
A Facebook group ‘Women united against Bolsonaro’ reached more than 3 million followers in a month. The main idea is to oppose the candidate and to raise voices against intolerance and anti-democracy movements. The group, as its administrators’ rules, is only for posts against the candidate and NOT to post in favour of any other politician. This movement of resistance is a significant step in the growing polarisation. People from the movement have constantly mentioned that this is not only a matter of politics, but it is a matter of moral values and rights. On 29 September 2018 the movement called for marches all over Brazil and internationally, in defence of democracy, tolerance and against the candidate, it gathered thousands of people across the country in more than 30 cities. Although polls show ‘him’ in the lead, studies suggest that the poorest people in Brazil are often the last to decide how to vote. Since the majority of the country’s poorest people are black women, this could be grounds for optimism. Poor women in general will determine the fate of Bolsonaro.
As social justice advocate, and part of the women’s movement, I am cognisant thereof that words by themselves are not just rhetoric, but also action, both for ‘him’ and in the hands of people that resist ‘him’, is necessary. We should be alarmed. In my opinion, to vote for Bolsonaro is to vote for impoverishing Brazil and violating the rights of those frustrated and impoverished Brazilians who may ironically be tempted to vote for ‘him’. The hard-earned democratic political system of Brazil is certainly under threat, as the women’s movement understands.
‘With all the differences, we have chosen freedom from oppression. We have chosen respect for prejudice. We have chosen equality against racism. We have chosen the diversity of many against the hegemony of one. We have chosen peace against violence’ (Eliane Brum, 2018).
About the author:
Marina Graciolli de Paiva, former Wim Deetman Scholarship holder, is a Brazilian activist in peace and justice. A graduate of the ISS, she specialised in Conflict and Peace Studies. After graduating Marina worked for GPPAC (Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict) in knowledge-sharing, peace-building and conflict prevention. In Brazil, Marina worked in CEEB, a small NGO providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.