In Brazil, voters' far-right fears carry weight of history
Why We Wrote This
"Fascist," "authoritarian," "far-right" â" words that are thrown around in US politics these days. But what does it feel like to discuss those terms in a country that actually has memories of a military dictatorship?Conservative Brazilian lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro, one of the top candidates in the October presidential election, flashed two thumbs up as he posed for a photo with cadets during a ceremony in BrasÃlia marking Army Day in April.
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From the United States to Poland, the word âfascismâ has been used to evoke ideas of authoritarian intolerance. In Brazil, the word has particular resonance among young opponents of presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro. The congressman and former army offi cer's comments have frequently drawn accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia. He has also openly praised Brazilâs dictatorship-era political tactics, and fear of a throwback to an oppressive approach has galvanized youth. âThe word âfascistâ ... embodies everything they donât want,â says Esther Solano, a professor of international relations at the University of SÃ£o Paulo. âThese are young people for whom questions of race, gender, and sexuality are natural. Fascism is basically intolerant of all of this.â But supporters see his statements as being taken out of context. They view Mr. Bolsonaroâs rise as a way to right more recent wrongs. In recent decades Brazil has made strides on civil and economic rights and strengthened its institutions. But corruption scandals, a presidentâs impeachment, and a struggling economy have fueled a desire for change. The question now is what course change should take.Rio de Janeiro
As the sun beat down on the crowds gathered outside Rio de Janeiroâs city hall last Saturday, Heloisa Gussate, a music student in her late 20s, stood with her feet on either side of a marching drum, ready to jump into action. Chants, whoops, and laughter emanated from the groups passing by, but the exuberant atmosphere was contradicted by a heavy word slapped across almost all the signs and posters on the street that day: âfascist.â
In at least 62 cities across Brazil on Sept. 29, tens of thousands of protesters transformed main thoroughfares into brightly colored, glitter-splashed demonstrations against presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro, who was near-fatally stabbed at a rally in September. Campaigning with the hashtag #EleNÃ£o (#NotHim), protesters voiced their opposition to a candidate they say represents a turn back toward the values of Brazilâs era of authoritarian rule.
âHe's someone who defends hate, who defends th e dictatorship,â says Ms. Gussate, referring to Brazilâs repressive military regime from 1964 to 1985. Gussate fears that groups considered second-class citizens during the dictatorship â" women, black Brazilians, and residents of low-income favela communities in particular â" could face cutbacks to their rights under a Bolsonaro presidency.
âItâs not that far away from what already happens today,â she says, referring to challenges those groups face. âWhat will change completely is this,â she says, gesturing to the protesters. âThis won't exist anymore.â
From the United States to Poland, the word âfascismâ has been frequently thrown about in political criticism in recent years, often evoking ideas of an authoritarian political system with no tolerance for opposition. But in Brazil, with living memories of the military era, the word has particular resonance among Mr. Bolsonaroâs opponents.
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The congressman and former army officer's comments have frequently drawn accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Heâs sometimes referred to as âBrazilâs Donald Trumpâ for his populist approach and polarizing public statements.
But itâs the idea of a possible resurgence of âfascism,â or a throwback to an oppressive approach to governance, that has so galvanized the nationâs youth. Some 53 percent of of Brazilians ages 16 to 24, a large chunk of last weekendâs marchers, reject Bolsonaroâs candidacy, according to polls released Oct. 2. Bolsonaro has expressed intolerance for adversaries, openly praised Brazilâs dictatorship-era violence, and voiced admiration for the army major whose unit tortured former President Dilma Rousseff and other dissidents.Protesters hold signs that read "Not him" in Portuguese, during a Sept. 29 protest in Rio de Janeiro against leading presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Mr. Bolsonaro has praised aspects of Brazil's two-decade military dictatorship and has said police should be rewarded for shooting criminals.
Younger Brazilians, who came of age under Brazilâs Workersâ Party (PT), werenât alive during the dictatorship. But its history still looms large in high school curricula or at the family dinner table. And many already have first-hand experience with protest and police violence, such as a rash of high-school occupations in 2015 to oppose austerity-induced threats of school closures.
But what Bolsonaroâs detractors might see as a step back to the past, his supporters view as a righting of more recent, repeated presidential wrongs. Over the past two decades, Brazil has made big strides on civil and economic rights, and has strengthened its institutio ns, like the judiciary. However, ongoing corruption scandals, a presidentâs impeachment, and a struggling economy have fueled an overwhelming desire for change.
But for his opponents, âThe word âfascistâ ... embodies everything they donât want,â says Esther Solano, a professor of international relations at the University of SÃ£o Paulo. âThese are young people for whom questions of race, gender, and sexuality are natural. Fascism is basically intolerant of all of this.â
Bolsonaro is currently leading voter polls, with 31 percent of Braziliansâ support. He wasnât a likely victor just a few months ago, when former PT leader and two-term president Luiz InÃ¡cio Lula da Silva looked like a possible candidate and certain front-runner. But his imprisonment after a corruption investigation earlier this year officially disqualified him from him from running in the Oct. 7 presidential race.
His partyâs new candidate, former SÃ£o Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, is currently polling 10 points behind. Mr. Haddad and Bolsonaro would tie in a run-off vote, according to a poll released Monday.
The nationwide protests against Bolsonaro came out of a Facebook group called âWomen United against Bolsonaro,â with 3.5 million members. Posts within the group throw around the word âfascismâ regularly, equating it with intolerance, extremisms, and the suppression of citizen rights. Some group members compare Bolsonaro to Hitler or Mussolini, citing his comments supporting military-enforced dictatorships.
âBrazil is a country in which women, and so many other minorities live very harsh and unfair realities,â says Maria Rita Taunay, a march organizer in Rio, describing why Bolsonaroâs candidacy compelled so many to turn out to protest.
Despite the middle classâs expansion over the first 10 years of this century, extreme poverty more than doubled between 2014 and 2017, according to researc h by Action Aid Brazil and the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis. Violence is also growing: Brazil has one of the highest femicide rates in the world, and young black men disproportionately fall victim to murder â" which reached a record high of 63,880 in 2017.
In Ms. Taunayâs view, womenâs rights are too fragile to withstand a candidate who has argued against equal pay on the grounds that female employees can become pregnant, and who has famously joked about sexual assault. âBolsonaro is a setback that we cannot afford,â she says.
Voting for something different
Widespread anti-PT sentiment has partially fueled Bolsonaroâs rise among an agitated and disillusioned electorate, says Thiago Krause, a history professor at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO). âBolsonaro serves as this symbol of destroying the political system, which everyone thinks of as totally corrupt,â he says.
âHeâs been a congre ssman for 30 years, but heâs only had two bills approved,â says Bruno Mourato, an unemployed logistics worker in his late twenties who intends to vote for Bolsonaro. Mr. Mourato says PTâs long-running grasp on power only served to line the political classâs pockets, rather than governing for the benefit of ordinary Brazilians. âYou have a gang inside the political system who govern for themselves,â he says.
Supporters argue that Bolsonaroâs comments are frequently taken out of context, and call his social positions sensible, such as his critiques of âgender theory.â Many also support his desire to scrap racial quotas for universities, intended as reparations for slavery, which they argue unreasonably benefit black Brazilians.
Opponents say their concern goes beyond incendiary statements, and centers on his commitment to democracy. During a 2015 TV interview, Bolsonaro defended Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, saying: âPinochet did what had to be don e. It had to be done violently.â His vice-presidential candidate, retired military general AntÃ´nio MourÃ£o, has made public statements supporting military intervention in cases where the judiciary isnât able to address the nationâs problems.
âBased on what I see in the streets, I [will] not accept any election result other than my election,â Bolsonaro told national media last week.
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Many voters supporting Bolsonaro donât necessarily support his perspectives, according to Thiago de AragÃ£o, director of political consultancy Arko Advice. Nevertheless, he says, resentment and mistrust for the PT could drive voters toward the candidate.
âVoters will choose candidates based on who they want to see lose, rather than who they want to see win.âGive us your feedback Thank you for contacting The Christian Science Monitor. of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories You've read 5 of 5 free stories
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