Brazil Is Falling Under an Evil Political Spell

Brazil is falling under an evil political spell. The leading candidate in the presidential election is Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing politician. It is as if voters are sleepwalking their way to destruction of Brazilian democracy. Under the spell’s influence, they have become blind to the truth about Brazilian politics and blind to their better nature.

The resurrection of the fascist political tradition

Bolsonaro represents the resurrection of the fascist political tradition. That tradition discards norms of decency, tolerance, compromise and due process whenever they obstruct taking power.

He is an open advocate of racism, sexism, torture, and police execution squads. Those views are paired with a neoliberal economic program which aims to savage Brazil’s welfare state and privatize key state assets. That economic program has won him the support of the business elite, which has been willing to overlook his fascist inclinations as part of the bargain.

Brazil is sleepwalking

Bolsonaro’s popularity is inconsistent with Brazil’s expressed political preferences, which is why it is as if Brazil is sleepwalking. Past polls have shown about 65 percent of Brazilians support democracy.

Even more striking is the fact that former President Lula was the most popular political figure prior to the election. However, Brazil’s corrupt political elite imprisoned him on fake corruption charges and, with Lula barred from the election, Bolsonaro has become the front-runner. That speaks to the blinding power of the evil spell since Bolsonaro is the polar opposite of Lula.

A poisonous political potion, voter amnesia, and shapeshifting

Voters’ zombie condition reflects the poisonous political potion the elite has force-fed them. The feeding tubes have been a parliamentary coup and a dishonest media.

The potion has induced an amnesia whereby voters have forgotten history. They have forgotten how President Lula’s administration oversaw an economic miracle of growth with rising wages and declining inequality.

At the same time, the potion has enabled a shapeshift whereby the Workers’ Party (PT) has been falsely tarred as the party of corruption. The reality is the massive decades long thievery for personal enrichment was restricted to the business elite and political establishment. The PT received a relatively small amount of money, which it used for political purposes to grease Brazil’s corrupt Congress. Sadly, the novice PT government was confronted with the fact that Brazil is ungovernable without such grease.

Economic history rewritten

Worse yet, the long recession has been falsely blamed on the PT. The truth is Brazil’s long recession was triggered by the financial crisis of 2008 that began on Wall Street. President Rousseff advocated modest fiscal stimulus to help recovery, but her political opponents obstructed her and then impeached her for using improper budget accounting procedures that previous presidents had also used on a smaller scale.

A political vacuum and the appeal of authoritarianism

The charge against President Rousseff was technical budget improprieties. The real motive was to regain power and stop the “Car Wash” corruption investigation that implicated most of the political establishment, but not Rousseff.

The political elite regained power through its parliamentary “impeachment” coup. However, it was unable to hide its massive criminal corruption, which discredited it and created a political vacuum Bolsonaro has filled.

With the PT falsely smeared and the political establishment discredited, Bolsonaro’s neo-fascism began to appear attractive. He combines authoritarianism and nationalism. Authoritarianism offers false certainty, while nationalism exploits Brazilians’ loyalty to their country. All that is wrapped in the blanket of social conservatism, which incites the self-righteous and deceives the exploited.

Bolsonaro and the five big lies

Ninety years ago Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis learned the power of the “Big Lie”. Tell a big lie often and loudly enough, and it will be believed. Bolsonaro’s candidacy is built on five big lies.

Lie number one, and the most important lie, is that the PT is corrupt and the same as Brazil’s thieving elite. The reality is the elite has enriched itself, stealing tens of millions from the Brazilian state and people. There is no equivalent behavior by the PT.

Lie number two is the PT is responsible for the long economic recession. The truth is the recession was triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, and deepened by Brazil’s political elite which suffocated President Rousseff’s economic stimulus plans.

Lie number three is Bolsonaro is the candidate of patriotism. The truth is he is the anti-Brazil. Brazil is the country of the “beautiful game” and Pelé, of Samba and Bossa Nova, of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Those are what have made Brazil a global cultural force. Since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, Brazilians have struggled for social progress and succeeded. Bolsonaro is the opposite of all that. He would destroy tolerance and multi-culturalism, roll-back social progress, and inflict a new dictatorship.

Lie number four is Bolsonaro is the anti-crime candidate. Brazil has a gang and street crime problem owing to narco-trafficking and poverty. The solution is economic recovery and jobs, plus a narco-trafficking strategy. Bolsonaro will worsen poverty by his anti-worker policies. He also wants to kill the gangsters. The reality is many innocents will die, civil rights will be anihilated, and street gangsterism will be supplemented by police gangsterism. Brazil will have both street crime and police crime, making Bolsonaro the king of crime.

Lie number five is Bolsonaro is the anti-corruption candidate. The reality is he is allied with the neoliberal bankers who want to privatize and pillage the Brazilian state. He is an authoritarian, and authoritarianism always breeds corruption and economic inefficiency because it lacks accountability and checks.

The magic question: is that what you really want?

There is an antidote to the spell. Bolsonaro is the anti-Brazil. He is openly racist and tacitly approving of rape; a supporter of torture, extra-judicial killing, and dictatorship; and his neoliberal economic program aims to slash the welfare state. The antidote is to show the real Bolsonaro and then ask Brazilians “is that what you really want from your next president?”

Since the end of the last dictatorship, Brazil has enjoyed three decades of social progress. That history means voters know the answer if only they are asked the magic question.

Boycott the Rio Olympics to Defend Brazilian Democracy

By Thomas Palley

Reposted from Thomas Palley’s blog.

Terrible anti-democratic events are now unfolding in Brazil with the constitutional coup against President Dilma Rousseff, organized through a cooked-up impeachment trial.

The impeachment coup represents a naked attempt by corrupt neoliberal elements to seize power in Brazil. Make no mistake: it is a threat to democracy and social progress in Brazil, Latin America, and even the global community at large.

If Brazilian voices concur, the world should respond by boycotting the Rio Olympics scheduled for this August.

Background: the capture and perversion of Brazil’s war on corruption

The constitutional coup against President Rousseff represents a capture and perversion of Brazil’s war on political corruption. As is widely known, Brazil has been rocked by revelations of massive corruption centered on its national oil company, Petrobras, but extending far beyond.

Political corruption is endemic in Brazil and is a curse upon the country. As a consequence, governing without recourse to corruption is almost impossible as bribery and kickbacks have historically been the only way of passing legislation in Brazil’s fractured Congress.

To their shame, some members of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) government under President Lula succumbed to this curse. However, the PT’s involvement is a small fraction of the overall scandal, which infects the entirety of right-wing and business opposition parties far more extensively.

The opposition parties saw both threat and opportunity in the corruption scandal. The threat was exposure of their own pervasive corruption. The opportunity was the possibility of using the economic recession and the PT’s tainting to overthrow President Rousseff, thereby capturing government, blocking their own prosecution for corruption, and putting a stop to the social progress and reversal of income inequality the PT has achieved.

Zero evidence of Rousseff’s corruption

But try as they might, the opposition has found no evidence of corruption on the part of President Rousseff, something that may be unique in the presidential history of Brazil. A cynic might even say that is the real root of Rousseff’s political failure, as her honesty has likely turned the system against her.

Lacking evidence of corruption, the opposition has turned to impeaching Rousseff on grounds of violating technical budget laws in her prior term (2011-14), when she used temporary budget financing from the national development bank. This practice is known as “pedaling” and has been used before by governments, including that of President Fernando Cardoso. They were never sanctioned, yet Cardoso and his party now support impeachment.

The practice of budget pedaling was declared illegal by the Federal Court of Accounts in April 2015 and the Rousseff administration immediately moved to pay off its pedaling debts.

But rather than seeing that judgment as definitively clarifying permissible budget practice, the right-wing and business opposition that controls Brazil’s Congress has contrived to impeach President Rousseff for past budget technicality violations.

As evidenced by their own past budget practices and thievery, the impeachment is not aimed at correcting and preventing fiscal misappropriation. Instead, the goal is to exploit the decision to gain power that they could not secure at the ballot box.

Coup of the corrupt and vicious

The most egregious aspect of the process is that the impeachment has been led by persons already convicted of corruption or facing imminent conviction, along with vicious authoritarians and retrograde neoliberals.

Congressman Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the Brazil’s lower house, has just been ordered to step down for taking $40 million in bribes.

Senator Renan Calheiros, President of Brazil’s upper house, has a history of being disciplined for ethical violations and is currently under investigation for taking numerous major kickback payments.

Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who was an outspoken lower house supporter of impeachment, dedicated his vote to Brazil’s past military dictatorship and the colonel who tortured Rousseff in the 1970s when she fought back against the dictatorship.

Interim president, Michel Temer, has already been disciplined for campaign finance violations that render him ineligible to run for office. He is also under investigation as part of the Petrobras scandal.

Temer, who is not a member of the PT, has appointed a viciously neoliberal cabinet. That means Brazil, which elected President Rousseff of the Workers’ Party in 2014, now has a neoliberal government.

The agriculture minister is Blairo Maggi, an agribusiness billionaire known as the “soy king”, who is said to have destroyed more rain forest than any living person.

The minister of justice, Alexandre de Moraes, has been an open advocate of police repression in the state of Sao Paulo, and he has also now been given charge of the human rights ministry.

The minister of institutional security (which includes Brazil’s CIA) is General Etchegoyen, whose father was identified by Brazil’s Truth Commission as responsible for murder and torture during the dictatorship. Etchegoyen dismissed those charges as “frivolous”.

Lastly, the minister of finance is Henrique Meirelles, former CEO of Bank of Boston and an advocate of the most extreme neoliberal financial policies.

This ugly cast of characters makes crystal clear what is happening in Brazil.

Boycott the Olympics

The impeachment coup represents a grave threat to democracy and social progress in Brazil and Latin America. Democratic civil society in Brazil urgently needs the world’s help. If opponents of the coup call for a boycott of the Rio Olympics, the global community of democracies should immediately sign on.

An Olympic boycott could be a beautiful and powerful action. It can brilliantly spotlight the culpability and corruption of the coup conspirators, while sending a global message in support of democracy.

Everyone knows Olympics and World Cups are both sporting and political events. Governments use these events to gain legitimacy, which means the Rio Olympics now risks conferring tacit approval on the coup against President Rousseff.

History provides evidence of past failures to help, and those failures illustrate the need for present action. The greatest failure was the 1936 Berlin Olympics that gave tacit to approval to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. In 1978 the global community failed Argentina by participating in the World Cup at a time when Argentina’s dictators were brutally torturing and murdering Argentines by the thousands.

Stop the revival of anti-democratic Latin American politics

The stakes are high. Brazil is being closely watched by anti-democratic reactionary forces throughout Latin America. The global community must act vigorously to stop Brazil’s constitutional coup dead in its tracks.

Failure to do so will condemn Brazilian democracy and send a signal throughout the region legitimizing right-wing anti-democratic politics. That risks reviving the tragic cycle of political violence that has so injured Latin America in the recent past. Boycotting the Rio Olympics might help prevent that outcome.