The destruction of Brazil



Since the coronavirus crisis, the destruction promoted by Bolsonaro and his government has gained an urgency and literalness that one could not imagine.

“By the way, João Gilberto for me is exactly the moment when this happened: the information of musical modernity used in the recreation, in the renewal, in taking a step forward of Brazilian popular music….” (Caetano Veloso).

In the already infamous dinner speech at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington on March 17, 2019, Bolsonaro stated: “Brazil is not open ground, where we intend to build things for our people”. And he explained: “we have to deconstruct a lot of things and then start doing them again”. There is no doubt that the occasion was special, since the president, on his first visit to the US, met exponents of the extreme right, such as the “strategist” Steve Bannon, the “investor” Gerald Brant and the “guru” Olavo de Carvalho.

Bolsonaro's destructive purposes contrast with much of the most important reflection on Brazil. As noted by Paulo Arantes (1992), curiously, a significant portion of the most relevant works on the country bear the word “training” in the title. This “almost genre” includes books such as Formation of contemporary Brazil (1942), by Caio Prado Jr., Brazil's economic formation (1959), by Celso Furtado, and Formation of Brazilian Literature (1959), by Antonio Candido [1].

The “family feel” of this bibliography is not mere chance, since the communist militant, the economist and the literary critic reflected from a country that was a colony and aspired to become a nation. In other words, he wanted to overcome subordination to become more autonomous.

On the other hand, as noted by Roberto Schwarz (1999), this aspiration manifests itself differently in different dimensions. It is one thing to talk about the formation of literature, a process through which, as Candido shows, around the end of the XNUMXth century, a “literary system” was constituted, composed of producers (writers), public (readers) and a language that makes possible the communication between them. Another thing is to deal with economic training.

Furtado, not by chance, discussed “interrupted construction” in one of his last works. He realized, at the end of the XNUMXth century, that the “emergence of a system whose main dynamic center is the internal market” had already become a distant goal. Prado Jr., on the other hand, showed that the colony of exploitation, “simple business”, would bring the potential to become an original society, which contrasts with the settlement colonies of England in North America, which would be nothing more than an extension of Europe. .

Despite the differences in elaborations, the coincidences in the “obsession with training” are remarkable, present in areas that we are used to thinking of as practically incommunicable, such as literature and economics. No less significant is how the same reasoning can be used to think about other Brazilian experiences.

Perhaps the reference to “formation” works especially well to deal with what is conventionally called Brazilian popular music (MPB), as Caetano Veloso pointed out more than fifty years ago. João Gilberto, like Machado de Assis, was able to absorb the best of a tradition and transform it. In this case, its innovation – the peculiar guitar beat – started from samba, a symbol of Brazilian identity since the 1930s, to modify it, by influences of “samba song” or North American jazz [2].

Jair Bolsonaro's reaction to the death of João Gilberto is also revealing. Prompted to comment on it, he simply replied: “(it was) a well-known person. Our condolences to the family, okay?” In other words, the president's statement makes it clear that he is indifferent to the death of one of the greatest Brazilian musicians. The head of the nation can, at most, offer protocol condolences to the family.

It is possible to argue that one could not expect anything else from Bolsonaro. After all, as he made clear at dinner at the Brazilian embassy in Washington, he was elected to “deconstruct a lot of things”. And the Brazil of João Gilberto is certainly not the Brazil of Bolsonaro. It is precisely the “land” that the musician helped to build that the president intends to destroy. Coincidence or not, the first album by the Bahia native from Juazeiro, “Chega de Saudades”, appeared in 1959, the same year as the publication of Formation of Brazilian Literature e Economic formation of Brazil.

The Brazilian bourgeoisie helped elect Bolsonaro with the explicit intention of bringing down what is left of the developmental state that Furtado helped create. For about forty years we have heard the litany that it is inefficient and must give way to the market, where its agents, by pursuing their own benefits, would bring wealth to society as a whole.

Others voted for Bolsonaro in reaction against “cultural Marxism”, a scarecrow that ends up being equivalent to any form of critical thinking or non-conformist artistic manifestation, such as the creations of Candido, João Gilberto and the best of Brazilian culture.

There is nothing new in saying that Bolsonaro's project is destructive. He himself, as well as the intellectuals in his service, never hid this.

It can also be said that the reference to “training” no longer makes sense, as has been insisted since at least the 1990s. This was a time when “globalization” was advancing, making municipal projects impossible. Furthermore, since then, it has become clearer that the countries that served as a model for us were no longer as well integrated as we imagined. Significantly, people began to talk about the “Brazilianization” of the world.

However, since the coronavirus crisis, the destruction promoted by Bolsonaro and his government has gained an urgency and literalness that could not have been imagined two months ago. Ironically, one of the few instruments that Brazil has to fight the pandemic is a late product of the previous construction momentum: the Unified Health System (SUS), created in the 1988 Constitution, as a result of a “coalition” of public health doctors. .

In contrast, the current neoliberal economic team intends to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the crisis to “make more flexible” what remains of the labor legislation with the pretext of stimulating employment. Not to mention the deaths caused by the sabotage by the president and his assistants of the essential social isolation, justified, at best, by a reasoning close to social Darwinism.

It is therefore necessary to stop Bolsonaro. The cost, if we don't act soon, could be too high: we just don't have any land left to build on.

*Bernardo Ricupero is a professor of political science at USP. Author, among other books, of Seven lessons on interpreting Brazil (Avenue).


[1] On the literature on formation, cf. Rafael Marino, The figurations of training in Brazilian thought.

[2] See GARCIA, Walter. Bim bom: the contradiction without conflicts of João Gilberto.


ARANTES, Paul. Provisions of a literary critic on the periphery of capitalism”. D´INCAO, Maria Angela and SCARABANTOLO, Eloísa F. Inside the text, inside life: essays on Antonio Candido. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1992.

GARCIA, Walter. Bim bom: the contradiction without conflicts of João Gilberto. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1999.

MARINO, Raphael. Formation figurations in Brazilian thought. Curitiba: Appris, (in press).

SCHWARZ, Robert. “The seven breaths of a book” in Brazilian sequels, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1999.

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