Two years of misrule – the attack on human rights

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By JULIAN RODRIGUES*

Jair Bolsonaro is an authoritarian extremist who adapted to the scenario of capitalist crisis and rise of right-wing leaders

“Hey, be careful, Bolsonaro is going to kill a faggot!” – a shout chanted at Sé station, the main station on the São Paulo subway, was recorded in a video that had a lot of repercussions on social networks. We were at the very beginning of October in the year of grace 2018, which, on its twenty-eighth day, saw the victory of Jair Messias Bolsonaro in the second round of the Brazilian presidential elections.

LGBTI, feminist, anti-racist activism knew very well the authoritarian character – and his discriminatory and violent preaching – that ascended to the Planalto. By September 29, responding to the call of the women's movement, millions of people had taken to the streets. They shouted loud and clear: “Not him”.

“Vira Voto”: another movement of democratic sectors, artists, women, young people, intellectuals, who, in a voluntary and self-organized way, took to the streets in a final effort to prevent the neo-fascist from triumphing.

In the wake of the coup against Dilma and the arrest of Lula and with a knife attack against Bolsonaro, a tsunami swept the country and nobody understood it right at the time. We still didn't know what was happening on social media: Bannon, Mercer, Cambridge Analytica, big data, micro-target, psychometrics, international influence, none of that was public knowledge.

However, two elements could not be ignored. The first: Dilma suffered a new type of coup in 2016 (parliamentary-media-judiciary). Bolsonaro's positions and profile have always been clear – the second element about which ignorance could not be claimed.

The elites who sponsored the coup against the PT, lacking their usual neoliberal (Alckmin) in the second round, knew very well what they were doing by supporting the former captain. The iconic and revealing Editorial of Estadão of October 8, 2018, is the summary of the opera: “a very difficult choice”. On the one hand, the democratic and social-liberal teacher; on the other, the neo-fascist gorilla who signed an opportunistic alliance with the neoliberals. They delved deep into authoritarianism: the important thing is Paulo Guedes' program: a primitive ultraliberalism.

One day the penny will fall

Our chief genius, the cartoonist Laerte, has a cartoon where she draws a giant, old-fashioned telephone plug approaching Earth orbit – with the following caption: “the big plug, at some point, it will fall”.

Or not. After months, after the perplexity and scare with the election of the former deputy from Rio de Janeiro, with a lot of things coming to the public, even so, there is a difficulty in understanding the nature of the Bolsonaro government. Both right and left.

On the “liberal right”, the scare is due to an expectation that Bolsonaro would adapt to the system and be contained. They don't understand their logic of permanent confrontation, they despise their positions on civil liberties, culture, environment, women's rights and LGBT. But, they always continued “passing the cloth”, because in the end, Paulo Guedes would be the great guarantor of the pro-financial market policies (“craziness” of the Bolsonaro family revealed).

In 1988, the promulgation of the “Citizen Constitution” initiated what would become the longest period of validity of a liberal-democratic regime in Brazilian history. It has been 28 years of a political-electoral system with democratic freedoms and respect for majorities constituted at the polls.

In short: whoever won the presidential elections, took it. The Armed Forces, although not held accountable for the crimes they committed during the dictatorship, were excluded from the political game.

It was only 28 years of democratic “normality”. Does it seem little? It seems and it is. However, it ended up constituting the longest period of liberal democracy in Brazil. Since the military coup of 1889 that “proclaimed the republic”, we have never had a democratic and stable political regime – of almost three decades – that was also permeable to the electoral victory of progressive blocs and parties that, at the head of the government, would execute a project of social welfare.

By losing, by a small margin, the 2014 presidential elections (the fourth in a row), a process of destabilization and overthrow of the progressive government of Dilma Rousseff was triggered – with ups and downs.

In practice, a complex articulation that involved the interests of the so-called “deep state” North American (or the old imperialism, if you prefer); financial capital and other sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, the big corporate media, the Armed Forces, most of the justice system, especially the Public Ministry, Federal Police, under the baton of Moro); right-wing and center-right parties.

It was a movement to break with the 1988 pact.

They gave up trying to win the vote, waiting for the next election. They decided to overthrow the PT president, before old Lula could run for office in the next election and win. That's why the putsch 2016 has to be seen as a continuum – was only completed in 2018, with the arrest and banning of the only candidate who could, upon winning, undo the coup and resume a popular-democratic program.

It remains idle to speculate what would be the “plan A” of those who carried out the coup. They probably projected the election of a reliable, respected neoliberal, accustomed to the democratic game. As if the interregnum between the 16th and 18th (with the traitor Temer making the “bridge”) was just a mere setback, a bitter medicine, the price to pay for the return of the glorious times.

Bolsonaro was not the ideal path in the upstairs confabulations, but, with Paulo Guedes as guarantor of the former military’s commitments, recently converted to the theses of the “market”, why not?

Rupture. The neo-fascist and ultra-liberal government

Bolsonaro is not crazy. Pathologizing political analysis is an old mistake. Many people committed it with Mussolini and Hitler. And it follows, in mid-2021, on this path: the president would be sociopath, psychopath, I don't know.

Bolsonaro is not an imbecile. Not stupid, not incapable, none of that. Worse than pathologizing the opponent is underestimating his ability. No one gets to the Presidency of the Republic, by popular vote, being ignorant or inept.

There is no trace of irrationality in Bolsonaro's actions. On the contrary. He is an authoritarian extremist who understood – and adapted – to the scenario of capitalist crisis and the rise of right-wing leaders.

Bolsonaro made a tactical alliance with radical neoliberalism. But, like every fascist leader, he is pragmatic. He guaranteed emergency aid plus an expansionist fiscal policy in 2020 – and continues to mediate his electoral pretensions in the face of the destructive fiscal appetite of Paulo Guedes’s group.

In short: it is an “atypical government”. Outside the standards of a “liberal democracy”. It is a neo-fascist government, with a mass base, in alliance with the ultraliberals. Pragmatic, hungry for power, he will do everything not to fall or lose the 2022 elections.

Closing the regime is Bolsonaro's strategic objective. The government advances and retreats in successive approximations. In March 2021, he waved with the decree of a “state of siege”.

We don't know precisely, but there are something like 10 military personnel occupying government positions – not even during the military dictatorship have we seen such a thing. About 100 soldiers in key positions, such as at the top of state companies and heading the main Ministries.

Military protection adds to the consolidation of Bolsonarist support in the military police and militias. In addition, the organic alliance with evangelical fundamentalism (the merchant pastors of the faith), more coarse ruralists – and all kinds of reactionary urban middle classes – mainly white men.

And Bolsonaro, even with 300 thousand dead in front of him, remains a powerful leader. He has 30% support. This index may even fluctuate downwards a little, but it is a solid, constant level.

It's no use cursing. It is urgent to understand the regressive phenomenon in order to face it. Incidentally, even if Lula defeats Bolsonaro in 2022 (if there are elections under normal conditions), Bolsonarism will remain strong and firm, for years to come.

Bolsonaro and the “customs agenda”

The hard core of Bolsonarism is the dispute over values. What many call the “culture wars”. This is neither an original nor a recent strategy. In the USA, for example, since at least the end of the 1970s, we have witnessed the mobilization of moral panic, on the part of conservative sectors, in relation to the issues of women's rights and LGBT people.

It is fundamental to register the use and abuse of this “super strict” category, to such an agenda of customs. From columnists in the mainstream media, through progressive columnists to iconic people on the left, it's like putting a series of disconnected topics in the same basket (like putting unimportant things together).

Democratic freedoms, civil rights, sexual and reproductive rights, freedom of orientation and gender, secularism of the State, freedom of belief, equality between women and men, racial equality, protection of the environment, plurality, free culture, guarantee of human rights , freedom of expression, assembly and association, culture of peace (disarmament), tackling structural racism, sexism and discrimination against LGBT.

Who knows why the media tends to label all of this as a “customs agenda”, while, in fact, it is a broad agenda of rights.

It sounds like something from the 1930s. Something from the “customs police station”, the department in charge of repressing workers to arrest the vagrancy crowd: blacks, poor people, faggots, transvestites, samba dancers, artists, etc and such.

Why so many smart people use that term (right and left) to this day, I have no idea. Intellectual laziness, perhaps. After all, what is the relationship between the liberation of weapons, environmental policy and women's rights? Why would all this be something framed in “customs agenda”?

It is therefore important to reconstitute the disputes related to sexual and reproductive rights and how the spread of moral panic was an important part of the strengthening of moral conservatism, religious fundamentalism, and, finally, Bolsonarist neo-fascism, based on the spread of fake newss.

At least since the 2010 elections, there has been a conservative wave driven, above all, by evangelical fundamentalist sectors and Catholic conservatives, who oppose sexual and reproductive rights.

Eight years before Bolsonaro's victory, the PSDB candidate, José Serra, manipulates and takes issues such as abortion, religiosity, lesbianism to the center of the electoral debate. Serra attacks Dilma in this “moral-religious” field and revolves, at that time via e-mail, the core of the discussions – economics and politics come out, “values” come in.

The agenda of LGBTI rights, for example, has been raised to the center of political-electoral disputes since then. And there it stayed.

This conservative rise managed to block, in 2014 and 2015, the approval, in the National Plan – and in the State and Municipal Education Plans – of any measure aimed at promoting respect for gender equality and sexual diversity in schools.

Politicians, pastors, priests, bishops, deputies, councilors, imported the term “gender ideology”. They disseminated the idea that discussing gender in education is equivalent to defending the destruction of families, the dissolution of children's identities and even encouraging pedophilia.

Vague, polysemantic expression, “gender ideology” functioned as a kind of trigger and password for reactionary mobilization. A scarecrow.

Galvanizing a series of ideas and fears, produced within the scope of religious conservatism, this movement helped trigger moral panics mainly related to the integrity of children and adolescents and the well-being of families.

“Gender ideology” and LGBTI rights were central themes of Bolsonaro’s campaign, axes of manipulation of the mega-structure of distribution of false content on social networks.

As we know, the Bolsonarist propaganda machine distributed millions of fake news, via whatsapp, stating that the progressive candidate, Fernando Haddad (PT) advocated distributing gay kits in schools, indoctrinating children.

Messages were also spread stating that the candidate Haddad had made baby bottles available in day care centers in São Paulo, which would have a nipple in the shape of a penis (the rumor became known as the “cock bottle”).

The anti-gender and anti-LGBTI crusade promoted by conservative Catholicism and, above all, by pastors/parliamentary, neo-Pentecostal media leaders found in the military deputy, Jair, a powerful voice, who competitively disputed the presidential elections.

Moral panic, an important part of Bolsonaro's victory, can be faced. Poor, evangelical women and men are not essentially conservative or moralistic.

Facing Bolsonaro is only possible from the recognition that there is logic, method, project and ideology in this apparently disjointed and crude government.

Destruction and genocide

We've never gone so far back in such a short time. The virulence with which Bolsonaro (radicalizing Temer) attacks social rights and public policies, and, simultaneously, operates an irrationalist agenda (against culture, education, science, the environment, human rights) is something unprecedented in our story.

The Bolsonarist program of deconstitution of the rights of the people and destruction of the Brazilian State puts us in the 1920s. A country where there are no labor rights, but also has no vaccine, no investment in science or public university.

The 300 thousand dead in March 2021 are still the beginning of a much bigger tragedy. Why Bolsonaro's project is the death of the "weak". It is the exaltation of the strength of his followers. It is obscurantist, denialist, irrationalist – fascist, in short.

Stopping Bolsonarism will take longer than defeating President Jair. Even with the ongoing social, economic and health tragedy, if there are elections with a minimum of normalcy in 2022, Lula is the favorite. The crossing is painful and long. May 2021 be a time to build up strength, not just regret and cry. Time to join diverse forces to rebuild a devastated country.

* Julian Rodrigues is a professor, journalist and activist of the LGBTI and Human Rights movements.

 

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