Tactical retreat?

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By PAULO NOGUEIRA BATISTA JR.*

Bolsonaro is not brave. Knowing that he had no support for a coup and in the face of strong reactions from the Supreme Court, Congress and the media, he shivered in his career

After all the riots, rows and threats produced by Bolsonaro and his followers in recent weeks, where do we end up? What balance can you make? Easy question to ask, but practically impossible to answer with certainty. I try anyway, because it has undeniable importance.

Bolsonaro had been weakening since the beginning of the year, as we know, and was running increasing legal and political risks – his children and himself. He decided to give a show of strength on September 7th. It achieved? Yes and no. He put vociferous crowds on the streets, in Brasília and, above all, in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Despite this, and to the disappointment of his more radical base, he decided to retreat soon after. He gave a show of strength, but then one of weakness?

There are those who maintain, even in the opposition camp, that there was no sign of weakness, that the retreat was calculated, tactical, well thought out. A masterstroke? Was there any method to all this madness?

Well, anything is possible. But no one convinces me that resorting to Michel Temer was not a clear, even shameful, sign of the president's weakness. In a sentence: Bolsonaro was caught bluffing with a pair of sevens. On Avenida Paulista, he spoke, exalted, with openly coup-like words. Harvested storm. The next day, the real and imminent risk of impeachment became clear.

Bolsonaro is not brave. Knowing that he had no support for a coup and in the face of strong reactions from the Supreme Court, Congress and the media, he shivered in his career. He dropped despair. And, humbly, he sent a plane to pick up Temer in São Paulo. Without much ado, he offered a heartfelt apology, credited his own words to the heat of the moment, and signed a public letter of regret. With the intermediation of his predecessor, he even telephoned his archenemy, Minister Alexandre de Morais, to explain himself and offer sincere wishes of friendship. Tactical retreat or shameful surrender? If all this doesn't characterize weakness, I don't understand anything else.

At this point, no one believes these retreats by the president. The noises of acceptance were of the most obvious and crystalline hypocrisy. Everyone imagines that he will go back to mischief, on a large scale, as soon as he can and it seems convenient. It's what he knows how to do.

It is clear that the government is increasingly isolating itself. He lost respect and any shred of trust. It also wore out its base, although perhaps not definitively.

It should be noted that its relations with economic power are proving to be increasingly difficult. The marked deterioration in the prospects for activity, employment and inflation helped to consolidate the perception that little or nothing positive will come from Brasília. Until two or three months, there could be hope of a significant recovery of the Brazilian economy, which would favor the chances of re-election. Bolsonaro would be at his lowest point, but the economy would save him.

That hope has dissipated. Stagflation elects no one. The economy grows little, unemployment continues and will remain high, inflation has been surprising negatively, month after month. In response to the rise in inflation and inflation expectations, the Central Bank hastens to raise the basic interest rate, emptying the perspective of GDP growth in the period between now and the presidential election. The international economic picture won't help much either.

Thus, with inexcusable delay, the so-called national GDP (or a good part of it) distanced itself from the government and shows signs that it has turned into opposition, albeit discreet, albeit moderate. They already realize – and this is a truly inexcusable defect – that Bolsonaro is not even good enough to defeat former President Lula. Abroad, the president has long been a pariah. And these foreign opinions greatly influence the way the local buffalo group positions itself in relation to Bolsonaro. Feeling increasingly ashamed of their foreign peers, Brazilian buffoons try to dissociate themselves from the ongoing disaster.

However, we have to be coldly realistic. The sad, regrettable and depressing fact remains that Bolsonaro has not yet reached the end of the line. The 7th of September showed, after all, that a part of society not only supports the government, but is willing to take to the streets in its defense. For now, and we'll see for how long, opinion polls continue to point to 25% or a little less of great/good for the president. After everything that's happened, 25% is an enormity – an unmistakable sign of the size of the hole we find ourselves in.

This has motivated many good people to insist on the broad front thesis, a front beyond the left and center left, which mobilizes in defense of democracy and against fascism. Some were ready to make the sacrifice of strolling down Paulista Avenue arm in arm like the MBL kids.

But let's put the debauchery aside. The wide front is undoubtedly a great idea. We could only dispense with it if the federal government was really on the ball. So broad front please!

Small problem: the non-Bolsonarist right, gathered in the search for a third way, has a true horror of the left. Some say, even on the left, that we are too sectarian. It might even be. However, the sectarianism of the third way is much more pronounced. She harbors deep disgust for the people and the political sectors that try to represent them. After all, let's not lose sight of the fact that third way “democrats” were the sponsors of a parliamentary coup against a democratically elected president. They forgot nothing, learned nothing. And they suffer horrors with the prospect of Lula's return in 2023.

I'll stop here. I have no more words in my mouth. The truth, reader, is that Brazil is killing us.

I continue to believe, as I wrote in this column, that our future is just around the corner. But this “right there” takes so long to arrive!

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he holds the Celso Furtado Chair at the College of High Studies at UFRJ. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard: backstage of the life of a Brazilian economist in the IMF and the BRICS and other texts on nationalism and our mongrel complex (LeYa).

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letter on September 17, 2021.

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