The new far-right government in Brazil

Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the veteran army captain who was the victor in the Brazilian presidential elections second round (run on September 28th 2018), has indicated ever more clearly how Brazil’s future government starting in January 1st 2019 will be like. By announcing the names of his cabinet ministers-to-be and through their statements, along with his own, he has been pointing to intentions and to the type of attitude we will be seeing in the Bolsonaro administration.

The socio-political coalition that supports this project gather military servicemembers, evangelicals, ruralists, entrepreneurs, former financial market professionals. The main minister in the future government, the Minister of Economy, is the financier Paulo Guedes, an ultraliberal with a University of Chicago doctorate. Social security reform, less worker rights (the future government has already announced an end to the octogenarian Ministry of Work), privatizations and fiscal adjustments coupled with the minimization of the State will probably be emphasized in the steering of the economy, a continuation to the Temer government. A core of state companies (the oil company Petrobras, the power company Eletrobras, the federal public banks) may be maintained by the president’s choice and by the influence of the military wing of government, which is made up of seven ministers, even more than in governments during the military dictatorship period (1964-1985).

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araujo, has been detaching himself from traditional Brazilian diplomacy, which, being more liberal or statist depending on the government, has always been grounded in pragmatism. The future chancellor has been championing a strict alignment with the United States in defense of what he considers to be “Western values”. The left and the liberal right would be “globalists”, anti-nationals. Multilateral agreements would be the expression of this globalism, and the Bolsonaro government has already stated that bilateral agreements will be prioritized. The adherence to the USA and to the Trump government in this sense (the son of the president-elect, the house representative Eduardo Bolsonaro, in a trip to the USA bore a cap reading “Trump 2020”, in clear allusion to the re-election campaign of the Republican president), and the signaling of a transference of the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as the criticism to the future leader to China (the main trade partner for Brazil) may prove problematic to the country in its relations with the Asian giant and also Arab countries. Regarding environmental issues, in which Brazil had come to act with aplomb, especially from the 2000’s onwards, and to be an important international agent, the new government has already been imposing setbacks. The Temer government, taking the request coming from the new government, communicated the Brazilian withdrawal from the talks to host the UN’s climate change summit in 2019.

The environment, relations with indigenous themes (the new president is against demarcating indigenous territories), issues related to the rights of minorities point to other setbacks. The environmental take in the new government seems to refer back to the dictatorhip, which looked at the Amazon forest, for example, as an obstacle to be removed as to benefit the development of the country. The new Minister for the “Woman, Family and Human Rights” affairs, an evangelical pastor, has already positioned herself against abortion and defends that women should go back to domestic chores, taking care of the kids, considering work outside the home as a nuisance. In educational matters, an ultraconservative academic appointed Minister of Education intends to advance the guidelines in “Nonpartisan School”, an authoritarian agenda that aims at destituting teachers of their constitutional right to expose their political views in defense of a supposed ideological “neutrality” in the classroom. Actually, the goal is to mute teachers with a critical outlook to inequalities and injustices, a behavioral trait of the left. The president-elect himself recorded a video encouraging students to report “ideological” teachers by filming them with cellphones. This McCarthyism of sorts will be a test to Brazilian institutions, especially the Supreme Federal Court, the guardian of the Constitution. The Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office will be tested in the next government, which has authoritarian inclinations, starting with the president. Both, in association with the big press, contributed to the political destabilization in Brazil in the last few years, with the selectiveness of its actions towards the then party in power, the Worker’s Party, and in the execution of a vengeful “spectacle-justice” with ample press coverage, generally sensationalist, and leaks of confidential investigations to the media. The way the corruption investigations were led, often disrespecting the law and the defendants’ rights, aflicted damage to the whole political system – all the traditional political parties have left the last election smaller than they were before. The far-right party of Bolsonaro was the one that most grew in the lower chamber in parliament, springboarding on this dissatisfaction.

We will witness whether the institutions will resist eventual authoritarian moves. The choosing of the main icon of the anti-corruption operation called “Operation Car Wash” to the office of the Ministry of Justice indicates that the standard for action in investigative institutions will probably remain the same. In the economic area the new government and the Brazilian bourgeoisie seem to be bent on enforcing the liberal shift (which has already been very harmful since 2015, still under the Dilma Rousseff administration, resulting in low economic growth and setbacks in social indexes), and roll over that which was erected during the developmentalist period (1930-1980), the historical period with the most Brazilian economic growth, with a new process of privatization.

Brazil is not on its own in the emergence of radicalism coming from the right. The German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck defends that capitalism is in need of more authoritarian institutions to impose order in face of increasing inequality. However, the country, as is the case with other countries in development, had been reducing inequality, even with its surge in the capitalist center, which could be seen in the 2000’s. With Bolsonaro what is expected is more neoliberalism. At what cost? The future will tell.