As much as we love to talk about the United States, and the downward spiral our political culture is currently enduring, it’s happening elsewhere, too, in frightening ways. While you may assume the rest of the world is looking at us in disgust, but many other countries are trending authoritarian, and Brazil is currently on the verge of electing “Tropical Trump”—the right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has been been in the Brazilian National Congress for 26 years. He is currently poised to be to be the next Brazilian president after winning 46 percent of the vote in the first round of Brazil’s two-round, absolute-majority system. He is a far-right conservative leader with a scary agenda. Bolsonaro has repeatedly stated that he favors returning Brazil to military dictatorship and vowed to stack his cabinet with high-ranking military officials. For a country that suffered under military dictatorship from 1964-1985, you’d think these warning signs would have doomed Bolsonaro. Surely a country that so recently embraced democracy wouldn’t voluntarily backslide, right? Think again. The country’s workers’ party, “PT,” became synonymous with corruption, creating an economy that has left more and more people destitute and fueled violence. Brazilians are thus desperate for change.
Corruption has governed Brazil for decades with the most recent scandal leaving the country in ruin and sending hundreds of leaders to jail. The popular former president, Lula da Silva, was prohibited from running in this election after pleading guilty to bribery and remains in prison. The current president Michel Temer has refused to step down despite a seven percent approval rating.
Brazilian anger is understandable. Over 50 million Brazilians, 25 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. The poor have an average daily income of $5.50 a day. Fourteen million people are unemployed, taxes are at an all-time high, government services have been cut or eliminated and more schools close their doors every day.
This material deprivation has driven more people to crime. Homicide is a at an all-time high, with more than 63,000 murders in 2017—over 170 killed per day on average. In favelas (poor ghettos) a black Brazilian child is killed every 23 minutes. Thirty percent of people living in Rio de Janeiro will find themselves in the vicinity of a cross-fire this year, and there is now an app for your phone that warns you where there is live gunfire and police activity. Like Uber, but for dodging bullets. Bolsonaro himself was stabbed while campaigning and is unable to stump for the remainder of his candidacy.
Poor and working-class people living in favelas are terrifyingly likely to be murdered by a gang or the police. Sadly, it is legal for the police to kill just about anyone under any pretext. Despite pacification efforts, police still enter into favelas and end up in shoot-outs. In 2015, five pacification officers were caught framing a victim by placing a gun into the hands of an unarmed teenager they had just shot. The police claim they are trying to crack down on rampant drug violence, but their ineffective tactics have allowed both drug use and drug violence between gangs to escalate.
Brazilians watched with envy as their western counterparts bounced back from the 2008 global financial crisis. Against this backdrop, Jair Bolsonaro’s promises to put “Brazil First,” cut taxes, and root out corruption have become appealing to millions of Brazilians. Sound familiar? Bolsonaro rails against left-wing policies in stump speeches, he describes same-sex marriage as a sin and says homosexuals should be beaten. Bolsonaro claims the last military dictatorship wasn’t ruthless enough, and could easily have gone farther. In a country plagued by gun violence, he favors relaxing gun laws and believes the police should have more authority.
Bolsonaro tweets about combating “fake news,” while using WhatsApp to direct propaganda at at evangelicals and right-wing conservatives. Like Trump, he he spreads conspiracy theories about non-existant voting fraud. Bolsonaro states that a vote for the Workers’ Party would be a vote to turn Brazil into a second Venezuela, while his congressman son, Eduardo, proposed eliminating the Brazilian Supreme Court.
This Sunday’s elections will determine whether the world’s fourth largest democracy leapfrogs the second largest down the road to authoritarianism. Thankfully, movements are organizing to stop him, most significantly “Ele Não” which translates to “Not Him.” Bolsonaro terrifies progressives in the country, and they are pleading with Brazilians not to answer joblessness and corruption with more violence and hatred. They support the Workers’ Party candidate,Fernando Haddad, who promises to root out corruption without surrendering the country to bigotry and authoritarianism.
But they face a daunting challenge.
My family lives in Brazil and survived the military dictatorship, yet some members are contemplating a vote for Bolsonaro, knowing he wants to bring the dictatorship back. He has persuaded good people to place the democracy they fought for at risk. Brazil has one last chance to make the right decision this Sunday, but Bolsonaro has tapped into fear of both the future and the past, and left Brazil on the precipice of a disastrous, and fateful choice.
Viva de Vicq is an intern at Crooked Media.