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‘A political rupture’: far right ready to roll in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

When Colonel Márcio Tadeu de Lemos surveys his native land he sees a calamitous morass of backwardness and blood-letting, leftist kleptomania and moral rot.

“Brazil is living through a catastrophe: a political catastrophe, an administrative catastrophe, a financial catastrophe and a security catastrophe,” lamented the 53-year-old veteran of São Paulo’s military police. “It’s an utterly disagreeable state of affairs.”

But when Lemos looks to the future he sees Bolsonarian bliss – an orderly rightwing republic blazing a prosperous and profoundly conservative trail into the future under the helmsmanship of the far-right president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro.

“It’s a political rupture,” enthused Lemos, one of 52 newly elected congressmen from Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal party (PSL). “We are closing one cycle and starting another.”

That cycle officially begins on 1 January when Bolsonaro – a political minnow who has surfed to the pinnacle of Brazilian politics on a tsunami of conservatism and voter discontent – takes office.

But already in the few days since his victory the former paratrooper has given Brazil – and the world – a dizzying, and to many disturbing, glimpse of the rightist roller-coaster ahead.

In interviews Bolsonaro has reaffirmed his regard for Brazil’s 1964-85 dictatorship and vowed to brand social movements such as the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) terrorists.

He has publicly embraced a radical televangelist who calls himself “public enemy number one” of the gay movement and invited another commander of Brazil’s religious right to his home, stirring fears of a puritanical tack.

On Thursday, just hours after controversially naming the judge who jailed his main rival for the presidency as his justice minister, Bolsonaro announced his intention to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Lemos – part of a new breed of politicians with backgrounds in the police or armed forces - suggested such steps were merely the start of a “hard and drastic” shakeup of politics and society Bolsonaro and his allies were plotting after receiving what he called a “blank cheque” mandate from 57.7 million voters.

“There are going to be changes – big changes,” predicted the affable helicopter pilot, who entered São Paulo’s police academy at 16, retired in 2012 and decided to try his hand at politics after an invitation from a member of Bolsonaro’s team, Major Sérgio Olímpio Gomes, two years ago.

Lemos, who has policed some of São Paulo’s most deprived and violent corners, said bringing an iron-fist down on crime would be one of Bolsonaro’s top priorities after a record 63,880 homicides last year.

Politicians had long been soft on crime; in Bolsonaro’s Brazil calls to decriminalise drugs would be shunned and gun laws loosened. “People insist on saying the more guns you have, the more crimes take place. This is an absolute lie,” he said. “Our line is that we will allow the population to use guns until the state is able to seize back all the weapons from the criminals and seal the borders.”

Lemos said he backed hard-line proposals being floated by Bolsonaro allies such as Rio de Janeiro’s new governor, including using snipers to kill criminals. Rio was a “criminal paradise” where an outlaw could roam the streets carrying weapons of war: “So I ask you: doesn’t he deserve to die?”

Activists are horrified by such talk and fear a Bolsonarian bloodbath. “He wants to give police licence to kill and we know this will hit young, poor black men the hardest but could also affect any of the rest of us, for ideological reasons,” warned Ariel de Castro Alves, a human rights activist and lawyer.

But Lemos claimed the killing could only be halted with “a great deal of force and energy”. “If we need to have two or three more confrontations with traffickers to restore peace, you can’t consider that a blood bath.”

Lemos, a god-fearing, motorbike-riding grandfather, said draining Brazil’s swamp would also be a key mission for Bolsonarianos. The country’s political class had long had its hand in the till but under now jailed former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pilfering became a “compulsion”. “I spent 30 years in the police chasing crooks in the streets. Now I want to chase them in Brasília,” Lemos said of his decision to leap into the political “quagmire”.

On the eve of his triumph, Bolsonaro outraged opponents with a vow to force “red” rivals into jail or exile. He later promised there would be no persecution. But Lemos reinforced the sense the left would come under siege in Bolsonaro’s Brazil – as would the press, which he alleged had been “fitted out” with fellow travellers.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly likened himself to Donald Trump and several of Lemos’ proposals came straight from the US president’s playbook.

He suggested building “a very high wall” along Brazil’s southwestern border with Paraguay to block gun runners and smugglers. He called for Las Vegas-style casino resorts in Brazil’s impoverished and left-leaning north-east to cut poverty and boost Bolsonaro’s chances of re-election in 2022. “The whole world will come!”

As Brazil prepared a Bolsonarian blitz on crime, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was also an inspiration for his fight against crime while mayor of New York. “Zero tolerance!” Lemos declared. “That’s where we will begin!”

At a demonstration in São Paulo this week, anti-Bolsonaro protesters mourned the political and social seachange ahead.

“I feel afraid,” said Daiany Martins, a 19-year-old student who had come with a poster reading: ‘Your hands are covered in blood’.

“I feel afraid for the people I love; afraid for my friends who are black; afraid from my friends who are LGBTQ. I feel afraid for myself as a woman.”

Monica de Bolle, a Johns Hopkins University Brazil expect, predicted “massive regression” on a range of social issues during Bolsonaro’s four-year term. “This Brazil that is taking shape is not a country that I recognise. I don’t recognise this country and I don’t know what it is going to become.”

Lemoswas elated conservatism was returning to its place in the Brazilian sun. He claimed a fifth of voters supported a “military intervention” to remove Brazil’s disgraced political elite: “Get rid of them all. Close Congress. Close the Senate. Close the Lower House ... Put in a military president and leave him to govern!”

That wasn’t possible, the former police officer grumbled: “People always complain that this would be a coup.”

Bolsonaro was the next best thing.

[Source: By Tom Phillips, The Guardian, London, 03Nov18]

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small logoThis document has been published on 04Nov18 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.