Mapping Brazil’s far-right shift

The drift into the orbit of the U.S. will weaken global multi-polarity

November 01, 2018 12:02 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:40 pm IST

Jair Bolsonaro, who will become the new President of Brazil early next year , will be the most extreme far right leader to govern a democratic nation. Brazil, the largest country in South America, has decided to go the way of the Philippines, the U.S., and Hungary.

Some have called Mr. Bolsonaro ‘Brazil’s Trump’, and there is truth in that statement. Like U.S. President Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Mr. Bolsonaro believes that violence is a solvent for social problems. After his election, the military conducted an impromptu parade through Brazil’s streets. Crowds chanted their appreciation of the armed forces, while the soldiers basked in this reverence. Mr. Bolsonaro, who has spoken nostalgically of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), has given the forces a front seat in Brazil’s political world.


Three pillars won Mr. Bolsonaro the Brazilian presidency — of ‘Beef, the Bible and the Bullet’. The first pillar, of ‘Beef’, includes various commercial sectors such as the agricultural, livestock, mining, energy and logging industries. These businesses have chaffed at environmental and labour regulations that prevent easy access to the 1.6-billion-acre Amazon rainforest and other protected areas. Mr. Bolsonaro has spoken of these regulations as restrictions on the sovereignty of Brazil placed by the United Nations. But his proposals will not give sovereignty back to Brazilians. They will placate commercial interests based in Canada, Switzerland, the U.S. and Australia.

A social shift

One of the great social shifts in Brazil has been the weakening of Liberation Theology, a form of Catholic socialism. “The Church opted for the poor,” goes a popular saying, “and the poor opted for the Evangelicals.” U.S.-inspired evangelical Christianity — such as Pentecostalism — has made inroads into Brazilian society, notably among the poor. The growth of evangelicalism made an impact even in Catholicism through the emergence of the Charismatic Renewal movement. One of Brazil’s largest churches, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, has about 10 million members across the world. Its leader, Edir Macedo, owns the second largest television network in Brazil, RecordTV.


The reach of these movements is considerable, with most of them promoting very harsh social policies, such as against abortion and gender equality. The evangelical and conservative Catholic groups put their heft behind Mr. Bolsonaro.

The third pillar refers not only to the military and the police — both of which saw Mr. Bolsonaro as their champion — but also to sections of the middle class who have been angered by rising crime rates (175 people killed per day in 2017). Mr. Bolsonaro was able to win over middle-class sentiment by his acidic rhetoric calling for more police violence against the poor. The language, laced with racism, was harsh against the poor who are actually the main victims of crime. The prejudices of the middle class defined Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign, which will define his presidency.

Brazil’s stock exchange, based in São Paulo, is called the B3. Its benchmark index is Bovespa, which contains some 60 stocks. Right after Mr. Bolsonaro’s victory, the Bovespa soared. It was as if those with money knew that their candidate had won. Champagne flowed in the boardrooms of mining and energy firms as well as in the offices of the National Agriculture Confederation. Analysts began to use words such as ‘pragmatic’ and ‘reasonable’ to define Mr. Bolsonaro, meaning that he will favour the business community over the millions of Brazilians who are slowly slipping back into extreme poverty.

Anna Prusa, a former U.S. State Department official, described the attitude plainly: “It could be a good time to be a mining investor in Brazil. Mr. Bolsonaro has said pretty publicly he would like fewer restrictions... he is a recent convert to market liberalism.” As long as Mr. Bolsonaro is good for business, his toxic policies are forgiven.

Right after his election, Steve Bannon — who had helped Mr. Trump win the U.S. Presidency — said that Mr. Bolsonaro had run the most effective social media campaign. What this means is that his team had used illegally funded WhatsApp groups very cleverly to spread fake news stories (such as that his opponents in the Workers’ Party were indoctrinating children on sex).

Drifting towards the U.S.

Mr. Trump, who was jubilant at the electoral result, spoke on the phone with Mr. Bolsonaro, making it clear again that he was eager for a close link with the U.S. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is now fundamentally in jeopardy, as Mr. Bolsonaro will likely pull Brazil out of it, or at least minimise its role in the BRICS process. Brazil will return to its position of subordinate ally to the U.S. This is what Brazilian business interests want and the U.S. seeks. Brazil’s drift into the orbit of the U.S. spells doom for the independent regional process in Latin America and is a serious blow against global multi-polarity.

Vijay Prashad is the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

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