HAVANA TIMES – Dismantling the Brazilian State was Jair Bolsonaro’s most successful task, judging from the report elaborated by the Transition Cabinet of the government that will assume power in Brazil on January 1st. It remains somewhat inexplicable why – despite this – the outgoing president maintainsconsiderable popularity.
The textbooks for 2023 were never sent to the printer; there’s a scarcity of medicine in the Popular Pharmacies; no vaccines are available against the new Covid-19 variants; resources for school lunches have grown thin; the universities were on the verge of closing; and there are no funds left for civil defense and the prevention of accidents.
These are examples of “the threat of a collapse in the public services,” that the past government has left behind. “A socially perverse and politically anti-democratic inheritance,” that has especially affected the poorest, the report highlights, since its chief impact has been felt in health, education, the environment, employment, and programs to combat hunger and poverty.
Beginning on November 8, President-elect Lula da Silva’s Transition Team mobilized over 300 people. The group concluded its work on December 22nd, with the submission of its report to the future Chief Executive. In 71 pages, the report outlines the situation they’ll inherit in 32 areas.
Bolsonaro’s extreme right-wing government bills itself as patriotic and representative of Brazil’s conservative majority. His reelection campaign centered around a battle of “good vs. evil”, including an abusive exploitation of religion.
A government opposed to public services
Bolsonaro’s policies involved permanent action against the State, to subvert its lay character and impose his own objectives on the government institutions. In many cases, the public institutions were made to operate with policies directly contrary to their original missions.
That was the case, for example, with Funai – the National Foundation for the Indigenous, charged with protecting indigenous rights. It was also the case with the Palmares Foundation, intended to promote the value of the Afro-Brazilian culture, and with a large part of the environmental and cultural organizations.
Sergio Camargo, who presided over the Palmares Foundation from November 2019 to March 2022 was emblematic of this reverse management. He defines himself as “a right-wing black man,” calls the struggle against racism a deceitful “victimization,” and maintains that slavery was “beneficial” to the Africans brought to Brazil because, in his opinion, they live better than their counterparts in Africa.
The results were actions that were clearly detrimental to the Afro-Brazilian population that represent 56% of the 215 million Brazilians. This was particularly true with the Quilombo population, a group formed many years ago by escaped slaves.
Traditional State institutions such as the Public Prosecutor’s office, the Armed Forces and the Federal Police were transformed into partisan government agencies, dealing with issues of personal, family, or political interest for Bolsonaro.
Even the Foreign Relations Ministry, with a long and respected history of international projection, suffered from the Bolsonaro camp’s ideological intervention, to the detriment of Brazil’s prestige outside the country. The country was reduced to a pariah, especially because of the increased deforestation of the Amazon region during Bolsonaro’s time in office.
Patriotism that weakens the nation
A patriotism that ignores the nation is one way to define the government activity that was disproportionally aimed towards Bolsonaro’s base and against national cohesion. It was also hostile towards the original and traditional peoples.
Since 2020, Bolsonaro attempted to authorize and promote “garimpo”, the rustic mining that was almost always done illegally in indigenous territories. The laws he tried to introduce with regard to this didn’t receive Congressional approval in the face of strong protests. The activity has already contaminated a number of rivers in the Amazon region and has claimed an elevated death toll among several ethnic groupsfrommurders, illnesses and social disintegration.
One of Bolsonaro’s last measures before leaving power was to authorize the extraction of lumber from the indigenous territories, as part of forest management.
It’s one of numerous measures that Lula’s Transition Team recommended for repeal or revision as soon as the new government comes in. Along with the forest extraction measure were those that broaden the right to possess and carry arms, those weakening environmental policies, and those affecting the social rights and the rights of children and adolescents.
In addition, the Transition report proposes revoking the hundred years of secrecy rule that Bolsonaro imposed on different documents, including some absurd cases, such as his own vaccination card and the judicial records from the corruption accusations filed against his oldest son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro.
In the cultural arena, Bolsonaro tried to eviscerate the laws and agencies formed to promote cultural activities, blocking their finance mechanisms, and using these resources to benefit the few sectors favorable to “Bolsonaro-ism”, such as the Brazilian country music known as sertaneja and the revisionist film producers who sought to spread a falsified version of Brazilian history that defended the military dictatorship of 1964-85 and the role of the extreme right.
All those destructive actions that Bolsonaro himself announced during his first presidential visit to the United States in March 2019, didn’t destroy his popularity. He received 49.1% of the valid votes during the October 30th run-off election, equivalent to 58.2 million votes.
Lula won by only 1.8%, with a total of 60.3 million votes. As a results, analysts almost all agree that the Bolsonaro camp will survive as a strong opposition, with many loyal senators and deputies.
Uncertain future for Bolsonaro and his followers
Bolsonaro apparently suffered a bout of depression following his defeat in October and since then has remained nearly silent. He didn’t even offer speeches to feed the demonstrations of his most radical followers, who have been camped in front of the army barracks since the beginning of November, demanding a military coup to prevent Lula’s inauguration.
The defeat, and the new state of events, seems to have withered him. A new government that offers a minimally efficient administration, even if it’s not brilliant, could reduce the extreme right to the minority they apparently have been in the past.
Bolsonaro, a retired Army captain, won the 2018 elections with the support of the military. He owes much of his popularity to the Brazilian population’s trust in their Armed Forces, despite a military dictatorship that lasted 21 years, terminating in the economic crisis of the “lost decade” of the eighties.
His sudden rise, after 28 years as a “low-ranking” legislator, irrelevant and grotesque for his defense of the military dictatorship, was principally due to the fact that he represented the military. At the time, the armed forces were seen as a counterweight to the politicians who had been discredited by corruption scandals amid a new economic crisis.
The public imagination – fed by a biased memory of the military rule from 1964 to 1985 as the era of the “Brazilian miracle”, an economic growth that approached 10% yearly and brought the rapid expansion of the urban middle classes – quickly ran out of gas.
The percentage of Brazilians who said they trust the military fell from 39% in 2019 to 30% in 2022, according to polls from the International Ipsos Institute. Among 26 countries surveyed, the average trust level was 41%, with only Colombia, South Africa and South Korea showing lower levels than Brazil in this year’s poll.
The protests urging a coup have sparked a growing rejection, after protesters blocked highways in November and set fire to at least five buses and eight cars on the night of December 12th in the capital Brasilia. The camps set up in front of the army barracks to demand a coup have remained there since November.
Seventy-five percent of those interviewed by the Datafolha Institute on December 19 and 20 condemned those demonstrations, and 56% believe the participants should be punished. Half of those who said they voted for Bolsonaro also rejected the actions of those urging a coup.