It’s getting warmer in Brazil

The rise of a far-right party and why it matters

I was born in the middle of winter, in the middle of the week, in the middle of July in 1992. It was a warm day in Rio de Janeiro and my mother recalls fondly (perhaps anaesthesia induced) memories of a samba school practicing outside of the hospital.

I returned when I was six years old. My memories of Brazil are now reduced to this warm, colourful and loud country filled with music and Carnaval joy. Strong smells, tall buildings and the taste of powder milk (fresh milk is expensive and goes off very quickly) are all I can recall of the world’s 5th largest country.

‘Understand and Engage’

The image Jonathon Shafi (pictured on the left) painted of my birthplace was, however, far less idilic. In the recently reopened CCA in Glasgow and joined by the journalist Rhiannon Davies, Shafi led a Q&A session on the Brazilian Elections organised by Common Space.

The political activist visited Brasil for the elections and travelled to the two biggest cities São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro, speaking to grassroots movements and creating video and photo content of the population’s response to a historically significant result. 

The victory of Jair Bolsonaro (who got 55.1% of the vote in the second round of the Presidential Election) was according to the political activist based on ‘a silent vote’. ‘In Rio, only Haddad’s campaign was visible. Bolsonaro’s campaign was made over on social media.’

Fernando Haddad was chosen as the Presidential candidate after the imprisonment of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – former President and Worker’s Party star. Although supported by the working class and most international media (with notable exception of the ‘The Wall Street Journal) Haddad was unable to respond to a strong online campaign powered by what Shafi guarantees to be ‘American money’ and a corruption fear led lack of trust from Brasil’s population. 

‘What’s app’ claims to have 120 million accounts in Brazil. It is by far the most popular social media platform helped by the fact that many phone networks offer its use for free even without internet data plans.

Supporters of right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro gather at Copacabana beach during the “Women for Bolsonaro” demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 29, 2018. – As detractors organize marches against the 63-year-old former army captain who has been branded racist, misogynist and homophobic, under the hashtag #EleNao (Not Him) across Brazil, his supporters also take to the streets and laud his tough stance on tackling Brazil’s rising crime rate and his pledge to protect traditional family values. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

As reported by the BBC in October last year, large amounts of accounts where being targeted with anti-worker’s party propaganda that included fake quotes and manipulated images. 

Some of this information disseminated directly to the thousands of citizens phone’s included the now infamous ‘gay kit’ and how the Worker’s Party wanted to make children gay. The ‘gay kit’ was an educational tool made in 2011 with the goal of discussing sexuality in schools all over Brazil. 

It was met with staunch opposition from Bolsonaro and most conservative political members of Brasil’s national congress. It was then cancelled by Brazil’s former president Dilma Rouseff – (herself a controversial Workers Party figure that was impeached after being found guilty of corruption) but remained a strong point of Bolsonaro’s campaign in favour of the traditional Brazilian family.

‘People feel scared about what’s coming’

Jonathan Shafi met activists that are worried about their minority communities. Brazil is already reported to have the highest LGBT murder rate in the world and there are fears that this victory means ‘Carte Blanche for hate crimes from reactionary groups’.

The soon to be President has already promised that as an answer to the Brazil’s crime levels, more guns will be on the streets. He wants to empower the police to shoot first and ask questions later.

From the activists, Shafi also learned the story of Marielle Franco, a black gay Rio city councillor that was murdered early this year on what is widely agreed to have been a professional hit job. The 38 year old had come from the favelas and fought for the rights of minorities. She also actively exposed the violence committed by the police intervention in the streets of her city. 

An elderly man lights a candle during a rally against the murder of Brazilian councilwoman and activist Marielle Franco, in Sao Paulo Brazil on March 15, 2018.
Brazilians mourned for the Rio de Janeiro councilwoman and outspoken critic of police brutality who was shot in the city center in an assassination-style killing on the eve. / AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL (Photo credit should read MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP/Getty Images)

He says ‘her face was everywhere, painted in murals on the streets, stamped in flags’ and that she released with her life and death ‘millions of seeds of resistance’. 

‘The energy on the streets was palpable.’

When I asked him about the feedback he got from Brazilians from his interest, he assures me it was a positive one. ‘People were confused but very appreciative. They spend a lot of time explaining me their politics.’

A day after the results were known, the streets in every major town filled with protests. Shafi mentions the importance of supporting them through ‘International Solidarity. Morale will crash without support. We can’t change the elections but we can show them they are not alone.’

He argues that we need an ‘independent left’ because ‘Macron leads to Le Pen’. He blames the  world’s left wing leaders for their lack of stance and determination. ‘Capitalism never gave us democracy. On every front Brazil shows the problems the world faces, what I call Fascism on the 21st century.’

Don’t just watch it, be part of it

My proudly catholic mother does not like Bolsonaro and that seems to be the case with most of the friends and family I speak to. No one wants to be named (the elections continue to be a sensitive subject) but most speak of fear of having their country ‘held for ransom’. 

I look at Brasil with fear too, fear for my Brazilian brothers, sisters and gender neutral siblings. Fear for the lungs of the world, the Rainforest – in the hands of a man who seems capable of selling it to the highest bidder (and who already has announced that the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture will act together). 

Brazil’s next 4 years will most likely be dark years. Just like in the USA with Donald Trump, Italy with Matteo Salvini, Hungary with Viktor Orban or even Theresa May. 

As part of the International community our job is to remain aware of the dangerous threats to individual liberties and to those already most vulnerable.

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