For the most part, mainstream British media has largely ignored the Brazilian Presidential elections. As with most South American news, geographical distance and public apathy has led to limited coverage, and limited reaction, to the election of the so-called ‘Trump of the Tropics’ to the Presidency of the most powerful nation in the Southern Americas.
But it’s because the story is an old one.
A few years ago, the election of a far-right, misogynistic, homophobic figure to powerful public office would have made headlines, and caused a wave of shock and revulsion across the globe. Today, Jair Bolsonaro joins Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duerte as the newest champion of a kind of rhetoric and politic which has become normalised and increasingly popular. He’s compared Black activists to “Animals” who should “go back to the zoo”, and once told a female member of the Brazilian congress that he “wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it”
Just writing this piece I feel a kind of boredom, a sense I’m just rehashing a response seen too many times, in too many places, over the last few years.
None the less, Brazil represents a frightening turn to the worse in our fight against the far-right everywhere. Engrained in its national consciousness is the 21 year-long lasting military dictatorship, one that silenced opposition, crushed progressive action everywhere and tortured thousands of intellectuals, members of the clergy, trade unionists and socialist activists.
This reign of oppressive terror only ended in 1985, and it’s terrifying that, within living memory of such atrocity, a man who once said “I would perform a coup on the same day (congress) doesn’t work” is now the President of Brazil.
It may be a country far away, and a political landscape that most of us are largely unaware of, but it is vital that we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across Brazil terrified about what the dawn may bring. Surely, this must serve as a final warning to centrist leaders across Europe, to Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel that it is no longer acceptable to stick their heads in the sand, to hide behind each other’s skirts and attempt to peddle a faint middle line when it comes to the divisive and nasty statements made by Bolsonaro and others like him. Otherwise, we must accept the possibility that one day, perhaps not so far in the future, Britain and other European countries will be under the heel of their own Bolsonaro or Duerte.
Can we be at all optimistic about the future? As a young person who has grown up watching the optimism of the 90’s fade away into the now, watched history restart again with a shocking jolt, I’d say yes, we can, we have to be. In some ways, it can’t get much worse, and we have an opportunity to work for a more inclusive, more radical politics which aims to do away with the injustices and inequalities from which this far-right populism breeds. It’s clear the system is broken, and it’s clear it needs to be fixed. One can only hope and pray that this becomes an opinion not just voiced by my generation, but by all generations. Because after all, they come for the communists first. But they don’t stop there.