Brazil is now headed toward a rocky presidential runoff vote on October 30, after its October 2 election produced no clear winner between far right populist president Jair Bolsonaro — an outspoken admirer of the brutal military dictatorship that came to power in 1964 by deposing a democratically elected president and lasted until 1985 — and Bolsonaro’s leftist challenger, Lula.
This is a highly contested election. However, polls give Lula an edge because he has received endorsements from both the third and fourth place finishers. Bolsonaro, however, has stated on numerous occasions that he will not accept an election result if it is a loss.
The election will determine the future of Latin America’s powerhouse — a country with the 12th largest economy in the world that is rich in a variety of natural resources and home to the world’s biggest rainforest, the Amazon. Brazil is also a country that is rife with corruption and violence.
Noam Chomsky’s exclusive interview explains brilliantly what is at stake in Brazil’s runoff elections. TruthoutThese are the following. Chomsky is currently in Brazil, and has been closely following both election campaigns as well overall developments in that country.
Chomsky is an internationally recognized public intellectual, the founder of modern Linguistics and one the most cited scholars of all time. He is a professor of linguistics emeritus and institute professor at MIT, and a laureate professor of linguistics in the University of Arizona. He has published more 150 books in linguistics and politics and current affairs, history, political economy, media studies and U.S. foreign and global policy.
C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the eyes of the world were focused on Brazil’s presidential election a couple of weeks ago, which pitted incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, a divisive far right populist, against former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had served years in prison on charges of money laundering and corruption in a controversial trial. Both candidates failed to win more than 50% of the vote. There will be a second round at the end. Why does Brazil’s election matter so much to the world?
Noam Chomsky A century ago, Brazil was declared to be “the Colossus of the South,” set to lead the hemisphere along with “the Colossus of the North.” Since then, the northern Colossus has replaced Britain as the virtual ruler of the world, extending its power far beyond the dreams of what is now Washington’s junior partner. The southern Colossus is now in trouble. It is important to know how.
In the 1950s, decolonization was in its infancy. The former colonies were not only seeking independence, but also making progress towards social justice and peaceful settlements of international disputes. The non-aligned movements was created. Other initiatives were also in the works. All of these were anathema for the U.S. and their imperial predecessors.
Brazil was part of the global effort under Kubitschek and in the early ‘60s, Quadros and Goulart. These global developments were a concern for the Kennedy administration, particularly in Latin America where the U.S. has a traditional preserve.
In 1962, in a decision of historical importance, JFK shifted the role of the Latin American military from “hemispheric defense” to “internal security,” meaning war against the population. The effects were graphically described by Kennedy-Johnson Director of Counterinsurgency Charles Maechling: The decision led to a shift from toleration “of the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military” to “direct complicity” in their crimes, to U.S. support for “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”
A primary concern was Brazil, Latin America’s powerhouse. The JFK administration helped prepare the ground for a 1964 military coup that overthrew the flourishing Brazilian democracy shortly after Kennedy’s assassination.
The destruction of democracy was welcomed by Kennedy-Johnson Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon as a “democratic rebellion,” “a great victory for the free world” that should “create a greatly improved climate for private investments.” This democratic rebellion was “the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century,” Gordon continued, “one of the major turning points in world history” in this period.
Gordon was correct. The vicious military junta in Brazil was the first of the neo-Nazi terror-and-torture National Security States that then spread over Latin America, a plague that reached Central America under Reagan’s murderous regime.
The plague was decreasing in South America by the 1980s, when it was less under U.S. surveillance. Truth commissions exposed the horrors perpetrated by military regimes in Uruguay and Argentina. Not in Brazil. Apart from a Church-based inquiry into the topic, the democratization process has largely avoided it. Many younger Brazilians are unaware or not concerned about the horrible crimes. That enables a great admirer of the military regime like Bolsonaro to condemn the Brazilian generals for their “weakness”: They did not murder 30,000 people as their associates in Argentina did.
Plumbing the depths of depravity — a considerable achievement for this Trump admirer — when voting for the fraudulent impeachment of [Workers’ Party]Dilma Rousseff and Bolsonaro dedicated their votes to her torturer, chief torturer of junta.
All of this is done without much comment, something we are more familiar with in the U.S.
The crushing of Brazilian democracy was only one stage of a much larger process, which is one of most important and least talked about features of modern historical history. This included beating back the efforts by the former colonies to be accepted into the global system. This idea was unpalatable to the U.S., who led the western campaign to end this departure from order, effectively wiping out history.
Brazil resumed the process in 2000. It became one of the most respected and influential world powers during Lula’s term in office (2003-2010), a “golden decade” in Brazil’s history in the eyes of the World Bank. Lula led the efforts to increase support for the Global South, together with Celso Amorim, his Minister of Foreign Relations. These positive developments were reversed during the erratic and authoritarian Bolsonaro years.
There is still great potential. The country has a wealth of resources that the entire world desperately needs. It is technologically and culturally advanced in many areas. It is plagued by the Latin American curse of a super-privileged elite that has little commitment towards the welfare country. This is one of the major reasons for the sharp divergence of development between resource-rich Latin America (and resource-poor East Asia) in the past few years, as economic historians have discussed.
The Colossi could bring the world a brighter tomorrow by cooperating under a leadership that is based on progressive populist movements. They would drag the world into a void if they joined forces with Trump and Bolsonaro.
The fate of the Amazon forests, mainly in Brazil, is the most immediate concern. It has long been understood that if current trends persist, this core component of the “lungs of the earth” will turn to savannah, unable to produce enough moisture to sustain itself. A major carbon sink, which has been protecting us all, will become a carbon producer, leading us to catastrophe.
As in many other cases the scale of this tragedy is underestimated. Brazilian researchers have demonstrated that it has already begun in some regions and is reaching irreversible tipping points. The threat to survival has been sharply accelerated by Bolsonaro’s support for illegal logging, mining, agribusiness expansion, and destruction of native reserves and the many tribes that inhabit them. Formally, they are protected by laws that have been discarded in the pursuit of short-term profits and power.
Although the crime against humanity is not confined to Brazil, it is especially severe there due to its scale. It is especially important right now, as the fate of Amazon and all that it entails will be decided by the October 30 runoff for the elections. Bolsonaro’s victory would likely endanger the Amazon. A Lula win might be able save it, preventing a disaster for Brazil as well as a catastrophe for all life on Earth.
The good news is that Lula won the first round, just as polling predicted. Collaboration with a center-left party rather close to Lula’s Workers’ Party would have led to victory. These and other coalitions could lead to victory on October 30, according to some.
The good news is that there are two. Bolsonaro’s vote was far beyond what polling predicted, and his candidates swept other offices: governors and parliament particularly, meaning that Lula’s hands will be tied even if elected. The far right surge even included such monstrous figures as Ricardo Salles, the point man for Bolsonaro’s campaign to enrich the criminals who were destroying the Amazon under his watch.
A week later, elections will be held in the northern Colossus. They have similar stakes but are of greater import due to power relations. The denialist party is ready to add Congress as another target. The most reactionary Supreme Court in memory is already firmly in its hands and is likely to grease the way to the campaign to turn the country into an Orbán-style “illiberal democracy” where a minority party of the far right will be able to maintain power and drive the country to an extremist Christian nationalism. All of this is not hidden.
As long as corporate profits are maintained, this grotesque result will not matter.
The answer is yes, there is a dreadful week ahead.
Opinion surveys had shown Lula leading Bolsonaro more than 10 percentage points. However, the race was much closer than expected and Bolsonaro won both the state and senate races. What happened?
We need to wait for the facts to be available before we make any judgments. One possibility is that the events of this incident are similar to those which were studied in detail in the U.S.
Both counties have the large evangelical vote in their hands. The far right is using its propaganda messages about hellfires if it wins to sway the voters. In the U.S., that traces back to the GOP campaigns of the ‘70s to shift to “culture wars” to gain political power.
Trump voters regard pollsters as part of the hated elite that is supposedly leading the “Great Replacement” and grooming children for sexual perversion (not an exaggeration of current right-wing discourse) and therefore do not respond to them accurately if at all. Brazil is likely to have this effect. There may well be studies of the matter, but I don’t know of them.
Another factor is suggested by the fact that many of the right-wingers elected seem to be little known, meaning that voters may have not even been aware of their programs — a fact familiar in the U.S. as well, as extensively documented. Pre-election, Bolsonaro was lavishly distributing state funds to potential voters, using a mysterious “secret budget” of public funds, possibly supplemented by private funds from wealthy supporters in Brazil and the U.S. What was the impact? We can speculate, but we don’t know.
However, we know that the stakes are high.
The election campaign was marked by a series of violent incidents between supporters of Bolsonaro and Lula, and it’s highly unlikely that the climate will be different now that the two candidates are heading to second round. What’s the main cause of the extreme polarization that characterizes contemporary Brazilian society?
I should let people who know more about Brazil than me make this decision.
It is not difficult to see some aspects of polarization. One aspect was already mentioned. Polarization is a long-standing phenomenon. Inequality is deeply rooted. A wealthy, mostly white minority lives in luxury close to poor slums where they lack access to food and water. The rich also have little to no commitment to the society. They evade taxes, export their capital, import luxury goods and have second homes in Paris — a pattern increasingly familiar in the U.S. after 40 years of the brutal class war misleadingly framed in terms of market worship.
On the surface, Brazil gives the impression of a well-functioning multiracial society, far more so than the U.S. That’s on the surface. The veil conceals the fact that the white rulers are deeply racial and have severe class prejudice. Their contempt for Lula is not easily hidden. He is an industrial worker without formal education. Not the “right kind of person” to be in the presidential palace. Even a white face doesn’t protect him from the contempt, in his case class-based, and deepened by his initiatives at social inclusion of Afro-Brazilians and Indigenous communities as well as social welfare for the undeserving poor. The resonances in the U.S. are too obvious not to mention.
While the polarization is taking on a more pronounced form today, it is still rooted in social pathology.
Bolsonaro has long raised doubts about Brazil’s electoral process. Is it possible that he will refuse to go if his party loses the runoff vote at month’s end, given the fact that he has the most seats in both chambers. How far will Brazil’s military back him?
We have two options: we can speculate indefinitely or limit the possibilities. Brazil is not the U.S.A, but the questions there are not new. Both countries are awash with guns, a recent phenomenon in Brazil, where Bolsonaro has allowed arsenals to be purchased, overwhelmingly to his supporters. There are militias with heavily armed arms that control areas that are not easily accessible to police. Civilian control of the military, and the major police forces, is less firmly institutionalized than in the U.S. – where questions also arise.
In the U.S., large parts of Republican voters have called for violence if it is necessary to “save the country” from the devils intent on destroying the white race, Christianity, the family…. Similar elements can be found in Brazil. Both countries are plagued with demagogues who have the ability to tap the most vile currents that can rot society from below. They are prominent, powerful, and close to power.
If they are allowed to take power, we will face the nightmare of a Western Hemisphere under the control of the Colossi bent upon driving the world to its destruction.