We will defy the power of Bolsonaro

February 25, 2019

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro got an invitation from fellow authoritarian Donald Trump to visit the U.S. But solidarity activists in the U.S. are organizing to give him a reception of protest. Earlier this month, 70 people filled a Washington, D.C., library meeting room to standing room only for a panel discussion on “Brazil’s Bolsonaro and the Fight Against Fascism.”

Attendees heard a prerecorded statement from Talíria Petrone, a Black feminist, history teacher and member of Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) who won election to Congress in last year’s vote in defiance of the victory for the right. Petrone was formally a city council member for Niterói, who worked together with fellow PSOL member and Rio de Janeiro councilor Marielle Franco, who was assassinated last March. Petrone appealed for solidarity to carry forward Franco’s struggle in this dangerous new era.

IT IS important that we have an international discussion on the reality in Brazil today and the tasks that the socialist left — including those of us in Brazil and other socialists around the world — face during this critical moment.

Brazilian democracy was never achieved and consolidated. It never came to the favelas, to those on the margins of society, to those who live on the outskirts of the city.

The young democracy that we wanted to strengthen has now been buried.

This comes in the international context of a deep crisis. It has an economic aspect, expressed in the rise in unemployment worldwide. There is a political aspect consisting of the rejection of longstanding institutions, in part due to privatization. And the crisis also has a profound environmental aspect.

Talíria Petrone
Talíria Petrone

Brazil is not an exception in any of this. We are witnessing the rise and consolidation of far-right governments, including outright fascist or neofascist governments, in many places around the world — including in Brazil with the election of Jair Bolsonaro. Imagine the consequences of such a government for the fragile democracy that existed in Brazil.

Nonetheless, it is very important to point out that this political setback did not start with Bolsonaro’s election. We saw the same trends playing out with the parliamentary coup against former President Dilma Rousseff and the actions of an unaccountable judiciary.

And since we are talking about democracy, I would be remiss to not talk about the political execution of our friend Marielle Franco. Without a doubt, that was one of the main signs of the deterioration of democracy in Brazil, because all limitations on democratic rights come with a process of political repression and violence.

Jean Wyllys, a member of PSOL elected to Congress, has left the country because of death threats and will not take his seat this term.

This is a moment of great risk in a young democracy. The left must get organized to confront this threat.

It is clearly up to the left to explain why Bolsonaro was elected and gained the legitimacy of winning a popular vote. Especially because he will reinforce the extension of the police state as well as reinforce an agenda that threatens rights for the oppressed in accordance with the agenda of the right wing in Brazil.

WE HAVE difficult questions to ask — such as the impact of a fascist government in a country with a history like ours. We have, for example, a colonialist political trend that never left us. Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in the world. Brazil was forged on the basis of a patriarchal mindset characteristic of the coffee barons and plantation owners, and the influence of religious fundamentalism is also strong.

We still have these biases, and so when fascism is on the advance, it threatens the same groups and forces that were affected during colonization. The groups who were marginalized, segregated and expelled from their territories are the same ones who are being affected at this moment.

For example, it is Black people who will continue to die in disproportionate numbers because of the deepening of the police state in a country that has the world’s third highest level of incarceration. Because of this, 30,000 young Black people are murdered every year by police and paramilitary forces. It is necessary to challenge this violence.

The legacy of colonial oppression is also responsible for what is happening now to Indigenous peoples and Afro-Brazilian communities founded by escaped slaves (quilombolas). Under Bolsonaro, supervision of these populations has been transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Leaving the quilombola and Indigenous peoples to the control of the Ministry of Agriculture symbolizes the prioritization of agribusiness and mining companies. It means prioritizing a sector that makes nature a business and that reduces the lives of the Indigenous, quilombola and agrarian peoples to merchandise to be bought and sold.

These groups also face greater violence as armed police, military and paramilitary forces spread in rural areas.

In just one month of the Bolsonaro government, we see a cluster of measures that represent major attacks on the same groups — Black people, working women, Indigenous peoples, quilombolas — who have suffered since the colonial era.

What shall the left do in Brazil, in Latin America, and in the world?

Here in Brazil, we need to create a wide democratic front to guarantee that we can uphold the resistance that will inevitably emerge. Bolsonaro has already threatened to imprison those who oppose his government publicly, expel the “reds” from the country and persecute those who occupy land in a country where a few large landowners hold great stretches of land that is not used productively.

We need to unite around securing the Brazilian Constitution, but we also must look to the people who are suffering the brunt of the repression — the quilombola peoples, the Black people in the favelas, the sons of Black women who are being arrested for no reason and even executed. They are facing the impact of fascist policies, and they are also where we see the resistance.

That resistance was also symbolized in our friend Marielle Franco: A Black woman in a country where femicide claims more Black women than any other group; a queer woman in a country with high levels of murders against LGBT peoples; a woman from the favela, in a country where favelas are criminalized and the victims of militarization; a woman who defended human rights in a country where human rights activists are murdered; a socialist woman in a country where a tiny few control a majority of the wealth; a city councilwoman in a country where women have traditionally been excluded from political spaces.

Our goal must be to defy the power of this administration and return power to the majority of the people, including those who are women, who are Black, who are Indigenous.

More than that, we need to be the voice of resistance movements that are already arising among communities such as the quilombolas, and in both rural and urban areas — thus bringing together countryside and city. We need to build an eco-socialist alternative against the barbarity of capital.

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