The Last Straw Pt. I - The Bolero of Bolsonaro

Protesters in São Paulo, demanding the impeachment of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in 2015 -  Agência Brasil   (CC BY 3.0 BR)

Protesters in São Paulo, demanding the impeachment of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in 2015 - Agência Brasil (CC BY 3.0 BR)

Brazil has become relevant on the global stage in the past few weeks due to several striking developments. First, the oldest and one of the most important museums in the country has burnt down—its vast collection now ashes in the wind. As if this wasn’t enough, it was but only a few days later we found ourselves shocked by further scandal.

At this time in Brazil, we face political polarization of a scale unseen in recent decades. The favorite presidential candidate in the running: conservative Jair Bolsonaro—a retired Captain of the Brazilian Army, suffered an attack by an opposition extremist, where he was almost stabbed to death. This is without precedent in our history. Saying that, I will propose an explanation for what’s happening in my country right now; at least as best as I can, since few people actually seem to know what has changed. I say this, considering that I was born and raised in the eye of this storm.

I was lucky to be born in the Wonderful City of Rio de Janeiro—a city as open to the world as the arms of our statue of Christ the Redeemer, with a unique soul. This is the cultural capital of Brazil and the place with the greatest concentration of intellectuals and artists in the country. A place that once dictated trends and social change now seems to be little more than a crumbling failure—derelict and dangerous. Lots of cariocas (those from Rio de Janeiro), those such as myself who were born there, are fleeing the area to look for work and security, as a grievous economic crisis and skyrocketing crime have taken over our beloved home. For that it’s fair to ask: How could it be that the second richest state in the country, one of the most popular travel destinations in South America, reached rock bottom? (We will only start to get back on track in 2023!) How has the rate of homicide spiked so much that Rio is compared to a war zone? Fewer people died in Syria in the past year than here! Clearly, the answer is a simple one: banishing plastic straws and bags.

And last year, Rio state declared a state of financial emergency. There are frequent criticisms that there is not even money to pay for the petrol in police patrol cars.

The crisis in Rio is having deadly consequences. A police officer is killed on average every 54 hours in Rio state.

According to the state's security secretariat, nearly 3,500 people were murdered in the first six months of this year, 15% more than last year.

The number of people killed by police in shootouts rose by 45%.” - BBC

We’ve been facing a hard time since the petroleum crisis, where our easiest source of income—upon which South America built an entire welfare state—essentially collapsed in on itself. Despite having a booming economy at the time, no proper plan was created to reduce public spending should it fail, nor was any investment made in searching for a new way of making money (other than raising our already expensive taxes). Due to that, our massive and concentrated population (some neighborhoods are larger than cities) became jobless as the principal petroleum refinery, Petrobras—owned primarily by the Brazilian government, which has a virtual monopoly control of the market, was defrauded in the greatest corruption scheme in our history, and maybe of the entire modern free world. At the time, we were headed by the Worker’s Party (PT), the Social Democracy Party (PSDB), and the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB). These political parties each took their turns as the primary party in hegemonic coalition control over the government, wherein they faced little to no competition for power since Brazil’s re-democratization. Together they created the founding myth of our New Republic, where they fought for our democracy against the “evil military”. They used their power and influence to nepotistic ends to fill their pockets with our money.

Rio de Janeiro shows its value (or lack thereof) in all of this because of our voting pattern—since the main characters of this story are my fellow townsmen. One of the most well known corrupting influences on the republic, President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha, was the head the systemic scheme of bribes that the government was involved in circa 2013. Thanks to the arduous work of the Polícia Federal and our judges—who are leading the struggle against corruption of the trio of powers as they fulfill their function as a check and balance to the government—Eduardo Cunha is now locked up in a cell paying for his crimes.

Former Brazilian President of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha. -  PMDB Nacional   (CC BY 2.0)

Former Brazilian President of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha. - PMDB Nacional (CC BY 2.0)

A federal court sentenced Brazil’s former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, to more than 15 years in prison on Thursday for corruption, making him the highest-profile political conviction yet in the “Operation Car Wash” scandal.” - SAO PAULO (Reuters)

When active in his role, he made a fundamental mistake in believing he was above the law. He dismembered notion of the party monopoly on the vote of the deputy and then sent it to lobbying groups in an effort to defend predetermined social interests—in his case, he united the gun rights activists with the evangelical Christians, and the representatives of the agricultural industry and livestock (creating the BBB – Boi, Bala e Biblia – or the Cattle, Ammunition, and Bible), in order to secure approval for his projects of interest. The product of his realpolitik was a new elite, outside of the triumvirate that ruled since the re-democratization, that has been growing and may flourish in 2018. These groups, who are proud of their Conservatism—helped remove the bad connotation and shame attached to the label, helping them to realize that they have power together, to dictate what happens in both of Brazil’s congressional chambers. Despite this, they lacked popular legitimacy and a representative to run for President.

They must have raised their hands to the skies when they felt the winds of change blowing from the Northern Hemisphere. The current zeitgeist, an ascension of right-wing populism, and the downfall of leftist elitism—a cosmopolitan wave that has broken, following their forgetfulness towards the common folk that they once claimed to protect. That is how we got to Jair Bolsonaro, also from Rio de Janeiro—a retired army official that has defended the rights of the military class since the ’90s (someone whom I knew before everything happened because my grandmother was quite fond of the man), and gained fame because he always spoke his mind with reverence and without restriction. He would talk about everything that was on his mind, making him a very controversial persona, labeled politically incorrect, since he is seen as a black sheep by the political elites. Remember, of course, that our Brazilian republic is built on the idea that the military are villains for what happened during our dictatorship. Bolsonado is reviled for sharing what he thinks is right in every discussion about polemic subjects. But just as happened with Donald Trump, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini, Luigi Di Maio, Viktor Orbán and others, people saw themselves in the way that he spoke. And since our “great minds”, the intellectuals, cared more about bringing first-world problems to the forefront of our political struggles than solving our real problems, like the fact that half of the population outside the South and Southwest have no basic sanitation (more people have smartphones than bathrooms), and the increasing influence of criminal factions and armed militias.

Society trembles while my teachers at law school are teaching us that the criminal is but a victim based on Critical Legal Studies, while none of them seem to have so much as seen a poor person. These lawyers think the poor are justified in becoming criminals because they lack material goods; that we should abolish punishment because it doesn’t seem to be working, while they are largely responsible for what happened—they castrated the police’s authority and relaxed criminal penalties. At the same time, Bolsonaro was campaigning to the president of the National Human Rights Commission of Brazil, saying that those who commit atrocities should pay with their lives.

With us [in office], there will be no such human rights politicking. These bandits will die, because we will not send resources from the government to them. Instead of peace, these NGOs do a disservice to our Brazil.” - Jair Bolsonado

This sounds harsh, but it was received with praise by the masses, who suffer in despair from the impunity granted to and the violence committed by the proponents of the ongoing drug war.