In Brasil’s Semiotic War, Truth Was The First Casualty

by Bruno De Oliveira.

Fake news and its propagation via social media has created a suspension of critical thinking. We have people simply believing everything and nothing; accepting the absurd whilst disregarding factual information as fake news. In Brazil, this wave of fake news is creating a state of collective paranoia where ordinary people cannot distinguish between socio-economic and historical facts from lies. The real danger is that the notion of truth no longer exists.

There are signs, we need to recognise them now, and we should pay attention. A charismatic politician playing into fears, anger, racism and a sense of lost opportunities is fair warning. With Lula not being allowed to run for the 2018 election, the populist Brazilian politician Jair Bolsanaro is increasingly likely to become Brazil’s next president.

Bolsonaro has exhibited the following: powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism, disdain for the importance of human rights, identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause, the supremacy of the military/avid militarism, rampant sexism, obsession with national security, religion and ruling elite tied together, power of workers suppressed or eliminated, disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts, obsession with crime and punishment, rampant cronyism and corruption and continuing expressions of nationalism. The truth is that Hitler sympathiser Bolsonaro shows clear fascist traits and there is nothing fake in pointing that out.

During an interview with journalist Mariana Godoy of RedeTV, Bolsonaro couldn’t articulate his views on how to administrate the country’s economy. He said: “Who will talk about economics for me is my economic team when formed in the future. Why do people require me of understanding in economics? Then I would have to know medicine, but I will appoint the Minister of Health. Must you have an understanding of the Armed Forces? I will indicate the Minister of Defense and, what about understanding the issue of agriculture? I will indicate the Minister of Agriculture. So it’s an exaggeration in that part there. Can you see, of the five military presidents, which one was trained in economics? None”.

Congressman Bolsonaro is an open sympathiser of the Brazilian military coup of the 60s. He said that the Brazilian military dictatorship was a glorious period in Brazil’s history. Bolsonaro noted that “violence is combated with violence,” rather than with human rights flags, such as those defended by Amnesty International, whom he called  “idiots.” He was questioned about a survey about the Brazilian police which kills amongst the most in the world, “I think this Brazilian Military Police had to kill, more than half of those deaths are in combat, on a mission.  Amnesty International is against what needs the public which is the safety of our country. ” Bolsonaro said.

Bolsonaro, long denounced as “dictatorship lover” ran with the idea, expressing the paranoiac fantasies of a time that was one of the darkest in Brazil’s history. Bolsonaro is developing a narrative towards normalising institutional structures of fascism. In 2016, during a vote in the lower house, on the admissibility of the opening of the impeachment process of Dilma Rousseff, Bolsonaro, in a speech, dedicated his vote to the late Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, one of the most feared military of the Dictatorship. Brilhante Ustra, de facto head of army intelligence during Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship, has been noted as “the master of life and death, the man who decided who was going to live and who was going to die.” Brilhante Ustra regarded as responsible for the illegal arrests and torture of more than 500 Brazilians from 1970-74. He convicted – incurring no more than a fine for “human rights violations” – for ordering the arrest and torture of journalist and anti-military coup activist Luiz Eduardo da Rocha Merlino, who died in custody. Bolsanaro’s Vice president is himself a retired army general.

He pointed out that he does not think it fair that women and men receive the same salary because the women get pregnant: “Wow, this woman has a ring on her finger, a while pregnant, six months of maternity leave… Who will pay the bill? The employer. When she returns, she will have another month’s holiday, meaning she worked five months in a year. That’s why the guy pays a woman less.” Bolsonaro was a defendant for the alleged practice of crimes to incite the crime of rape and libel against federal deputy Maria do Rosário. Also, he stated: “You can be sure that if I get there (became president), I will not have money for NGOs. If it depends on me, every citizen will have a firearm in the house. ” Bolsonaro also claimed that indigenous and quilombola (Brazilian hinterland settlement founded by people of African origin) reserves hamper the economy. “Where there is an indigenous land, there is wealth beneath it. We have to change that from there”.

To illustrate how divisive Bolsonaro is, we need to look at Franco.  The Spanish general who ruled over Spain as a military dictator, implemented policies that were responsible for the repression and deaths of as many as 400,000 political opponents and dissenters through the use of forced labour and executions in the concentration camps his regime operated. Most country towns and rural areas were patrolled by pairs of Guardia Civil, military police for civilians. Spain’s student revolts were violently repressed by the heavily armed Armed Police. Bolsonaro holds these views.

Bolsonaro is a real danger to democracy, human rights and freedom. His political persona is based on demagoguery, vicious misogyny, racism, incitement of violence, actual violence, complete disregard for history, and threats to free speech.

Bolsonaro maybe is not thinking of concentration camps, but his rhetoric is forming the institutional structures of fascism. The media has been for years building public rage against the democratic institutions, aiming at mainly the disenfranchised working class, Pentecostal followers, the middle class and their traditional families. People have found refuge in a simplistic narrative.

History is clear and crude about the dangers of a charismatic leader with a fascistic views in times of uncertainty. Fellow Brazilians be warned, there is still time to stop this in the ballot.

Main photo: Adriana Galuppo


By Bruno De Oliveira

Bruno De Oliveira is a Ph.D. student at the University of Brighton. His research is based on analyzing the life experience of homeless people through participatory research. He has worked with the NGO Emmaus Brighton on homeless issues and has produced several publications on the subject.