“Welcome to the Brazilian Necropolitical Circus.”
On December 10 2018, the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, Brazilian President elect Jair Bolsonaro and his Vice, General Mourão, received their diplomas from the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).
They were presented with the inaugural certificates after a lecture on democracy by Rosa Weber, the supreme court judge who back in April declared she was voting counter-intuitively, under military threat, in denying habeas corpus to then certain winner of the 2018 election, former President Lula da Silva. This was one link in a chain of events which saw a Neofascist elected and altered the course of Brazilian history.
There was already dark irony to it occurring on this anniversary, as Bolsonaro is on record that he does not believe in human rights. He thinks they’re a “communist thing” or as his more articulate Neofascist pin-up Augusto Pinochet put it “a very wise invention of Marxists”.
In three weeks he will assume the Presidency of a forever promising, incomplete, wealthy and chronically unequal country of almost 220 million souls, many of whom will live in fear of his prejudices, hatred, irrationality, profound stupidity, and that of his low-IQ offspring, opportunist allies and far-right supporters.
Violent, incompetent, and corrupt; the wager is now how long Bolsonaro’s imbecilic spectacle can last. Self-destruction ahead of schedule is the best hope Brazil’s progressives, minorities – even majorities, have.
As Italians did with Berlusconi before him, Brazilians will discover that satire does not function with a Bolsonaro; no joke will raise a smile, no dose of schadenfreude will suffice. Even as his sandcastle of asinine, toxic bullshit disintegrates, grimly and inevitably, into the South Atlantic, the only relief will be that Brazil itself is not taken with it.
Avoiding mention of his name is etiquette, evading his grinning mask of a face, a strategy.
People are understandably saving themselves for the struggles ahead.
We all float down here
“Vai acabar com essa palhaçada” (he’s going to end this clown show) was an election slogan used by Bolsonaro campaign and his supporters. His ministerial appointments suggest precisely the opposite.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of his election, many of his voters already have buyers remorse, not least due to the prevalence of corrupt politicians in a government which came to power with specious rhetoric of anti-corruption. A cursory glance over the history of fascism could’ve tipped them off.
“Brazil: Love it or leave it.” a notorious slogan of the dictatorship in the early 1970s, chillingly re-emerged following the election, yet the torpor amongst progressives has partially cleared for the return of Brazil’s famed gallows humour. There is now an eerie calm to the final month before Bolsonaro’s inauguration. The next four years will be marked by violent oppression and resistance, but many are sensing that the new extreme-right government will collapse ahead of schedule.
The coming era will be dangerous, regardless of how intellectually stunted and pathetic Bolsonaro’s cabinet is. But just three weeks before taking office, the most incompetent looking administration for thirty years is already imploding, with some predicting that his Presidency may be even more short lived than that of Fernando Collor, who survived two years from 1990-92.
It must be reiterated that Bolsonaro is no “Trump of the Tropics” as the Guardian and others tried to depict, and the anticipation of him in power shouldn’t be equated either, nor should parallels be made between campaigns against them. In Brazil’s case, it faces actual overt, documented, genocidal threats – a situation which came about with the connivance of the United States, and involving both Republican and Democrat administrations.
With the first significant number of Military figures in the Government since redemocratisation in 1989, there is a surreal quality to watching the transition unfold. Bolsonaro’s first cabinet will contain over 30% Military personnel for the first time since the reign of Dictator Ernesto Geisel from 1974-79.
Joining the GSI, the cabinet of Institutional Security, is General Augusto Heleno. Invited by Bolsonaro as potential VP, then as Defence Minister, Heleno was the first commander of the UN’s MINUSTAH stabilisation mission in Haiti. During his time in Haiti he notoriously led an armed assault on Cité Soleil, against members of the Lavalas Pro-Democracy movement. The action killed dozens of people including community leader Dread Wilme (Emmanuel Wilmer). Some consider the Federal Military intervention in the state of Rio de Janeiro to have been inspired by the operations in Haiti, while those in Haiti consider the opposite. Days after the election, Heleno claimed that Brazilian intelligence agency ABIN and the Federal Police, which had evidently failed to protect the Rousseff administration from subversion, had discovered a terrorist plot against President-elect Bolsonaro.
Ernesto Araújo is the new Foreign Minister, Chanceler in Brazilian nomenclature, or “4chan-celer” as he has been nicknamed. Araújo advocates a range of recycled conspiracy theories, such as Cultural Marxism, UFO contact with the United Nations, and also believes that climate change is a hoax. Like Bolsonaro himself, Araújo wants to align Brazil unreservedly with the strategic and economic interests of the United States – to the delight of Washington. Former Foreign and Defence minister Celso Amorim, one of the world’s most respected diplomats, who helped elevate Brazil’s Itamaraty Foreign Ministry to its pre-coup reputation, has called Araújo’s appointment “a return to the middle ages”.
Araújo is one of several ministers picked by the philosopher king of Brazil’s extreme-right, Olavo do Carvalho. Olavo is a former astrologer, charlatan mystic, mediocre journalist, and self-imposed exile in Richmond, Virginia, where he ran until recently an obscure think tank called the “Inter-American institute for Philosophy, Government and Social Thought“, whose website mysteriously vanished following the election. In recent times he has headed the deeply odd “Brasil Paralelo” project, which was a years-long live-action roleplay for what looks very much like Bolsonaro’s incoming Government.
Brazil’s new Education minister, Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez, was also suggested by Olavo do Carvalho. A self-defined “Anti-Marxist” he is a devout supporter of the “School without Party” initiative which claims to eradicate “communist indoctrination” from Brazil’s education system, while at the same time proposing that teachers are versed in the philosophies of Margaret Thatcher. Emphasis of policy under the new government is cost cutting through distance learning in basic education, privatisation and a voucher system for privatised schools inspired by policy implemented in Pinochet’s Chile.
Another climate change skeptic is new environment minister, the “Liberal” Partido Novo’s (Banco Itaú) Ricardo Salles. A darling of ruralists, his election campaign material defended their right to shoot MST landless Workers movement members and leftists, and he has his own environmental fraud case pending against him. He claimed not to have adequate data to evaluate deforestation. Bolsonaro wants to sell off and open the Amazon for exploitation to foreign corporations, this is why he has been called a threat not just to Brazil, but to the world. Salles is his choice to implement that.
On the day that the Neofascist President elect named Salles his new Environment Minister, two MST coordinators – Rodrigo Celestino and José “Orlando” Bernardo da Silva – were assassinated on their camp in Paraiba.
Science and Technology will be headed by Brazil’s first Astronaut, Marcos Pontes. Budgets have halved since 2013, and there is has been a major brain drain to Europe and North America as research programmes were regularly shuttered since Michel Temer took office. There is no indication that policy will change with this kind of ceremonial appointment.
Heading the newly combined Ministry of “Women, Family and Human Rights” is ultraconservative Evangelical pastor, Damares Alves. FUNAI, the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples, will also be folded into the new body, and the appointment of Alves to head to such a frankenstein’s monster of a ministry is pure vandalism. Alves seeks to outlaw abortion even in the case of rape, one of the few circumstances in which it is currently legal in the country. She has proposed what has been deemed “Bolsa Estupro”, a small cash allowance for victims of rape in exchange for not having the pregnancy terminated.
Alves also claims to have seen Jesus Christ climb a Guava tree. “He was so beautiful,” said the future minister, during an evangelical service, in which she described how she had tried to stop an erratic Mr Christ from climbing the tree, as she feared that he would get hurt. “He has already suffered so much on the cross”, she confirmed.
Pastor Alves has proposed a “cultural counter-revolution in schools”, despite having no specific remit for Education.
Even the supposedly credible member of his cabinet, Chicago Boy Paulo Guedes, has been called a “maniac”, even by Neoliberal standards, and Brazil is his new laboratory. Bolsonaro’s Finance minister is key to the project and to Wall Street’s support for it. In 2005 Guedes founded Instituto Millenium, a think tank drawing together Neoliberals from Brazil and outside, including journalists, economists and politicians, seen as a successor to IBAD, the foreign funded NGO which disseminated anti-government propaganda ahead of the 1964 military coup. Over the next decade its alumni would come to dominate the economic media narrative in Brazil.
After linking up with Guedes, allegedly on Wall Street advice, what followed was Bolsonaro’s ‘road to Damascus’ conversion to the rhetoric of free markets and the minimal state. Guedes, a founder of what became BTG Pactual bank, also worked in Chile during the Pinochet era. He describes that genocidal dictatorship as “an intellectual point of view”. As for free trade, Angela Merkel has warned that the election of Bolsonaro jeopardises completion of trade deals that have been forged for years, such as that between Mercosul and the European Union. The proposed move of Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem, and withdrawal of Palestinian recognition will affect significant trade of meat and poultry to Arab countries, whilst he and his allies rhetoric on China risks the crucial economic relationship with Brazil’s biggest trading partner.
Guedes’ programme is effectively to privatise/de-nationalise everything.
“Poison Muse” Tereza Cristina is the new Agriculture Minister. She is so named for her enthusiasm to further deregulate toxic pesticides on behalf of the industry and Big Agro, in a country which an average person already consumes over seven litres of agrotoxins per year, with all the serious health problems that such legalised, programmed poisoning brings.
Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, a former Military doctor, has been investigation for corruption since 2015. Like Cristina, from the hard right Dictatorship-heir party, “Democratas”, Mandetta formerly at private healthcare giant Unimed, is expected to oversee a privatisation programme of the SUS public health system. The Bolsonaro effect hit SUS before he even took office, with Cuba withdrawing over 8000 doctors following his xenophobic comments, many of whom were serving in remote or dangerous areas where Brazilian doctors refused to work, and are now left without healthcare provision.
4 Star General Fernando Azevedo will be Minister of Defence. Supreme Court President Dias Toffoli, a succession of decisions from whom were instrumental in Bolsonaro’s election, said he was consulted in a phonecall from the President-elect and quickly approved the appointment of Azevedo, who had worked with the judge as an advisor.
Operation Lava Jato Inquisitor-Judge Sérgio Moro is the most controversial appointment of the lot. Having insisted he would not enter politics, his acceptance to head the new Justice and Security super ministry sent his most vocal supporters into spirals of denial and cognitive dissonance. Having jailed the election’s likely winner, on a ridiculous charge, leaving the way open for Bolsonaro’s victory, then joining his government, it is the final sorry end to the fairytale of Operation Carwash, lauded internationally as a crucial step in Brazil’s development, when it was always a political instrument. General Heleno remarked: “It will be an honor to be sitting at the table with Dr. Sérgio Moro. He is a great value of the country, a man respected here and abroad”. Moro, after illegally wiretapping President Rousseff while in office, and releasing the recordings to the media, again illegally, contributing to both the mediatic campaign for her impeachment, and for the prosecution of former President Lula, will now have effectively carte blanche over surveillance.
Chief of Staff will be Onyx Lorenzoni, overseeing transition and facing corruption charges of his own. Onyx has admitted that Moro hatched the plan to jail Lula back in 2005, while Moro has defended Onyx’s reputation publicly, and now intends to pursue “corruption in the Trade Union movement”.
Onyx has announced that both the Ministry of Work and the Ministry of Culture will cease to exist on January 1, 2019.
Pega fogo Cabaré
With his inauguration three weeks away, and the euphoria of his victory subsided, Bolsonaro is now engulfed in BolsoGate, a corruption scandal that is both serious and farcical. It will be a test of how much Brazilian conservatives actually care about corruption cases when the Workers Party are not implicated. We already know the answer.
After the exposure of so-called ghost employees on the payroll, it was revealed last year that his son, Federal Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, also charged with making threats against a female journalist, managed to increase his personal fortune by 432% since 2014. His brother Flavio, now elected as Senator, is the focus of this latest scandal to hit the family.
Department of Control of Financial Activities (COAF) released a report of unusual financial activity in the bank accounts of a former aide to Flavio Bolsonaro. In the COAF statement the former driver of Flavio Bolsonaro, Fabricio Jose Carlos de Queiroz, is alleged to have moved R$1.2m illegally between January 2016 and January 2017. Seven aides to Bolsonaro have so far been found to be involved, with future first lady Michelle Bolsonaro, also implicated.
A feature of the suspicious activity was a long succession of bank withdrawals and deposits just below the figure that automatically triggers an audit for money laundering in Brazil’s banking system – a common way to disguise illegal financial activity. Jair Bolsonaro tried to explain away the accusations during a press conference at a Brazilian Navy ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, which only generated new doubts about the story. So, a long game to create a political dynasty has left them looking like a would-be mafia family. The driver in question has was being paid R$20k a month by the Bolsonaros, with whom he has an apparently close friendship, photographed with them at their barbecues and fishing trips. Suspicion is that the driver is what Brazilians call a “laranja”, (literally orange) – a vessel for laundered wealth.
The sums involved already exceed those alleged but unproven in the case which saw Lula jailed and prevented from running in an election that would’ve seen him face, and in most likely beat, Jair Bolsonaro. Had details of the new case against the Bolsonaros emerged publicly when first known – 15th October – it could have affected the election, with the candidate then already reeling from a corruption scandal, the discovery of illegal campaign slush fund which was bankrolling a vast disinformation campaign on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging platform. With that case brushed under the carpet, along with his charge for inciting racial hatred, he continued to victory without facing the legal obstacles that had taken likely winner Lula from the race.
With the election over, and Bolsonaro elected on spurious anti-corruption rhetoric, the new case is getting more attention, and not confined to ideological adversaries, with a group of political aides, and his sons, Federal Congressman Eduardo, Senator Flavio, and Rio State Congressman Carlos, all implicated in one way or another.
Coincidentally or not, in 1992 the testimony of his driver brought about the impeachment of Fernando Collor, but given the role of a compromised judiciary in Brazil’s coup and lurch to authoritarianism, it would be naive to expect salvation to arrive wearing a toga, despite it representing hope for those communities and social groups most at risk. Both Justice and Security Minister Sérgio Moro, and Prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, his wingman in the Curitiban Lava Jato taskforce, have so far brushed aside corruption scandal facing the President elect.
There has also been a wave of infantile feuding within the PSL party which rose from almost nothing to be the second biggest in congress on Bolsonaro’s wave. A motley bunch, many of whom with little or no political experience; leaked messages showed PSL Congresswoman Joyce Hasselmann attacking Bolsonaro’s sons, and her blog post from 2014 has been unearthed in which she called the idea of his Presidential candidacy “a joke”. She released a video urging her supporters not to clink to the link, claiming it was a “virus”. Hasselmann recently became the most voted female congresswoman in history, solely down to her positioning and vociferous support for Bolsonaro.
The state of Bolsonaro’s cabinet will put all the propaganda about Rousseff’s Government between 2013-16 in perspective. A group of centre left technocrats were depicted as incompetent fraudsters and a recession caused primarily by the global slowdown in commodities, and exacerbated by the Coup’s own sabotage, was wildly framed as the “worst economic crisis in Brazilian history”, when just 25 years prior, Brazil had 4000% inflation.
How long this government will survive is anyone’s guess, but any investor who believed insistances in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg that a Bolsonaro Government would bring stability to the country were comically misled. If by some miracle Brazil thrives it will be despite, not because of Bolsonaro, and it is a a question of when, not if, the crash comes. At the very best we expect a return to pre-recession, pre-Lava Jato GDP, perhaps augmented by a short term boost in foreign direct investment.
Meanwhile, in terms of human rights, equality and social cohesion, development, health, education and culture, it will be a political catastrophe that will face fierce and organised resistance.
Some are betting that sooner or later the Military will simply take over, either via VP Mourão, who already outranks the President elect, or by more senior figures such as the wildly powerful head of institutional security Sergio Westphalen Etchegoyen, and/or head of the Army General Villas Boas. After coming this far, Jair Bolsonaro could well find himself thrown under the bus.
“Pega fogo cabaré”, or let the circus burn, as they say in Brazil.