He’s a political insider who pretends to be an outsider. He is a businessman prone to hysterical twitter meltdowns, who has fired staff live on Facebook, legally harasses his critics and, by carrying a change of clothes wherever he goes to guarantee that he is never photographed with a smudge, seems more concerned with his image than government. Meet lobbyist, former journalist and reality show star João Doria, enemy of bicycle lanes, descendent of slave owners and son of a federal congressman who claims to be a millionaire due to his own hard work, but earned most of his fortune through selling access to corrupt politicians and insider government contracts with members of his own political party. This self-proclaimed “businessman/mayor” spent a fortune carefully crafting the image of a political outsider, but as Tourism Minister from the notoriously corrupt José Sarney presidential administration, he was most widely known for his strategy of marketing Rio de Janeiro as an international sex tourism destination at a time when a 1972% annual inflation rate and catastrophic hunger crisis brought the price of sex work to an all time low.
Although lauded in publications that champion “free markets”, such as Breitbart and AS/COA’s America’s Quarterly, during his short time as São Paulo mayor, Doria has come under criticism for his attacks against entrepreneurs and free speech. on a recent visit to Argentina, he announced that he plans to remove all street vendors from the city of São Paulo. Journalists also recently uncovered the fact that, since he has come into office, groups of Doria supporters are collaborating with his lawyers to snitch on people who criticize his mayoral administration on Facebook so that they can be threatened with lawsuits.
Regardless of these threats to their cherished value of individual liberty, Neoliberals like Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer and the Economist continue to gush enthusiastically about the former star of Donald Trump’s Brazilian “Apprentice” franchise, with the implication that he would be a sensible option for president in 2018, as opposed to the social democratic Keynesianism of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the populist neo-fascism of former military dictatorship paratrooper Jair Bolsonaro – both of whom tower over Doria in current presidential opinion polls. If, as expected, a certain more recognised and popular candidate is excluded, gaffe-prone Doria could well become Brasil’s own Silvio Berlusconi… or at least its next Fernando Collor.
Doria’s current Political home, Centre-Right PSDB, has been described as “less political party, more a group of rich white men who want to be President”. America’s Quarterly editor Brian Winter, who ghost-wrote the autobiography of PSDB’s former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, described Doria, who has only held public office for 4 months during the last 30 years, as their “best player”, with other candidates unpopular, mired in corruption scandal, or both. Ian Bremmer claimed in Time Magazine, baselessly, that Doria has a “reputation for getting things done“.
While these commentators and their colleagues continually lament a fantasy form of “Populism” on the Latin American left, they simultaneously champion a man who made his first public appearance as mayor dressed in a custom-tailored street cleaner outfit, pretending to sweep in a pre-sanitised location. They imply that the best bet for Brasil’s future is election of a man who, with the help of friend, State Governor Geraldo Alckmin, came to power in the City of São Paulo, with the slogan “Accelerate” and accompanying promise to reverse reductions to speed limits introduced by his predecessor Fernando Haddad (accidents & deaths have since increased proportionally). They eulogise a man who, during his short time in office, has already cut budgets to core programmes while massively increasing his publicity budget. While warning of the dangers of a return to power of Lula, who moved 20 million people over the poverty line and ended Brazil’s hunger crisis, they laud a politician who prioritised restoring the right of Military Police to remove blankets from the homeless.
In a 2018 Presidential race which threatens to be far from free and fair, Doria’s principal positive attribute is that he is not actual fascist Bolsonaro. Yet that too is part of the northern narrative – should Lula be removed from the race by fellow darling of US Foreign Policy set, partisan Judge Sergio Moro, a familiar electoral race is being set up between archetypal Liberal Moderniser and lunatic Far-Right Bogeyman which observers of recent European elections will find familiar.
All of these commentators rightfully point to an imminent “political vacuum” caused by the prosecution of politicians in Lava Jato, an operation they have enthusiastically supported despite its documented damage to employment and the economy. Lava Jato was explicitly based on Italy’s Mani Pulite of the early 1990s, which also allegedly began as a US Intelligence-led operation, and created a vacuum for the emergence of Berlusconi, a Media Tycoon Populist in alliance with neo-fascists, who would go on to become the most notoriously corrupt leader in Italy’s post-war history.
Within days of Doria’s election the gaffes began in earnest, with him describing the part-decadent but socially vibrant, architecturally exciting old downtown of São Paulo, as lixo vivo or “living garbage“. Then, upon entering the Mayor’s office in January 2017, he set in motion an unprecedented privatisation campaign, advertising much of the City’s patrimony for sale to foreign investors, including iconic sites such as the Pacaembu Stadium and Ibirapuera Park. Shortly after his election he was hit by scandal when it was revealed that Companies who would receive such new private concessions had donated to his campaign.
At Brasil’s General Strike in April 2017, ousted President Dilma Rousseff called the Coup of 2016 an attack on Brazilian Sovereignty. With his emphasis on private ownership of Brazil’s sovereign assets, it isn’t difficult to understand Doria’s appeal to foreign corporate lobbies such as AS/COA – a Neoliberal with no apparent qualms about selling off the entire public sector of the largest contiguous territory in the Americas, the World’s 9th biggest economy and perhaps richest nation in terms of natural resources.
Doria is the main speaker at an AS/COA event in São Paulo, “Brazil in the eyes of Wall Street” on May 12, 2017, exactly one year on from the impeachment of Rousseff, which the same corporate interests tacitly and/or explicitly supported. He also has the support of controversial Pro-Impeachment “Libertarian” group, MBL.
As he is groomed for Brasil’s Presidency by the Wall Street commentariat, it might be worthwhile to pause for a second and take a good look at who João Doria is, where he comes from and what he is really doing as Mayor of the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, because so far, away from all the marketing, there is little to cheer about.