Intellectuals warn against a Bolsonaro victory in Brazil

Noam Chomsky, Bernard Henri-Lévy and others highlight the danger to Latin America's largest country if the far-right candidate wins the runoff on Sunday

Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro.
Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro.MAURO PIMENTEL (AFP)

Brazil’s decisive vote this Sunday will be a watershed in the history of the largest country in Latin America. If the polls are right and the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro wins the presidential election, Brazil will sink into a period of uncertainty. And if all of Bolsonaro’s threats come true, democracy will take a clear hit. EL PAÍS contacted relevant intellectuals from Europe and the Americas to ask for their views on this potential scenario.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, French philosopher

Bernard-Henri Lévy.
Bernard-Henri Lévy.

I see and I understand Brazilians’ distress, their sadness and their anger. There is no doubt that there is a crisis there. And an expansion of corruption. And an increase in urban violence. But no solution can come from a populist who only promises new forms of violence and to tear the nation apart. Is it really necessary to recall the countless racist, misogynistic, homophobic, bellicose and occasionally criminal statements made by the candidate who is leading in the polls? And is it not obvious that statements of this nature, just like the political platform they go with, contradict everything that Brazil can be proud of: its multiethnicity, its tradition and its welcoming practices, its true liberalism and the social coexistence in immense, beautiful cities with multiple beliefs?

History, including Brazil’s, is brimming with dramatic examples of where this can lead

Bernard-Henri Lévy

I find it hard to believe that the homeland of [singer] Chico Buarque and [activist] Chico Mendes is allowing itself to be tempted by a return to an atrocious past that has left so many open wounds. I find it hard to imagine that the country could turn its back on the famous saying: “Brazil, Land of the Future.” That is why I am expressing the hope that this country will break the deadly anti-democratic process that began in 2014 and which is reaching its most critical stage today, before it is too late. There is a week left to avoid an upset that would be difficult to reverse. Brazil must gather strength from its own suffering memory of the horrors of the military dictatorship that took the country hostage between 1964 and 1985. They must say #EleNão [#NotHim, a social media campaign run by Brazilian women against Bolsonaro] to the far-right candidate who openly displays his disdain for democratic rules. We all know that exacerbated nationalism, disdain for human rights and minorities, and the use of hate as a campaign strategy are the populists’ weapons. And history, including Brazil’s, is brimming with dramatic examples of where this can lead.

Brazil is certainly not the only country having to deal with a wave of populism. In my country, France, the Republic is being constantly put to the test. But until now, a republican front has always managed to put up a barrier. Brazil can do the same. It can elect an earnest, upright candidate, Fernando Haddad. By voting for Haddad the nation can stop a man who proudly embodies barbarity from leveling its recent democracy. Brazil is worth more than this. The Brazil that the entire world admires is the Brazil where women march against horror. It is the Brazil of the Marielles [after murdered activist Marielle Franco]. It is the Brazil of resolute opposition to Bolsonaro and his weapons.

Noam Chomsky, linguist

Noam Chomsky.
Noam Chomsky.

Electing Bolsonaro will be a tragedy for Brazil and for the region. For the entire world, in fact. Literally. One of his most scandalous plans involves opening up the Amazon area so his rich voters in agribusiness can exploit it, which will have devastating effects on the global environment, not to mention the indigenous population, which does not deserve a square inch of space, as he has declared in what amounts to a virtual call to genocide.

Bolsonaro is not only one of those shameful far-right leaders who degrade contemporary politics. It goes far beyond that. Perhaps his vilest moment – and there are many of them – was during the right’s grotesque ‘soft coup,’ when a parliament formed by leading criminals ousted president Dilma Rousseff based on ludicrous motives. Bolsonaro dedicated his vote to the head of the dictatorship’s horrible torture unit in charge of tormenting Rousseff. But perhaps this is no surprise, coming from someone who only criticizes the dictatorship for having failed to assassinate 30,000 people, like the one in Argentina did. The list of horrific faux pas would fill many pages. His programs for the country, if applied, would be very profitable for investors and the super-rich at the expense of the population considered to be worthless – a broad category – while the country descends into a deplorable caricature.

Jorge Ramos, Mexican journalist

Jorge Ramos.
Jorge Ramos.

The rise of Bolsonaro in Brazil unfortunately reflects the worst side of Brazil and Latin America. There is no doubt about it: there is tremendous disappointment with democracy in our hemisphere. Since democracy cannot be eaten, nor does it stop you from getting killed, nor has it significantly reduced the gap between rich and poor, there has been a return to the idea of a strongman. Across Latin America we have had a wild variety of tyrants and petty dictators. But now this figure is reappearing in Brazil as a monster with more heads: sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic and racist.

Just like we saw with Trump in the United States, it is of great concern that millions of Brazilian voters do not mind voting for someone like Bolsonaro. It’s as though their vote said nothing about them. But they are wrong. Your vote speaks about who you are. Whether they like it or not, the nearly 63 million people who voted for Trump resemble him in some way. And the same thing is happening in Brazil. And get ready: Trump, through his attacks, lies and prejudice, has split the country in two. Brazilians are about to do the same. And ironically, it’s all thanks to democracy.

Beatriz Sarlo, Argentinean political analyst

Beatriz Sarlo.
Beatriz Sarlo.Mariana Eliano

Bolsonaro, victorious, arrogant and brazen, proves some of the hypotheses that have become common currency in recent years. For instance, that the territorial power of the large parties has dwindled before forces that are not political in nature, but which offer spiritual consolation and community organization. A case in point is Pentecostalism, which has already proven its influence in Brazil and has representatives in Congress.

When politics becomes too complex, incomprehensible or remote; when corruption dissolves credibility; when the gap between the represented and the representatives seems like an impassable bog due to the lack of institutional mediation; that is when a leader comes along proposing a demagogic relationship with the social sectors that he seeks to woo. He praises their worst prejudices and builds scenarios where fear of the future cultivates apocalyptic forecasts.

English version by Susana Urra.


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