Malacandra.me

Bye bye Brazil

Bye bye Brazil

by digby

Brazil's new tyrant took office today:

The tanks began to roll into Rio de Janeiro on the morning of April 1, 1964, some of them from the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, others from São Paulo. The Brazilian capital had moved to Brasília, the new planned city in the country’s interior, a few years prior, but Rio remained the effective center of power, and somewhere in the city, President João Goulart was clinging to power.

Goulart, a leftist who became president in 1961, had spent the days prior on the phone with a top military officer, Gen. Amaury Kruel. The general was hoping to prevent the collapse of Brazil’s government by urging Jango, as Goulart was known to Brazilians, to fire prominent leftist officials and institute a slate of reforms that would please both the military and the centrist establishment in Congress that opposed Goulart’s shifts to the left.

Goulart refused. The military marched.

By the next morning, Goulart had fled to Porto Alegre. A few days later, he was in Uruguay. Brazil’s democracy had collapsed.

Five decades later, on the evening of Oct. 28, 2018, members of the Brazilian military were parading through the streets of Rio again. Green Army jeeps honked their horns and flashed their lights; soldiers standing atop them waved Brazilian flags as adoring crowds cheered their arrival.

This time, though, the military was not coming to depose a president, but to celebrate him. Jair Bolsonaro, a federal congressman and former Army captain, had just won the election to become Brazil’s 38th president.

“What a nightmare,” Argentine journalist Diego Iglesias tweeted in Spanish of the scene.

Bolsonaro, whose presidency will begin with a New Year’s Day inaugural ceremony in Brasília, has routinely praised Brazil’s military dictatorship, which gave way to the return of democratic governance in 1985. And his rise to power shares many similarities with the military regime’s: Bolsonaro has seized on widespread discontent and fatigue with an incapable and corrupt political establishment, on fervid opposition to a leftist party that had spent more than a decade in power, on an economic collapse that Brazil has only slowly begun to escape, and on rising levels of violent crime.

And while he has pitched his surge to power as the result of a “populist” revolt, his base of support mirrors that of the old coup masters: wealthy financial elites, segments of the population willing to trade the rights and lives of the poor and marginalized for their own safety and economic prosperity, and traditional parties and politicians who refuse to acknowledge their own roles in creating the monster before folding themselves into his arms.

Much like the military once did, Bolsonaro has threatened his leftist political opponents with violence and imprisonment. He has promised to deliver a political “cleansing never seen before in Brazil,” and threatened media outlets that report news unfavorable to him. His vice president is a former Army general who, in an interview with HuffPost Brazil, refused to rule out a return to military rule, and who has posited — over Bolsonaro’s unconvincing objections — that the new administration could rewrite the country’s constitution.


This is not exclusively a Brazilian phenomenon. Countries around the world, from Hungary to Turkey to the Philippines, have turned to noisy leaders who promise instant renewals and silver-bullet solutions under the banner of a right-wing, nativist “populism” ― the preferred term of news outlets, even though the key constituencies backing these candidates tend to comprise the nations’ elite.

Each major election has become, in part, a referendum on the state of global democracy as a whole. And each victory for a right-wing, anti-democratic figure has paved the way for a similar candidate in the next major election somewhere else.

Of the bunch, though, Bolsonaro might be the most pressing threat to a major democracy. Brazil’s is the fourth-largest in the world, and the largest by population in Latin America. If it dies, this time, it won’t be at the hands of the armed forces. It will be self-inflicted.

“There have been very, very few military coups in Latin America over the last 35 years,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard University political scientist and author of How Democracies Die. “So I think that while increased public support for a military coup is troubling, it’s much more likely Brazilian democracy will die at the hands of an elected leader.”

Brazil is about to show the world how a modern democracy falls apart.


There's a lesson in this somewhere ... I can't quite put my finger on it.