It was great to be in Brazil for the second round of the presidential election and get a grip on the changes taking place. I confess that I was surprised by the Captain’s election and from now on I will start referring to him as President Bolsonaro as a sign of my respect for the electoral process and the vote both of those who supported the number 17 and those who did not.
The reasons for President Bolsonaro’s striking victory have and continue to be discussed and explained extensively. Suffice it to say that in spite of Mr. Bolsonaro’s personal drawbacks and defects, a substantial plurality of electors could no longer support the stench of corruption attributed to Lula and his PT. Having said this, we still must remember that had Lula not been jailed, it is likely that he would have easily won the election. Still, Lula was condemned with due process and Jair Messias Bolsonaro has been elected in an open and fair voting process. He has the legitimacy of almost 58 million votes.
Today is the 15th of November and a holiday in Brazil commemorating the establishment of the Republic (by military putsch) in 1889. The Republic sent the Emperor Pedro II into exile while promising modernity for Brazil. Today, with President Bolsonaro and his personal penchant for the simple and traditional, Brazil once again illustrates its struggle to establish a coherent and acceptable identity.
Paulo Guedes, the chosen super Finance Minister represents contemporary liberal market acceptable trends countering the statist direction inherited not only from the previous PT governments but also much further back. Sergio Moro, the national hero of the moralistic anti-corruption crusade, is the super Minister of Justice and promises to clean up the public and private sectors while attacking organized crime. This too is an acceptable contemporary ideal. Most curious, though, and perhaps the clearest example of the fight between the traditional and modern, is Ernesto Araujo, an almost totally unknown figure until last week. Apparently, Araujo was chosen as Chancellor for his early support of Mr. Bolsonaro on the blog Metapolitica 17 Contra o Globalismo, as he was only recently elevated to the rank of Ambassador and has never headed an Embassy. On his blog, a cursory and perhaps simplified reading shows Araujo as a Trump supporter, a nationalist, a Christian, and an ardent anti-PT ideologue. One of the more radical quotations of Araujo’s writing currently making the rounds on Twitter reads: “I want to help Brazil and the world liberate themselves from globalist ideology. Globalism is economic globalization that has come to be piloted by cultural Marxism. Essentially it is an anti-human and anti-Christian system.”
It is not clear how Brazil’s Foreign Minister sees his role, say at the UN or in other multilateral agreements. Given his praise of Trump, it may be that he will advocate for only bilateral agreements. However, the larger question in the Brazilian context is what will be the face of Brazil?
Will there be a single conservative creed for the economy and for society? What will this look like? In spite of Brazil’s conservative mores, it is well down the road of globalized entertainment, social media and economic integration. It seems that Guedes would open Brazil’s economy and Araujo might advocate the opposite. Moro might combat corruption but also advocate for the protection of individual rights such as those of minorities. Araujo might repeat Bolsonaro’s more radical rhetoric that minorities must fall in line and that there will be no more coddling of so called victims of racism or sexual discrimination.
These are just a few examples of not only the tensions in Brazilian society but also their manifestation within Bolsonaro’s own team. I am pretty certain that there will be no “final solution” and I am encouraged by the memories of the resistance and opposition to the military dictatorship that could neither thrive nor survive.
After three weeks in Brazil with a week in Bahia, I trust that Brazil’s institutions will survive. But I would also like to see some basic improvements, which mysteriously have never taken place in my nearly 60 years there. The picture at the beginning of this text tells us not to throw toilet paper down the toilet. With all of its wealth, with all of its growth, with all of its worldly or global sophistication, the basic areas of sanitation, education and public health remain precarious. Before being right wing or left wing, it would be nice to flush the toilet knowing that the sewage is not flowing directly into the street or the ocean.
Is the new administration up for this challenge?