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Bolsonaro’s Brazil

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by Perry Anderson (Feb 2019)

I: Lula/Dilma

The teratology of the contemporary political imagination – plentiful enough: Trump, Le Pen, Salvini, Orbán, Kaczyński, ogres galore – has acquired a new monster. Rising above the ruck, the president-elect of Brazil has extolled his country’s most notorious torturer; declared that its military dictatorship should have shot thirty thousand opponents; told a congresswoman she was too ugly to merit raping; announced he would rather a son killed in a car accident than gay; declared open season on the Amazon rainforest; not least, on the day after his election, promised followers to rid the land of red riff-raff. Yet for Sérgio Moro, his incoming justice minister saluted worldwide as an epitome of judicial independence and integrity, Jair Bolsonaro is a ‘moderate’.

To all appearances, the verdict of the polls last October was unambiguous: after governing the country for 14 years, the Workers’ Party (PT) has been comprehensively repudiated and its survival may now be in doubt. Lula, the most popular ruler in Brazilian history, has been incarcerated by Moro and awaits further jail sentences. His successor, evicted from office midway through her second term, is a virtual outcast, reduced to a humiliating fourth place in a local Senate race. How has this reversal come about? To what extent was it contingent or at some point a foregone conclusion? What explains the radicalism of the upshot? By comparison with the scale of the upheaval through which Brazil has lived in the last five years, and the gravity of its possible outcome, the histrionics over Brexit in this country and the conniptions over Trump in America are close to much ado about nothing.

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