Escalating radicalism in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

. May 25, 2020
Escalating radicalism in Bolsonaro's Brazil civil war President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr./ABr President Jair Bolsonaro: escalating radicalism. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr./ABr

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This week, the dangerous rise of authoritarianism in Brazil, with talks of “civil war” by pro-Bolsonaro military officers. The Supreme Court trial that will settle land ownership issues in Brazil. And São Paulo’s failed “mega holiday.”

Does Bolsonaro want a civil war in Brazil?

Jair Bolsonaro wants Brazilians to arm themselves — in his words, to “avoid a dictatorship.”

That &#8220;dictatorship,&#8221; he says, is represented by stay-home orders put in place by governors, in the hopes of curbing Covid-19 infection rates. &#8220;If [people] were armed, they’d be on the street [fighting these decrees],” said the president during an <a href="">April 22 cabinet meeting</a>.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>While this title might seem exaggerated at first glance, some key events show that Brazil has in fact moved down a dangerous path towards radicalization and <a href="">authoritarianism</a>.</p> <p><strong>Out in the open.</strong> Last week, opposition lawmakers asked the Supreme Court to examine the president&#8217;s cell phone for evidence that he illegally meddled with the Federal Police. Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s chief security officer, retired Army General Augusto Heleno, answered with a statement that is nothing short of a coup threat. Calling the potential — and highly improbable — seizure of the president’s cell phone “inadmissible,” he said: “Such an attitude is a clear attempt to compromise the harmony between government branches and could have unpredictable consequences to national stability.”</p> <ul><li>One day later, the Defense Ministry —&nbsp;which answers for the Armed Forces — seconded Gen. Heleno&#8217;s words.</li><li>On Sunday, 90 Army reserve officers published a statement accusing the press and the Supreme Court of sparking instability that could lead, &#8220;in the worst-case scenario, to a civil war.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Militias.</strong> Reporter Renato Alves showed that a pro-Bolsonaro phalanx has been raising money to <a href="">offer &#8220;paramilitary training&#8221; to the president&#8217;s supporters</a>, in order to form “an army that will exterminate the left and corruption.” The group&#8217;s leader, a former government official, has ties to neo-Nazi groups.</p> <p><strong>Bottom line. </strong>In fairness, Mr. Bolsonaro and his camp have never been coy about their putschist tendencies. Even before taking office, Vice President Hamilton Mourão talked about a self-coup &#8220;in the case of widespread anarchy.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>The administration has made it clear that it won&#8217;t back down or moderate until being forced to. But the Supreme Court and Congress continue to say that &#8220;some tension between government branches is normal,&#8221; and that &#8220;there is no institutional crisis in Brazil.&#8221;</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Whose land is it anyway?</h2> <p>On Friday, the Supreme Court started a trial that will settle a decades-long dispute between landowners and indigenous groups:&nbsp;establishing when a given piece of land legally belongs to an indigenous community. The case revolves around a specific group, the Xokleng —&nbsp;a nomad people that almost disappeared after battling settlers in the past and rural producers in the present. They are now confined to a strip of land on the banks of the Itajaí River, in the southern state of Santa Catarina.</p> <ul><li>The Supreme Court will decide what ties an indigenous group to a land: their ancestral connection with the place, or whether or not they occupied that area on October 5, 1988, when the Brazilian Constitution was enacted, granting indigenous peoples the right to their land.</li></ul> <p><strong>Context.</strong> A 2017 opinion from the Solicitor General&#8217;s Office argues that indigenous groups have rights only on the land they occupied when the Constitution was approved. &#8220;Otherwise, we could argue that every piece of land belongs to them, including Copacabana Beach,&#8221; says Senator Luiz Carlos Heinze, a member of the rural caucus.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The Supreme Court case decided to make this a landmark case, with its outcome used to settle all similar disputes.</p> <p><strong>Ownership.</strong> Brazil has 487 indigenous lands today, with 724 demarcation processes underway. The Jair Bolsonaro administration has not approved one indigenous land recognition case, staying true to the president&#8217;s campaign promise of &#8220;not yielding a single square centimeter.&#8221;</p> <ul><li>A <a href="">study</a> published in the Land Use Policy Journal says that 572,000 indigenous persons occupy around 13 percent of the Brazilian territory, while 97,000 producers own 21.5 percent of the territory.</li></ul> <p><strong>Violence.</strong> Land disputes are the reason for many conflicts between producers and the indigenous. Over the past 30 years, around 1,000 indigenous people have been murdered, according to the <a href="!/">Caci</a> platform, which monitors violence against native populations.</p> <ul><li>Suicide rates are three times higher among indigenous peoples. Experts mention the loss of their cultural identity, social isolation, poverty, substance abuse, and violence as key reasons for the phenomenon.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Markets</h2> <p>Car rental giant Hertz filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, citing the &#8220;sudden and dramatic&#8221; impact of Covid-19 on the travel sector. Hertz&#8217;s Brazilian operations were purchased by Localiza back in 2016 and are no longer connected to the parent company. Still, the sector should feel a blow this week. Car rental companies had cashed in during the boom of ride-hailing apps — one of the hardest-hit sectors in Brazil.</p> <p class="has-text-align-center"><strong><em>Natália Scalzaretto</em></strong></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>All those holidays for nothing</h2> <p>Both the city and the state of São Paulo worked together to create a six-day holiday in Brazil&#8217;s most-populated city, as a move aimed to increase social isolation rates without the need for a forceful lockdown. So far, however, the rate of people staying at home — measured by anonymous GPS data from smartphones — didn&#8217;t reach the goal of 55 percent on any single day. Experts say that a lockdown is unavoidable —&nbsp;and the more São Paulo postpones it, the more restrictive it will have to be when finally enforced.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2547833" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Looking ahead</h2> <ul><li><strong>Probe.</strong> On Friday, the Supreme Court published an instantly-infamous video recording of an April 22 cabinet meeting —&nbsp;a key piece of evidence in the investigation on whether President Jair Bolsonaro tried to illegally meddle with the Federal Police. On Sunday, Mr. Bolsonaro gave a hint of what his strategy will be: he wants to raise suspicions that the case&#8217;s rapporteur, Justice Celso de Mello, is out to get him, and is acting politically. More fuel to an already dangerous institutional crisis.</li><li><strong>Covid-19.</strong> Brazil is set to pass the U.S. this week and become the country with most daily confirmed coronavirus deaths on a 7-day rolling average. Brazil&#8217;s curve continues to go up, while the Covid-19 case trend in the U.S. is on a downward trajectory.</li><li><strong>Financial aid. </strong>President Jair Bolsonaro has still yet to sign into law a bill granting BRL 125 billion in <a href="">financial aid to states and municipalities</a>, including BRL 60 billion in direct transfers over four months. Mr. Bolsonaro had agreed with governors to veto articles that allow raises for several public service professionals —&nbsp;but his reluctance to bear the political burden vis-à-vis civil servants has seen him stall the sanctioning of the bill.</li><li><strong>GDP.</strong> The official GDP data for Q1 2020 will be published on Friday —&nbsp;and should reflect the first effects of the pandemic. Economists from think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas predict a 1-percent drop from Q4 2019. They estimate that the Brazilian economy shrank 5.3 percent between February and March, which makes for a grim prospect of what numbers for April — the first full month with social restriction measures in place — will look like.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>In case you missed it</h2> <ul><li><strong>Borders 1. </strong>Donald Trump&#8217;s White House is moving to <a href="">block the entry of any non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil</a> during the 14 days prior to travel. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the restriction aims at curbing the imported spread of Covid-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that Brazil &#8220;is experiencing widespread, ongoing person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2.&#8221; On Friday, the World Health Organization declared South America as the <a href="">new coronavirus epicenter</a>, mainly because of the situation in Brazil and Ecuador.</li><li><strong>Borders 2. </strong>On Thursday, President Jair Bolsonaro announced a similar travel ban on foreigners from all countries. The new measure will not affect international humanitarian programs or international trade. Other Latin American countries such as Argentina announced similar measures in March — when the pandemic reached the region.</li><li><strong>Breakthrough. </strong>Researchers at São Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital have developed, in the space of just two months, a genetic test to diagnose Covid-19. It is the first in the world to use next-generation sequencing (NGS), a flagship technology that makes large-scale whole-genome sequencing accessible. The hospital expects to <a href="">enhance its test-processing capacity</a> from 2,200 to 5,530 tests per day.</li><li><strong>Supreme Court. </strong>After undergoing surgery to drain an abscess, Supreme Court Chief Justice Dias Toffoli showed symptoms that &#8220;suggested a Covid-19 infection.&#8221; He is awaiting test results and is being closely monitored. Mr. Toffoli will take a seven-day leave of absence, during which time Justice Luiz Fux will take over as acting chief justice.

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