A schism within Brazil’s far-right causing trouble for Bolsonaro

. Jul 20, 2020
A schism within Brazil's far-right causing trouble for Bolsonaro Olavo de Carvalho, the far-right guru. Image: YouTube/Olavo de Carvalho

In 2018, an improbable coalition of military officers, ultra-libertarian economists, far-right ideological zealots, and agribusiness representatives helped push Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency of Brazil. But in the 18 months since he took office, the ideological patchwork that is his administration has led to numerous squabbles between government members. The latest spark was lit when Abraham Weintraub, a quintessential member of the “zealots,” was dismissed from the Education Ministry, leaving an important vacancy to be filled within the administration.

In a push to appoint someone with a proven track record in education yet also cater to his more radical supporters, Mr. Bolsonaro named evangelical preacher Milton Ribeiro as the new Education Minister.

But this move might not have been enough for this segment of his electorate, as one of Mr. Ribeiro&#8217;s first acts in office was to promise secularism and moderation.</p> <p>For a sizable portion of the president&#8217;s support base, such conciliatory speech does not cut it. Much of the far-right sees the Education Ministry as one of the most important &#8220;trenches&#8221; in their crusade against &#8220;<a href="">cultural Marxism</a>&#8221; an antisemitic conspiracy theory by which an international plot exists to impose ideologies of political correctness, multiculturalism and feminism.</p> <p>The departed Abraham Weintraub was the perfect representative of this wing of the president&#8217;s support base. He accused federal universities of housing &#8220;extensive marijuana plantations,&#8221; racially insulted the Chinese government, and called Supreme Court justices &#8220;bums.&#8221; On Brazil&#8217;s far-right bingo card, he had a full house.</p> <p>But Mr. Weintraub had become a political liability, starting fights with other branches of government, angering <a href="">Brazil&#8217;s leading trading partner</a>, and members of the political establishment. Even so, the president&#8217;s most radical supporters were sad to see him go.</p> <h2>Reactions on social media</h2> <p>The dismissal of Mr. Weintraub was the most recent defeat of the far-right zealots backing the government, which are led by YouTuber and self-proclaimed philosopher <a href="">Olavo de Carvalho</a>. In the last month, digital influencers linked to Mr. Carvalho were targeted by search and seizure orders as part of an investigation into fake news.&nbsp;</p> <p>Mr. Carvalho clashes frequently with the government&#8217;s military wing, of which he is highly critical. He does not approve conciliatory moves nor the recent alliance struck between President Bolsonaro and the conservative block of political parties known as the &#8220;Big Center,&#8221; who are often mired in corruption allegations and happily sell their support in Congress for positions within the government.</p> <p>“Since BEFORE he took office, I told Bolsonaro that his enemies would NEVER let him rule if he didn’t disarm them right away. It was like talking to a brick. He fell into conciliatory conversations with exemptions and pragmatists as if begging to be destroyed,” <a href="">wrote Olavo de Carvalho</a> on Twitter, on July 10.</p> <p>This particular wing of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s support has stumped political analysts who have attempted to classify their exact beliefs and platforms. Claudio Couto, political scientist and head of Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Masters program in Public Policy and Administration, believes that they shouldn&#8217;t be called conservatives. &#8220;They are more like reactionaries. This group has its own doctrine that does not necessarily involve religion,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>Sergio Denicoli, the CEO of consultancy firm AP Exata, which monitors social media in Brazil, distinguishes this splinter group from Mr. Bolsonaro’s regular supporters. “The common Bolsonarist is a more conservative, right-wing Christian, anti-corruption, in favor of moralization, often supporting the military. [Followers of Olavo de Carvalho] are in an ideological war, they want to exterminate the left, they are against China and against globalism.”</p> <p>AP Exata has identified a certain level of dissatisfaction among this group. Spurred on by influencers such as blogger Allan dos Santos and ex-Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, the faction boasts a significant web of followers. “The government does not like it, but today they are a political force that speaks when they feel uncomfortable. (&#8230;) The president has not been vehement in his defense of these people. This wing became very uncomfortable, and started to show dissatisfaction,” says Mr. Denicoli.</p> <h2>Uncertain future for the far-right coalition</h2> <p>A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Denicoli would have bet on a rupture between President Jair Bolsonaro and this wing of Olavo de Carvalho followers. Now he says the group seems to have adopted a more understanding position regarding the president&#8217;s political pragmatism, at least for the time being.</p> <p>Mr. Denicoli, however, points out that the group has previously floated the possibility of running its own candidate in the 2022 election, without Jair Bolsonaro. The idea would be to promote Mr. Weintraub for the top job, with Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo as his running mate.</p> <p>“This group can hold out a while, understanding that this is a tactical retreat,&#8221; says Mr. Couto. &#8220;But we cannot know for how long. The complaints are the result of impatience; they tend to worsen depending on how long Mr. Bolsonaro will remain cornered.&#8221;

José Roberto Castro

José Roberto covers politics and economics and is finishing a Master's Degree in Media and Globalization. Previously, he worked at Nexo Jornal and O Estado de S. Paulo.

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