Days after the victory of Lula da Silva in the second round of the presidential election in Brazil, the situation on the ground still seems to be unclear. The new administration should start working from 1 January and there are unofficial news of the ongoing preparations to its inauguration. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s stance remains bizarre and his supporters are still occupying the streets of certain districts, spreading chaos and violence on the people who have supported Lula.
This interview was not meant to not be anonymous. However, our academic friend, a specialist in political philosophy, wanted to remain unidentifiable for safety reasons. More details are to be found in the interview.
Interview by Wojciech Albert Łobodziński.
What is happening in Brazil right now? Not much news are reaching the world outside of Portuguese-language media since the official results of the elections were announced…
There have been illegal and unconstitutional protests across the country since Sunday evening, when the results of the elections were officially released. We have one of the fairest and most transparent electoral systems in the world, audited by countless national and international organisations, from different sectors of society.
Yet, these couple of thousand people, who have not yet been completely dispersed, have been blocking motorways and holding protests on the streets to object to the results. It’s like a bunch of toddlers who didn’t get their way and think that they can just scream and cry until they get what they want.
Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly, many of these protests have involved violence. Not just the symbolic violence that rejecting the results of fair elections already represents.
We are talking about physical violence: a few people were shot dead by a far-right terrorist – this is what I call them; everything else seems like a euphemism –, including a 12-year-old; people have missed out on the opportunity to get organ transplants because many motorways were blocked; even a woman in labour was not allowed through on the road.
The main reason why I don’t want to speak publicly about this is because these past days have revealed the obvious: not all of Bolsonaro’s supporters are like this, but that one person can take out a gun and shoot those they see as enemies is one too many. And guns are not all these people have; something, by the way, that Bolsonaro has made easier during these four years.
They have a strong system of fake news, made up of private WhatsApp and Telegram groups as well as bot accounts on every social media platform, to disseminate and destroy anyone’s reputation online. I’m a regular citizen who has no special protection or support network. If they feel enthused to attack and threaten the highest-ranking, heavily protected Brazilian jurists who serve on the Supreme Court, what are they capable of doing against someone like me? Let’s ask that 12-year-old.
How is all of this portrayed in the media?
Luckily, the media have been calling these protests and their participants for what they are: golpistas. This word loosely translates as ‘scammer’, but it is related to coup d’état inasmuch as coup is golpe in Portuguese.
The issue is that there are now two realities in Brazil: there’s the objective reality of concrete, undeniable facts. And then there’s this parallel reality made up of ‘alternative facts’: dodgy websites, yellow papers, and even some TV networks who feed this cycle of lies and absurdities that do nothing but add fuel to this pyre of lunatics who want to destroy our democracy.
What is the role of Globo, the biggest Brazilian TV station? Many years ago, they supported the military junta, did they take a side in this election?
I think we need to retire this qualification of Rede Globo as one who supported the dictatorship. Not because it was many years ago; not even because they came out and publicly apologised for having supported the regime. This sort of argument means to promote critical thinking, but, in fact, what it does is fuel a discourse against the so-called mainstream media, which, in turn, feeds those cycles of fake news that have led to someone like Bolsonaro rising to power and enjoying – even now – a tremendous amount of support.
During the pandemic, for example, when the government was following anti-scientific measures, it was these same mainstream media outlets, alongside a plethora of independent ones from all ideological tendencies, who played an important role in educating the public on what we could do to protect ourselves from the virus. When the government was no longer publishing data on the number of cases and deaths, organisations like Globo took it upon themselves to inform the public.
So, let’s be careful with bringing these critiques from decades ago to the present. They are dangerous and often do no more than play the role of a scarecrow.
During these elections, to be completely honest, Globo did what is expected from a media outlet in a democratic country. But it was their news-only channel, Globo News, who really stood out and became a beacon of reason whilst other news channels, like Jovem Pan, became a puppet of Bolsonarism, much like Fox News in the US.
Are there political assassinations taking place?
Yes, there have been a few. Even before the elections. A police officer, who supported Lula, was shot dead by a colleague who invaded his birthday party and shot him in front of his entire family and all his friends. Last week, a young man was shot during the celebrations of Lula’s victory. This terrorist is the same man who killed that 12-year-old girl I spoke of before.
This man was legally allowed to keep several guns and rifles at his house – this is what Bolsonaro has done to this country.
Who commits these acts, what is their perception in society, is this terror a common thing to sense on the streets?
We are not afraid of going out on the street, but I wouldn’t say we couldn’t get there. I guess it always starts as comedy until it turns into tragedy. I’ve heard from many friends and I myself have said it – jokingly – that we were not going to go out in red anymore. Was it a joke? Yes. But could it be that we could be attacked by some random person on the street because of it? Also yes.
The good thing is that these protests are now waning. The bad news is that this is a sort of ideology, of mentality that’s going to be with us for a long time. And it’s not like we can counteract based on reason: these people are impervious to logic.
Just this week, they’ve genuinely fallen for two ridiculous pieces of fake news: one that said Lady Gaga was a judge who was going to come out with some bombing news that the elections had been doctored and the other one that ABBA’s Agneta Fältskog was some kind of judge who was also going to support Bolsonaro somehow. It sounds pathetic – and it is! But then again, like Hannah Arendt said in Responsibility and Judgement, “the greatest evil is the evil committed by nobodies”.
From a lot of articles, like this one from The Guardian, we know about the involvement of militias and gangs in the politics of Brazil. Are those so-called militias, the gangs that run quarters in Rio and other cities, taking part in demonstrations?
I would not be surprised if they were, but I cannot attest to that, so this is, for now, purely speculative. What we do know is that there are several gun owners as well as police officers in these so-called protests, many of which have been taking place in front of army bases. This is their unhinged attempt at amassing some kind of support from the Armed Forces.
What is the impact of the roadblocks and demonstrations?
Fruits and vegetables are perishing on the roads, milk is going sour, fuel is at critical levels in some regions of the country. Not to mention even more dire consequences: hospitals are worried because they are running out of supplies. As I mentioned before, even organ transplants and births have been impacted by these roadblocks.
What about far-right politicians active during elections, do they support this wanna-be uprising?
This is where it gets comical. Well, tragicomic. Literally the only politician who has been overtly supporting these groups is Bolsonaro. It took him a few days to come out and recognise Lula’s victory. A few more to reprimand the roadblocks, which he did by qualifying these protests as ‘legitimate expressions of dissatisfaction’ or something like that anyway. His – former? – allies have been in talks with the winning side already to comply with the legal obligation to consolidate the transition. The most powerful names around him have condemned and even acted towards dismantling these groups, even a few who have been elected or re-elected to govern some states, including São Paulo, the largest and richest state in the Federation.
Are there mobilisations of trade unions, left-wing parties, are there any retaliatory actions?
Not that I know of. Since last Sunday, when millions took to the streets to celebrate Lula’s victory, the left have been keeping at bay. Maybe it is a mixture of fear of being attacked? I could not say. But I am also not a sufficiently fervent left-wing supporter to assess the urgency of unions, left-wing parties, or other organisations to protest this. I feel though that everyone just wants to end this lunacy and get on with what needs to be done. We know who won; there is work to do. Enough already.
What is the attitude of the police and the army?
Regular, everyday police forces respond to state governors, who have been ordering these forces to disperse these groups. One of the Ministers of the Supreme Court has imposed heavy fines on those still blocking the motorways. The issue to which we do not have a resolution yet is why the head of the Federal Motorway Police, who posted and since then deleted his support for Bolsonaro online, did not act. In fact, this particular force have been suspiciously lenient and their head is now being investigated. The Armed Forces, on the other hand, have done and said what they should: nothing. This is none of their business and it’s not their right to meddle in this in any way. Effectively, this means they accept the results – as they should.
Are we facing another assault on the Capitol only in Brazil?
Unlikely, but don’t quote me on this if it does happen. No, truthfully though, it doesn’t look like it’s going that way.
Is there any foreign influence in this? Is the hand of the US or other countries or corporations visible?
No. We know that Bolsonaro took advice from Steve Bannon, but there is no evidence that any other countries meddled. Plus, Bolsonaro has made it his mission to isolate Brazil from everyone: he offended everyone, from France to China. Conversely, there have been a few low-ranking corporations who have supported Bolsonaro. He got lots of money from them, apart from using all public resources like he did, but nothing that is worth mentioning, I reckon.
Why such a big result for Bolsonaro, once Lula enjoyed 80% support?
That is such a complicated question and there are brilliant researchers and analysts who can explain this much better than I ever could. For example: University of São Paulo’s professor Pablo Ortellado, journalist Elisa Martins, University of Bath’s professor Rosana Pinheiro-Machado – these are a few names of people who have been studying these phenomena for years now. What I understand from this is essentially a mix of fake news, resentment towards the Labour Party not only because of the real cases of corruption that did take place amongst some of its members, but also because of a resentment towards the upwards mobility that the Labour Party engendered for millions of Brazilians.
I remember this episode from many years ago when a middle-class Brazilian had a bit of an episode at an airport and complained that too many people were now flying, they did not even know how to dress for the airport – whatever that means –. She said: ‘airports have become coach stations now’. I think this sums up a lot of the reasons why we got here, but, of course, it is nothing far from an oversimplification.
How were the votes distributed in the election, do you see any demographic patterns?
There are a few patterns that have been tossed around – and which are true: people in the Northeast, where Lula is from, voted massively in his favour, whereas other regions tended to prefer Bolsonaro. One of the Southern states, Santa Catarina, where Bolsonaro found his second or third largest stronghold, is also the state with the highest number of neo-Nazi cells in operation in the country. That should tell you a lot about where his support comes from.
Anyway, we know that white men tend to prefer Bolsonaro; women, Lula. Neo-Pentecostals prefer Bolsonaro. Those who make up to about R$2,000/month prefer Lula. The state of São Paulo is a good example: whereas the metropolitan area prefers Lula, the countryside prefers Bolsonaro. But these correlations are not that easy to establish.
The reasons why people support Bolsonaro – or even Lula for that matter – are very complex and entangled.
A lot of people have been thinking about the beginning of Lula’s political resurrection. What are going to be the first moves of the new government?
They are now dealing with the transition and discussing the budget for next year to keep up with some promises that both of them made. The challenge though is that Bolsonaro promised people money – quite literally to try and buy their votes – that the new government have now found out he did not have. Well, this money does not exist and is not available.
And what does it look like in terms of foreign policy, do Latin American countries support Lula?
It’s like we exist for the world again after four years of a ridiculous government that isolated us from everyone. Leaders from all over the world congratulated Lula on the same day. I reckon Joe Biden took something like 38 minutes after the results were made public to send Lula a note. Macron called Lula himself and took a video – it was like watching two pals meeting at a pub.
The good thing about Brazil is that we’ll go back to doing what we do best: we talk to everyone, we mediate, and we have no intentions of becoming anything like the US or China, or what Russia is so pathetically trying to hold on to in Putin’s mind, some kind of a shred of an imperial power. A political scientist described our foreign policy from now on in two keywords: democracy and environmentalism.
Could there be ground here for some sort of Bolivarian alliance?
A Bolivarian alliance? This is not something I’ve heard been largely used unless by some far, far-left groups who are not all that into democracy, I must say. What we do know is that, given our diplomatic history, we’ll probably try to mediate a solution for Venezuela. That same political scientist – sorry, I cannot remember his name – compared Brazil’s role regarding Venezuela and other places in Latin America, such as Nicaragua and Cuba, to that of Turkey during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
What will be the future of this government, will it be a stable government?
We cannot know for sure, of course, but what we have already seen is that our institutions are strong – and a lot of those who will now be in the opposition are not up for attacking our democracy. That is a good sign, no doubt.