Brazil: Crises and deadlocks

BY:Walter Sorrentino| July 9, 2020
Brazil: Crises and deadlocks


Brazil is experiencing serious political and economic disruption. Underlying this is President Bolsonaro’s attempts to tear apart institutions and change the political, economic, and social regime as set out in the Constitution. His central strategies are to attack the democratic rule of law, promote political polarization and social chaos, and align Brazil with the U.S. strategy of isolating us from other regions and nations, including Latin America and China. Today, under siege, he is imposing a new dictatorship, a neo-fascist authoritarianism, under the shadow of the current Constitution, to concentrate power with the aim of getting re-elected in 2022.

The situation is very dynamic and unstable, with a growing number of facts and contradictions being revealed. First, deep changes are occurring rapidly around the world. One of the most decisive of these is the transition away from hegemony. We no longer live in a unipolar world. The current crisis of the pandemic and the capitalist economy has put another nail in that coffin. The United States’ ability to lead the world has been weakened, and its hegemony is no longer indisputable, despite all its power. China is growing economically and technologically, increasing its role in the international scene, and exerting its global moral influence for a shared destiny of humanity. Multilateralism is growing stronger among countries that in the past looked to the U.S. for leadership. Above all, with Bolsonaro’s full cooperation, Brazil has been completely captured by the dynamic of the U.S.’s unhealthy strategy.

A Confluence of Three Crises

A second trend in the Brazilian situation is the confluence and worsening of three major crises: the pandemic, the worsening economy, and attacks on institutions. In the pandemic, the country leads, behind only the United States, in the development of Covid-19, with more than 1.7 million cases and nearly 68,000 lives lost (as of July 9). It is more than the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean together, although we have just over a third of the total population. We have not reached the peak of the disease yet, and estimates for July–August indicate that the number of deaths will exceed 100,000.

Among many factors underlying the spread of this insidious infection is that the federal government has sabotaged efforts to encourage social isolation, promoted the unproven drug chloroquine, and trotted out the false contradiction between saving the economy and saving lives. Bolsonaro has already fired two health ministers, giving him leeway to weaponize the Ministry of Health. It has introduced a new methodology to (dis)inform the public on the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, aiming to reduce the impact of the disease and promote the end of social confinement. Like Trump, Bolsonaro conspires to take the country out of the World Health Organization.

The second crisis is that of the poor economy and its deep social consequences. The pandemic brought about an abrupt supply-and-demand shock, surpassing the previous three years of recession and stagnation. There are 8.6 million new unemployed people, who account for more than 40% of the workforce in unemployment or precarious situations. GDP fell 1.5% in the first quarter of 2020, with an estimated 5.7% to 9% drop coming in the second quarter.

The third crisis is political and institutional. It is caused by Bolsonaro’s continuing attacks against the other powers of the Republic and Federation, against the Left, and against the national interest, in the direction of openly preaching institutional ruptures. His acolytes argue that the Constitution supposedly gives the armed forces “moderating power” over other branches of government, an absurdity that has been recently disputed by the Supreme Court.

A President under Siege

In the context of weakened U.S. hegemony and the health, economic, and political crisis, a third trend is strengthening in the country. Bolsonaro suffers increasing political isolation, going to the corner of the ring. Typical of those who are cornered, Bolsonaro is becoming increasingly aggressive, with his political technique of never retreating, always pushing forward, and doubling down on threats.

The general alienation of government in relation to the pandemic, the ruinous management of the state, the complete lack of decorum in office, and the lack of a solid political base in Congress (now without a Party) cornered him. The participation of his children in the spreading of fake news (even during the electoral campaign) with illicit funding, the attacks on the judiciary, and the dismissal of Justice Minister Sergio Moro make Bolsonaro the target of growing rejection and restraint by the political system and various legal investigations. The impeachment of the president, or even the impeachment of the ticket, including the vice president, is on the horizon.

However, Bolsonaro, his clan, and members of the government cannot be underestimated in their real intention of causing an institutional rupture. The police state by itself is evidence of neo-fascism. The fascist snake is already present in militia activities, in preaching to arm the population by releasing weapons and ammunition belonging to the armed forces; also in the mobilization of the low and middle echelons of the military police, as well as in a parallel information system provided by members of the federal police. These actions are not mere swagger.

Broad, Popular Forces Say “Enough!”

Based on these crises, a fourth trend has developed: a broad union of democratic, progressive, and popular forces was definitively established to say “Enough!” to the Bolsonaro government. This movement involves the majority of civil society, as well as popular organizations and political parties.

Manifestos and demonstrations—articulations of all kinds composed and organized by forces each with their own vision for the future of the country—have come together in one voice, calling for an effective front that is for democracy and the democratic rule of law, for life, and for social rights.

This movement also includes elements of a divided ruling class—ranging from the democratic right to the center right—who want to get rid of the president and put their forces into play during the 2022 election. These forces are better equipped, with their institutional powers, control of the mainstream media (almost unanimously against Bolsonaro), and respected institutions like the federal Supreme Court. They even include portions of economic groups, whose thinking is explicitly divided over the prescription of austerity policies and growth by attracting foreign capital—still the lunatic orientation of the Minister of Economy.

Bolsonaro—and the Democratic Movement—at an Impasse

These four trends have led to an impasse. Bolsonaro’s efforts to undermine institutions have been stymied by the majority of society, the federal Supreme Court, and much of the National Congress. To succeed, he would need to raise up the armed forces as an institution equal to the others, which is not a way out, because they would be demoralized by a situation without glory before the whole of society. However, the armed forces are restrained by their hierarchy and discipline (against partisanship), wanting to guarantee their monopoly over arms, which otherwise could get in the hands of popular militias.

The impasse is not only on Bolsonaro’s end. The democratic movement has yet to accumulate enough political, economic, and social forces to demand impeachment of Bolsonaro or the entire slate elected in 2018. They did not gather the forces necessary to definitively isolate and defeat Bolsonaro—as of today they have been unable to attain 172 signatories in the Chamber of Deputies to request a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry; they have something like 130 members but need more than 300 for an impeachment.

Pulling the Nation from the Abyss

We are still studying how to be effective in the streets and give the political struggle a mass dimension, a strategy that is part of our heritage. Anti-racist and anti-fascist movements are growing, and women and young people are very active, as are social organizations and central unions. The question is how to preserve the discourse of social isolation to save lives and the economic recovery itself, in the face of a pandemic that is still intensifying and far from the peak of the curve.

Faced with these elements, the left and center left, progressives in general, and the popular organizations in particular are engaged in a debate—what is the core of political action at this moment? A unified and coherent response is still being constructed. We think it is important to struggle centrally for life and democracy, for broad forces to unify to save the nation from the abyss. It is necessary to bring together in political action all those who are ready at this moment to fight against the main enemy, Bolsonarism, to defend democracy, whatever their past position, ideology, and future political project. This reflects that we do not underestimate the enemy’s strategy in any way, and that we do not consider Bolsonarism without Bolsonaro.

Democratic forces cannot afford to be divided by their narrow interests in the presidential election of 2022. Clearly, those who make up these forces have different perspectives for a post-pandemic and national project. Thus, at the same time, it is evident that the most advanced forces need to build a popular unity with a new project to remove the country from its current situation and development, in accordance with national, democratic, and popular interests. The two tasks—a broad democratic front and popular unity—operate in complementary but distinct combinations, with different political times and rhythms.

Reversing the 2016 coup is the primary issue, giving the broader movement the basis for solving the nation’s problems. The left wing needs to prepare itself to lead the democratic front, not to go way from it, and to understand that in such situations it is unreasonable to expand the number of enemies, thus losing sight of the main enemy. In short, building the broad democratic front is the biggest of our tasks right now.

The country’s agony may drag on, persisting in a war of movement and resulting in increasing oppression from the government, until a war of position to definitively defeat Bolsonaro and end his presidential power. The decisive variable will be popular discontent.

The key is that the solutions will have to be political. They have not yet crystallized, either in terms of getting Bolsonaro out of power or in terms of what happens the day after. In the art and science of politics, these solutions involve alliances to create the greatest possible unity within the framework of the existing balance of forces.

The time will come when impeachment is the center of immediate political action.

Translated and edited for clarity.
Image courtesy of PCdoB.


    Walter Sorrentino is Vice-President and International Relations Secretary of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB).

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