Understanding ‘Brazil’s Donald Trump’ – OpEd
By Alice Salles*
The Wall Street Journal editorial board started its defense of Brazil’s conservative presidential candidate Jair Messias Bolsonaro by mentioning how global progressives were having “an anxiety attack” over his popularity.
After a near-victory on the first round of the country’s presidential election, Bolsonaro is set to face the second most popular candidate, Workers Party’s Fernando Haddad, on Oct. 28. Winning 46 percent of the popular vote, Bolsonaro is the favorite to beat Haddad, a one-term São Paulo mayor who got 29 percent of the vote during the first round.
Haddad’s popularity grew on social media recently because of the #NotHim campaign against the conservative leader, perhaps inspired by #NeverTrump, which also backfired in the United States. But because of Haddad’s proximity to former president Luiz “Lula” Inácio da Silva, who’s currently in jail for his role in a corruption scheme considered one of the biggest scandals in the country’s history, many believe Bolsonaro is set to be Brazil’s next president.
But Bolsonaro didn’t make to where he is now because he was the media’s darling.
As a member of the armed forces during the country’s military dictatorship days and then later as a congressman for 27 years representing Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro was often featured in the news for his nasty and sometimes borderline comical opposition to all things left-wing.
Considering the Workers Party’s past and open support of communist ideals, Bolsonaro’s opposition to the country’s past Democratic Socialist administrations quickly made him stand out as a loud and oftentimes antagonistic figure, supporting gun ownership, standing against recognizing members of the LGBT community as a protected group, and bemoaning the pro-drug legalization movement.
Despite his support for an even more aggressive war on drugs, which is undoubtedly misguided, many of his proposed policies involve the dismantling of the state apparatus, as they would limit Brazil’s tax-based revenue, give common Brazilians the ability to purchase firearms legally for self-protection, and even boost the economy by facilitating the process to open a business in the country.
Unfortunately, the so-called Democratic Socialist rhetoric that shaped Brazilian politics in the past two decades remains alive and well among many. So when an anti-communism, pro-business candidate soared as the favorite to win after the impeachment of Workers Party’s Dilma Rousseff, activists wasted no time .
But most of of the fear Bolsonaro inspires in others comes from his alleged comments regarding Brazil’s military dictatorship.
In 1993, Bolsonaro publicly defended the dictatorship, saying the military regime “led to a more sustainable and prosperous Brazil.” In 2015, he reinforced his admiration for the regime by saying that it was a Democratic and “people-led” political movement that grew as Brazil’s then-president became overly close to Chairman Mao’s China and Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Finally in 2016, after mocking then-president Rousseff’s intelligence, Bolsonaro said the military regime went too easy on the communists of the time.
“The regime’s mistake was that it didn’t kill more of them,” he said while being pressed on his former pro-dictatorship comments.
Clearly, his crass verbiage made him an instant hit both among conservatives and socialists, who took on that one single line as proof Bolsonaro was a “fascist.”
But while the military regime did end due process, torturing hundreds of young men and women who either sympathized or who were directly involved in terrorist activities with the goal of weakening the regime to implement their policies, the events that led to military coup were, indeed, people-led as Bolsonaro explained. Unfortunately, many today, perhaps because of Brazilian schools’ long history of left-leaning indoctrination , completely ignore the history behind the era that gave rise to the military regime.
Before The Coup, A Real Red Scare
João “Jango” Goulart of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) was the protegé of former National Socialist dictator and president Getúlio Vargas. In 1955, he was elected vice-president with Juscelino Kubitschek winning the presidency. In 1960, Goulart was once again elected to the same position with Jânio Quadros winning the presidency. In 1961, as Goulart visited China, then under the rule of Communist dictator Mao Zedong, Quadros resigned. Goulart, who headed back to Brazil, was to take over as the president but members of Congress and military leaders expressed concern regarding his radical policies.
Because of his nationalist and socialist policies, which included banning private school institutions, a 15 percent increase in the income tax, forcing companies with headquarters abroad to invest their profits in the country, the legalization of the Brazilian Communist Party, and the expropriation of “non-productive” properties larger than 600 hectares, forcing farm and land owners to let go of their property so they could be redistributed by the government, political leaders doubted Goulart wasn’t working behind the scenes to turn Brazil into the next Cuba.
While Congress initially allowed Goulart to take over on the condition his powers were constrained by a parliamentary system in 1961, the population voted to reject the constitutional changes in a 1963 referendum, and Goulart took over with full powers. But as the president aligned his administration with center-left groups, standing against groups such as the National Democratic Union , a strong conservative party whose motto was “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” military leaders became concerned with Goulart’s inner circle and their open support for Cuba.
In 1961, Congressman Francisco Julião visited Castro in Cuba and when he went back to Brazil, he pressed the administration to hurry up with its expropriation policy, repeating the slogan “land reform through law or by force.”
After a Brazilian plane carrying letters from Cuba crashed in Peru, documents showing that a Cuban agent was having a hard time organizing guerilla fighters in Brazil were uncovered. As news outlets reported on the discovery as well as the fact Castro supported a Brazilian group known as the Revolutionary Tiradentes Movement, Leonel Brizola, a congressman and Goulart’s top counselor, went on the radio to make inflammatory speeches calling Brazilians to arm themselves and join guerilla groups. Claiming the action was necessary to fight for Goulart if critics tried to take over, the plan was meant to instigate a revolution “much like the Socialist Revolution of 1917 in the Soviet Union,” Brizola said.
He even defended the use of women and children as human shields and the execution of captured enemies.
By mid-March 1964, Brazilians took to the street to protest Goulart in a series of marches organized by opposition groups, the Catholic Church, and members of the business community. Over one million people protested the socialist reforms proposed by Goulart and on March 31, 1964, General Olímpio Mourão Filho, who was in charge of the 4th Military Region and headquartered in Minas Gerais, ordered his troops to start moving toward Rio de Janeiro to depose the president. Learning of his imminent fate if he remained in Rio, Goulart left on April 1 for Brasília. As he arrived, he noticed he had no support from Congress as Senate President Auro Moura Andrade had already started a campaign to get his colleagues to support the coup.
Goulart eventually fled to the south where he also lacked meaningful support, allowing Andrade to declare the country had no president .
By April 2nd, Pascoal Ranieri Mazzilli, then-House speaker, was sworn in as president.
While U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson offered support to the Brazilian military regime if necessary, the offer was never put to use as Brazilians supported the coup en masse , afraid Brazil could end up under the rule of the Soviet Union.
Between 1964 and 1968, the regime followed the civil law, promising elections were going to be carried out in the near future, but in Dec. 1968, Congress was shut down and the Executive started ruling by decree. In the previous year, Brazil saw an uptick of violent terrorist attacks , with guerilla fighters executing people in public, attacking military headquarters, robbing banks, and using bombs in attacks that killed nine people and left others injured.
Many of the victims were bystanders, not government or military officials.
One of the victims was Edward Ernest von Westernhagen, a German Major who was killed by mistake by the National Liberation Command (Colina), a group whose participants included former Brazilian president Rousseff .
The group had tried to assassinate Bolivian Major Gary Prado, who had killed Ernesto “Che” Guevara, but von Westernhagen, his colleague, was the one who died.
As the regime installed a nightmarish police state, using the terrorist attacks as a justification, students accused of being communists, politicians, and artists were often tortured, arrested, and sent into exile, as the country suspended due process.
Bolsonaro: Today’s Answer To The ‘Red Scare’?
Bolsonaro, who served in the Brazilian Army’s field artillery and parachutist groups through the late 1970s and 1980s, was a product of the regime, which relied on public support thanks to its anti-communist rhetoric, but that in the end, installed a dictatorship very similar to what we see in socialist countries , where inflation and the nationalization of businesses are all too common.
In the minds of many of those who lived through that period, however, what they left with was the realization that they had escaped from a red future — one that would have isolated Brazil, turning it into another Cuba. Bolsonaro appears to feel the same, seeing the coup as the only alternative then to a communist takeover. And to many of his supporters now, Brazil has gone through something similar, as the government led by the Workers Party was largely to blame for the country’s disastrous economy in the past years.
To understand Bolsonaro, therefore, one must understand Brazil’s long-time war between classical liberal and socialist ideals, and how political factions seize on these ideologies whenever possible.
As the WSJ explains, Haddad is trying to rewrite the Brazilian constitution to mirror what Hugo Chávez did in Venezuela, giving the president the power to rule over military promotions. In light of what Brazilians see happening in the neighboring country , Bolsonaro’s platform, which includes privatization promises, the restraining of government spending, and the deregulation of much of the economy, sounds much more realistic and plausible, even if the candidate is, indeed, a hot-headed loudmouth.
Much like what happened in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, the media categorizes Bolsonaro as a “hateful” candidate, without ever analyzing or even taking into consideration how Brazilians have suffered.
It’s clear that virtue signaling pales in comparison to putting food on the table, and to the common Brazilian, the “red scare” is once again very real, as powerful politicians in the country would turn Brazil into another Venezuela in the blink of an eye.
About the author:
*Alice Salles was born and raised in Brazil but has lived in America for the past ten years. She now lives in Compton, California and writes for The Advocates for Self-Government, Liberty Conservative, and Anti-Media.
This article was published by the MISES Institute