Brazil: ‘Ninguém solta a mão de ninguém – no one let go of anyone’s hand’

This article is based on a talk given by the author at a Party for Socialism and Liberation public forum. 

Ninguém solta a mão de ninguém – no one let go of anyone’s hand.

This was one of the most repeated phrases after the victory of Jair Bolsonaro, the fascist candidate with a military background who ran for the Presidency of Brazil.

This is the spirit, we take care of each other, we fight, we resist.

But how did we we get here? The election of Bolsonaro was not via a democratic process where a whole country just decided one day to elect a person who  defends torture and rape, who is racist and homophobic, to just name a few of his characteristics.

This is the continuation of the destruction of our democracy under a coup process that started in 2016 with the removal of Dilma Rousseff from the presidency, based on an impeachment process which lacked any real evidence of wrongdoing by her.

Another thing we need to keep in mind in relationship to Brazil’s democracy, is that it is a very young one. I am older than Brazil’s democracy. The normal in Brazil is to be under very oppressive and unequal systems.

Brazil is one of the most violent countries in the world with 62,000 homicides in 2016. Some 76 percent of these murders were committed against black and brown people. Every two hours a woman is murdered in Brazil. Every 19 hours a LGBTQ person is either murdered or commits suicide because of homophobia.

This violence has always existed, but it did grow a lot since the coup, like 30 percent  growth for crimes against LGBTQ people since 2016. Violence is one of the main things Brazilians are concerned about, although there is a lot of misinformation related to what generates violence, what promotes violence and how you can stop violence.

Another important class relationship in Brazil is the slavery mentality that exists in the country. We still have many cases of exploitation of poor people, in the farm fields, in factories, construction jobs and domestic workers, just to name a few.

We are also a country that is very misogynistic, homophobic and racist.

Brazil is a country where a set of families controls big pieces of land, controls big media outlets and are also in political positions such as mayor, governor, senator, minister and so on.

Since our first elections for presidency in 1989, the election process has been manipulated and controlled by these families. The final debate before election day in 1989 was not broadcast live by Globo (the media monopoly in Brazil) because they had to show the last episode of the novela. Instead they showed an edited version the next day where they completely favored their candidate, Fernando Collor de Melo, who was very much like Bolsonaro

Since it was born, the Workers Party has always been attacked by the big media in Brazil which spreads what people now call “fake news.” At one time you had fake news in the format of print, then radio, then television, now we have the social media format. Or the WhatsApp format. Whatever format you choose, let’s make it clear, this is not new, the corporations that control the means of communication and serve the big capital interest, have always manipulated the news.

These forces has always retained power in Brazil and are very strong and present in the country. That is why in 2003 when Lula won, he wrote the “Letter to the Brazilian people” where he pretty much was “calming down the market,” saying the Workers Party would not take the radical or too much of a ‘”left” route. It would govern for all, build a coalition.

And they did, Lula’s two mandates moved over 50 million out of extreme poverty, empowered Brazilian national industry, education, healthcare, housing, economy and gave a lot of money to the rich as well. Lula left his second mandate with over 85 percent approval, there has never been any president in the world that managed to leave a second mandate with such an approval rate. This was in 2010!

So how come 85 percent of a country goes from supporting Lula and of course his party, to completely rejecting it and electing someone like Bolsonaro?

How do you change millions of opinions? The media in Brazil played a very important role in that. When Dilma became president, she was very different from Lula and very distant from the base. Not entirely her fault, this was already something the whole Workers Party was doing since they took power.

The PT made a lot of mistakes while “trying to govern for all” and trying to “please everyone.” There were also a lot of things that influenced this crisis, such as how the oil price went down starting in 2013 (something that affected other countries that the U.S. competed to control like Venezuela). There was the Economic crisis, a social crisis with the protests against the World Cup and transportation hikes. And all of these crises came with an intense attack from the media saying it was all the Workers Party’s fault. Yes, there was some fault, but their goal here was to start removing the Workers Party from the political scene, because no matter what they did, the PT kept electing presidents.

And that was what happened when Dilma got re-elected in 2014-15.

After the re-election, the corruption cases under Judge Moro’s Car Wash investigation started to be used as a mechanism to stop the Workers Party by whatever means necessary. Dilma was impeached and a right wing base start to take the streets again. Violence started to grow, hate and political violence especially.

The government institutions became weak, bending themselves to execute completely unethical actions in order to maintain the coup and therefore the power under the control of those who always had it. I am talking about those running the Judiciary, the so called “Market,” right wing forces like parties and other groups, the police and the military and religious groups mainly composed of evangelicals.

We are not in a democracy, we are under a coup process controlled by these people. And they knew that if Lula was going to be a candidate for president, he would have won in the first round. And that is why Judge Moro went out of his way to keep him in jail.

Most of the country associates Lula with prosperity. His mandates did not have the same level of crisis as Dilma’s, and the economy was indeed much better. Lula is also very different from any other leader, he is a person apart from the Workers Party. So, yes, if he was in the running he would win easily. Even if he had to do his campaign from jail.

And that is why they not only put him in jail without any evidence of corruption against him, but also denied his right to run as a candidate. A right that is guaranteed by an agreement Brazil signed with the UN . And which the UN did call to Brazil’s attention to, saying that if the judiciary didn’t let Lula run as a candidate, Brazil would be disrespecting the international agreement and therefore could face charges on international courts. The judiciary went ahead and blocked Lula anyways.

And that was when the Workers Party started the Haddad and Manuela campaign. Haddad was Lula’s vice presidential candidate. He is a teacher and used to be Sao Paulo’s mayor; he received awards from all around the world for his management of the city. He also was Lula’s minister of education and the one that built more schools and universities than any other government in Brazil’s history. Manuela comes from the student movement, she is from the Communist Party of Brazil and has been a senator for something like 15 years.

And who is Jair Bolsonaro? He is not a new politician in the Brazilian scene, he has been a house representative for 26 years. He is a parasite that did nothing for the country, not one bill, just arranged government positions for his family. But let me use his own words to describe him:

  • 1993: “I am in favor of a dictatorship, a regime of exception.”
  • 1999: “The pau-de-arara [a torture technique] works. I’m in favor of torture, you know that. And the people are in favor as well.”
  • 19999: “Through the vote, you will not change anything in this country, nothing, absolutely nothing! It will only change, unfortunately, when, one day, we start a civil war here and do the work that the military regime did not do. Killing some 30,000, starting with FHC [then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso], not kicking them out, killing! If some innocent people are going to die, fine, in any war, innocents die.”
  • 2003: “I’m a rapist now. I would never rape you, because you do not deserve it … slut!” to another representative at the house
  • 2010: “I would be incapable of loving a homosexual child. I’m not going to act like a hypocrite here: I’d rather have my son die in an accident than show up with some mustachioed guy. For me, he would have died.… “If your son starts acting a little gay, hit him with some leather, and he’ll change his behavior.”
  • 2016: “I would not employ [a woman] with the same salary [of a man]. But there are many women who are competent.”
  • 2017: “I’ll give carte blanche for the police to kill.”
  • 2018: “This group, if they want to stay here, will have to put itself under the law of all of us. Leave or go to jail. These red marginals will be banished from our homeland.”
  • 2018: “You will not have any more NGOs to quench your leftist hunger. It will be a cleansing never before seen in the history of Brazil.”

During the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro participated only in two debates on the first round, before Haddad’s candidacy was defined.

Then he was stabbed in a rally and didn’t join any other debate because he was following his doctor’s recommendations. Although when the second round started, his doctors said he was ok to participate in debates with Haddad and he refused. He later on even acknowledged that not debating Haddad on national television was part of his strategy.

And who is behind Bolsonaro’s campaign strategy? Steve Bannon. And what was the base of Bolsonaro campaign? Facebook and Whatsapp. They created a machine of spreading information (whatever that is, hate messages, fake news). Part of this machine was paid by rich businessmen in Brazil, they spent $12 million with mass marketing campaigns on Whatsapp. This is something that is illegal in Brazil for two reasons: 1. The private sector can’t finance political campaigns. To do what these businessmen did by not directly giving the money to Bolsonaro but directly paying the marketing companies for their services is called “caixa 2’”and is a crime. Another crime here is to use lists, contact lists, to send campaign propaganda that is not your party list. Like the same way we build our contact list when you sign up at the door, during elections, parties are supposed to only send these type of messages to the contacts on their list, not buy lists from marketing companies.

During the elections there was a wave of violence promoted by Bolsonaro supporters. Remember the rightwing base that took the streets during the impeachment process? This is a very violent base and very dangerous. A capoeirista, Mestre Moa, was killed in Bahia because he expressed his support for Haddad. A young woman was attacked and had a swastika marked on her body with a knife by Bolsonaro supporters because she had a sticker of the #EleNao campaign, a campaign lead by women against Bolsonaro.

This was actually the most violent national elections in history. In two months of electoral process, 136 violent attacks were registered, with 42 people injured and eight people killed.

The people who engaged in the “turn the vote” or vira voto campaign right after the first round were a bit afraid of approaching people and how to approach people. We here in NYC went to do outreach in Newark and we were very low key because of that.

But over time, the outreach strategies  were iterated constantly through people sharing what was working, what was not, new materials to try, new arguments and so on. The strategies became more and more out there, people start to set up tables with cake and coffee inviting others to come and talk with them if they had questions about who to vote for. Even famous people joined, like novela actors were out there talking with people. The last week and a half before the second round, this grassroots work became amazing, it felt like for the first time since the coup, the mobilized people that were fighting against the coup managed to reach out to the not yet mobilized people and were capable of building a dialogue with them, engage them. The ViraVoto grassroots mobilization will for sure become part of Brazil’s history.

Then Bolsonaro wins the election. It’s important to note that from the votes cast, the actual count was: 39percent for Bolsonaro, 32 percent for Haddad, 29 percent for Abstained. So there was 61 percent who rejected Bolsonaro. The thing is that half of these people also had a very strong rejection of the Workers Party, so strong that they preferred not to vote for it, even though they didn’t really support Bolsonaro.

My personal feeling is that we do have a great potential to organize and mobilize this 61 percent. The ViraVoto showed there is a way to connect and join forces. For instance,”defend democracy” was a connection point. We need to find more connection points to rebuild the base.

Even the Workers Party used the strategy of removing itself from the message. In the second round they had slogans for their campaign that started “I am not a petista but because of x I will vote for Haddad” [Petista refers to Workers Party members or supporters-ed].

The left in Brazil needs to be able to join forces and build a strong base.

Also, now more than ever, we, the resistance, need to professionalize our organizing capacity and build as many skills as we can to meet the demand. Because we are already seeing attacks against the landless movement, which had one of their camps set on fire. We are seeing attacks against Indigenous communities all across the country;  one of them had a medical center set on fire. Already there are attempts at censorship against universities and teachers. We saw people with guns out in the streets, military parades celebrating Bolsonaro’s victory. There is an idea for a law to criminalize the landless movement and the homeless movement as terrorist. Bolsonaro is announcing his government and everything will be taken over by the worst of the worst in Brazil’s politics. Remember Judge Moro who put Lula in jail, removing the biggest opponent of Bolsonaro in the race? He just accepted an offer to be Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice. Bolsonaro plans on merging the Agriculture and Environment ministries, which will lead to more destruction of the Amazon and other forests and is already destroying our education system.

And because of all of this I will end my talk how I started. We must be organized, we must take care of each other, we must fight, we must resist.

Ninguém solta a mão de ninguém – no one let go of anyone’s hand.

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