The right-wing nationalist wave has reached Brazil. Political violence is sweeping across the country, causing threats, murders and assaults. The new president, Jair Bolsonaro, was himself stabbed during his campaign, something which only increased his support. Brazil is now facing the most dramatic political shift to the right since the Cold-War-era military dictatorship. But what will happen? Who will suffer the most and who are the supporters to Bolsonaro’s victory?

Let us go back to the 29th of October, the day after the election of Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro. At the big campus of UNICAMP (University of Campinas) the atmosphere is hostile. When the final results were announced, you could hear fireworks for almost 40 minutes as people celebrated Bolsonaro’s victory. At the same time there was a lot of frustration in the air. Students fear what will happen to public education in Brazil as well as the strong student movement for equality. Already the week before elections, policemen came into many university buildings to take down posters and paintings expressing opposition to Bolsonaro. Simultaneously, swastikas started to appear in primary schools, universities and public places; which were not taken down by the police, and even increased after the election.

Students gathering at UNICAMP the days before the final election. Photo: Sâmira Bomfim/Flickr

Bolsonaro is known for being a passionate defender of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985. The only thing he has criticized is that the left-wing supporters were only tortured, when they should have been executed. He now suggests  fighting violence with violence, by relaxing gun laws for civilians. He wants the military to take over the public primary schools in Brazil, to ensure order and respect, and spur the economy by taking control of indigenous land in the Amazonas.

Furthermore, Bolsonaro is famous for his racist, homophobic and sexist statements. One of his most famous remarks was to his fellow congresswomen, who he claimed to be too ugly to “deserve” to be raped. He has also said that he would rather want his son to die in an accident than to be gay, and that some descendants of African slaves are fat and lazy. These statements have not only been extremely offensive, but have spurred violence across the country by legitimizing this kind of behavior.

At the same time there has been a massive wave of protests in the name of #Elenão (#Nothim), fighting against discrimination and for democracy. Women organized demonstrations across 62 brazilian cities and 66 cities across the world. The demonstration was historic, with over 100,000 demonstrators showing opposition to Bolsonaro.

Women protesting against Bolsonaro in Barbacena, Minas Gerais, October 29, 2018. Photo: Hilreli/Flickr

Juliana, 28, a journalist from Sao Paulo, has been very engaged in the election. She participated in the #Elenão protests against Bolsonaro and was also active in her sister’s campaign for a legislative position. According to her, the people who will suffer most from Bolsonaro’s victory are women and the LGBTQ+ community. She also sees a huge danger in Bolsonaro’s sexist and racist statements. The society in Brazil is already violent, but what will happen when the president of the country make these statement, and propels this violent behavior on the common citizens?

Violent crime in Brazil has spiked in recent years. In 2017 the country broke its own murder record with 63,880 homicides. During the election period, hate crimes and threats increased dramatically. People supporting the workers party, PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores) have constantly been a target for political violence, as well as women, blacks and gays. For example, a capoeira master and PT-supporter in Bahia was stabbed 12 times by a Bolsonaro voter on the 7th of October.

Barbara, 23, is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and has lived her whole life in Rio de Janeiro. She has never been worried about walking alone in the city, but now she is. The last months people have been killed, hit and disrespected simply because they do not agree with Bolsonaro’s ideals. According to Bolsonaro, you are gay because your parents did not hit you enough as a child. Barbara explains how she does not dare to hold hands with her girlfriend in the streets anymore. She tries to hold on to her hope and continues to show resistance in the opposition movement #Elenão.

Woman protesting against Bolsonaro 29 Sept, 2019 in Porto Alegre. Photo: Caco Argemi/Flickr
Bolsonaro in Brasilia. Photo: Wilson Dias/Flickr

What is interesting in Brazil is that the voters backing the populist right-wing wave are the elites, rather than the disadvantaged, uneducated and poor as seen in other countries. Voters blame the left-wing party for tightening the belts on the new middle class as well as widespread corruption. Bolsonaro’s emphasis on family values, as well as his opposition to gay rights and abortion further helped him to win over evangelicals, a powerful voter base in Brazil.

Alici, 23, originally from the northeast of Brazil, recently graduated from the master program in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science at Lunds University. As a Brazilian currently living in the U.S, she recognizes the difference between Trump’s supporters and Bolsonaro’s. She says that the poor have benefited a lot from what the Workers Party did for them. Social programs, such as the famous cash-transfer program Bolsa familia, have made it possible for many people to escape poverty and have an education. Compared to the U.S, the uneducated and poor people will therefore continue to put faith in the left-wing party, even though it has been accused of widespread corruption. The Brazilian middle and upper classes on the other hand, seem to have been blinded by hatred towards PT, and are therefore willing to accept Bolsonaro as the new president.

Bolsonaro has constantly been described as ‘Trump of the tropics’ by international media. As when Trump was elected 2016, it remains a question what he will be able to change politically. But what is prominent in Brazil’s election is the number of people who became politically active. It gave voice to people that never agreed with the racial quota system for universities, gay marriage or social programs like Bolsa Familia. But it also saw a record number of women gather to show their opposition to not only Bolsonaro, but to discrimination, sexism, racism and homophobia.

Natasja Bergström

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