We are all expectant about what is going to happen in Brazil. This Sunday there are presidential elections. It remains to be seen whether it will be the end of the cycle of Jair Bolsonaro at the head of this country and the return of Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva to the presidency. As the outlook is still uncertain, in Continentes y Contenidos, Pressenza’s radio programme, we interviewed Breno Bringel, professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro and member of the Ecosocial Pact of the South, from Rio de Janeiro.
Q: Are the Brazilian people looking forward to the elections and how are they living them?
BB: There is great expectation in these elections. In recent years Brazilian politics has been, first, focused on anti-Petism, the fight against the Workers’ Party-PT, against Lula and, in the last four years, with anti-Bolsonarism. There is a strong polarisation. And there is the dispute of the elections, there is an expectation that Lula can win now in the first round, in the elections on Sunday. For that he needs more than 50% of the valid votes. According to the latest polls, he is very close to that, but there is also a lot of uncertainty, not only because of the abstention calculations but also because of the useful vote, which is difficult to predict. But beyond that, there is a certain uncertainty because we don’t know very well how Bolsonaro, who is always trying to delegitimise the electoral process, will react. We would have to be alert.
There is a very polarised atmosphere, but there is also a strange sensation of, let’s say, a calm in the streets that is linked to fear. A calm in the sense that there is no great electoral mobilisation as there was in the last two elections in the 2018 election. For example, in the previous elections that Bolsonaro won, there was a huge mobilisation in the streets, a huge mobilisation, both on one side and on the other. On the other hand, in the previous elections there was a large part of society and a large part of the right wing as a bloc supporting Bolsonaro. That is no longer the case, we don’t have that scenario. It is clear that today the right is much more divided and, on the other hand, from the progressive forces we have not had the large mobilisations that we had years ago and this is due to fear, fear of reprisals. This is, broadly speaking, the climate we are living in right now in Brazil.
Q: You were talking about the right wing being divided. It seems to me that the business community has been very open with both candidates. Bolsonaro has business friends who have done business during his government and who I imagine will want to continue to do so, but it is true that Lula also has a lot of support from these sectors, considering that he is a progressive or popular candidate.
BB: Yes, that’s right, I think what is at stake is, on the one hand, the deepening of the barbarism and disaster that was Bolsonaro’s government, and on the other, not a great change, but a containment of this barbarism.
That is why the political platform that Lula put together is not an agenda of social transformation, but rather an agenda of containment, to put a stop to Bolsonaro and the extreme right in Brazil. In this sense, from the left, we should not have great expectations. This is a great broad front that was built around Lula’s candidacy with very diverse sectors, from sectors to his left, with sectors of the centre right and the more traditional right. And obviously this is going to be very noticeable when it comes to constituting a government and a programme agenda. The key idea that now surrounds all this support for Lula’s candidacy is the idea of reconstruction: Brazil was destroyed by Bolsonaro, his government was one of massive destruction, with many lives lost. The pandemic was a disaster, more than half a million avoidable deaths. All of this is felt by the population. On the other hand, we had a totally ecocidal government that destroyed biomes, destroyed biodiversity, opened up a criminal policy towards the environment, towards the different territories. It also destroyed the institutions and the environmental social policies that existed.
In this sense, I think it is important to think that this process of reconstruction is what unites a good part of these forces that call themselves democrats in Brazil, and I think this is important, but I also think it is key to think about the reconstruction we want, because the geopolitical and geo-economic context cannot be turned back. The country is different. We cannot simply look at the previous Lula governments, at a past that is sold as a golden age, but which also had many problems. I think that this reconstruction cannot be a restoration, but that the reconstruction has to imply a really profound change.
There is a tension here, which I think is interesting, if we think about it in terms of Latin America: whether it will once again be a progressive government that returns, still in the key of what was the generation of a decade or more ago, or whether we are aiming for new horizons, looking to the future and not to the past.
And I believe that this will only really be decided afterwards, when the agenda and composition of the government begins to take shape, but as I said, although there is pressure in that direction, there are not so many expectations in Lula’s government either.
Q: You spoke of geopolitics and it is true that Brazil is at a very particular moment in this global war between the United States and China, as it is part of the BRICS and has relations with Wall Street, with the international financial system and with Washington. Lula is not going to break with that, but do you imagine any particular closeness for that future?
BB: Yes. I think there is a good sign that beyond all the problems and contradictions that a future government might have, Lula could be the recovery of a horizon of Latin American regional integration.
It seems that in recent years this process has broken down with the presence of the extreme right in a large part of the region, but I think there are interesting signs and Latin American integration is a strategic commitment by Lula and his advisors: to rethink a form of insertion of the region in the world that is a little more autonomous. In this ambit we can expect something interesting.
I think it is very good, because they are not going to be revolutionary by any means, but they are going to be proactive policies in the sense of rethinking integration and strengthening it with new possibilities with Chile, Colombia and also with the old allies. I think that in this sense Lula has already distanced himself, for example, from Nicaragua, he has already distanced himself from all these stumbling blocks that we were carrying on the left, and they don’t help.
So, I think that an interesting and important perspective is opening up in this sense, because this is the space in which we can think about fundamental issues for our region today, such as, for example, energy transition horizons that are not a functional response to international pressures.
On the other hand, an agenda very similar to what we had in the social sphere, of focused social policies with a horizon of improving very basic things, in which people can eat and not go hungry in Brazil. Today hunger is brutal, it is a big problem. There are more than 30 million people in absolute poverty, in extreme poverty in Brazil. So this, agenda is going to be central, the classic and previous agenda of the government is going to be central.
Q: We are all taking it for granted that Lula will win the elections this Sunday. But what would happen if he doesn’t win in the first round, if it goes to a run-off and Bolsonaro receives alliances that strengthen him, what could a second Bolsonaro government mean?
We have a very clear bet on winning in the first round. But that bet is also due to a certain fear of what might happen in the second round. A second round would be much more tense, much more polarised. It seems to me that it is difficult for Bolsonaro to have the support to win the elections in the second round, also because I said before that Brazilian politics has been swinging in recent years between anti-Bolsonaroism and anti-Bolsonaroism.
However, the difference is that, if four years ago anti-Bolsonarism was much stronger than anti-Bolsonarism, today anti-Bolsonarism is much stronger than anti-Bolsonarism. So, the rejection of Bolsonaro today is very strong, more than half of the population, almost 60%, has a frontal rejection of Bolsonaro. I don’t see the scenario that many have talked about of a possible coup or the use of force, either, because the army itself is already divided, that is, the government base itself is unstructured. In that sense, I see a second Bolsonaro government as a really remote possibility. If that were to happen, it would be an absolute disaster for Brazil and for the region, because it would deepen this scenario not of the destruction of ecosystems but of the destruction of life, of living conditions that have only worsened.