What is at stake in the Brazilian elections?
At a recent roundtable, a group of university professors and graduate students discussed the challenges the country faces as it prepares for the October 2 presidential elections.
Brazil will vote to elect a new president on October 2. Whoever ends up in the presidential seat inherits a host of challenges: high inflation, rising unemployment and extreme polarization of the electorate.
The two main contenders are Jair Bolsonaro, the incumbent president, and former president Luis Inácio da Silva.
Bolsonaro is a right-wing ex-military officer who came to power in 2019. Although he tackled a failing economy early in his tenure, Bolsonaro is seen as a strongman who has rolled back environmental protections and implemented peril the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and across the country.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolsonaro repeatedly downplayed the severity of the plague, avoiding wearing a mask. Many blame it for the increase in infections and deaths. Brazil has recorded more than 680,000 deaths from COVID-19, second only to the United States.
Da Silva, who is leading in the polls, is a member of the Workers’ Party and was president from 2003 to 2010. He enjoyed great popularity during his tenure due in part to a commodities boom that has propelled the country into several years of prosperity and social policies that helped many people enter the middle class.
Although jailed for 580 days for money laundering and corruption, in 2019 the Supreme Federal Court cleared da Silva of all charges and he was released from prison.
On September 7, the day of the bicentenary of Brazilian independence, several university professors and graduate students from the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures Michelle Bowman Underwood organized a seminar entitled “What is at stake in the elections presidential elections in Brazil? »
The presenters all agreed that Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by an increase in the decimation of indigenous areas and a complete disregard for indigenous peoples, a huge increase in the deforestation of Amazon lands for use as cattle ranches and farms of soybeans, and a marked persecution of members of the LGBTQ community.
Brazil’s indigenous peoples have been marginalized and discriminated against for decades. It wasn’t until 1988 that more than 300 indigenous peoples were granted the constitutional right to be both Brazilian and indigenous, said Tracy Devine Guzmán, associate professor of Latin American studies and coordinator of Native American studies and world.
“Before that time, indigenous peoples shared the status of minors and mentally handicapped people,” Devine Guzmán said. Although they held the constitutional right to differentiated citizenship, including territorial rights, more than three decades ago, their lands have been under constant threat.
“The current administration has promoted an acrimonious political discourse that actually ends up pitting the well-being of indigenous peoples against that of their compatriots, especially the non-indigenous poor,” Devine Guzmán said. “This message divides. This is dangerous, and it suggests that occupying Indigenous lands is somehow a matter of benevolence rather than a constitutional right.
The state has again become a perpetrator of violence against indigenous peoples, against their lands and against the defenders who work on their behalf, according to Devine Guzmán.
Indeed, the Brazilian government has aggressively eroded environmental land protections in the Amazon, resulting in an “environmental disaster,” according to PhD student Sam Johnson. candidate in Literary, Cultural and Linguistic Studies who has presented the impact of extractionism in recent years.
Since Bolsonaro took office, the government has allowed and encouraged the continued expansion of mining and agribusiness into protected and designated indigenous lands. Many of the wildfires that raged in the Amazon in 2019 were human-caused, intended to clear land for mining and other uses, Johnson said. The loss of primary forests in the Amazon region has increased significantly since the current administration took office, he said.
“All of these events point to the extractivist agenda of the current government and what is really at risk in the upcoming election,” Johnson noted.
Brazil is also one of the most dangerous places in the world for women, said Steve Butterman, associate professor and director of the Portuguese program in Michele Bowman Underwood’s department of modern languages and literatures, who presented the theme “Femicide, impunity and misogyny”.
Brazil is the world’s leading perpetrator of LGBTQ+ killings and femicides, according to Butterman. “Violence against women is at an all-time high in the country,” he said.
“Even after passing the Femicide Law (a 2015 law that recognizes that women have been killed because of their gender), Brazil does not identify and punish gender-based killings,” Butterman explained. . According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, four girls under the age of 13 are raped every hour in the country, he pointed out.
Every minute in 2021, police in Brazil received an average report of intimate partner violence. However, the vast majority of those reports fell on deaf ears, he said.
Butterman said he continues to serve as an expert witness in dozens of asylum cases for members of Brazil’s LGBTQ community. It also helps survivors of severe domestic violence who seek asylum in the United States because they face stigma and persecution.
Workshop participants agreed that Brazil’s challenges will not end if a leftist president is elected. But many have said they hope existing legislation protecting many marginalized groups will have a better chance of being enforced if Bolsonaro loses.
Gabriel Das Chagas, a doctoral student in literary, cultural and linguistic studies, spoke about the history of Brazilian colonialism and institutionalized racism, stating that if daDilva won: “At least we would have a president who believes in and respects the Constitution.