How Did Brazil Get Here?
Brazil’s next President will be Jair Bolsonaro. He is commonly described as being far right politically, holding misogynist, racist, homophobic views and speaking approvingly of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985. Many are now asking how he and his coalition partners were able to take the Presidency and both federal legislative houses.
First some background on Brazil. It is the fifth largest by both area and population, being home to over 208 million people. Brazil has been an up and coming economy with many having predicted it to become a power house in its own right but the 2008 Great Recession put such dreams on hold. Brazil’s growth was flattened immediately in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The Brazilian government, which had been led by a coalition of leftist parties since 2003, responded through a series of policies that seemed to not have worked as the economy has been going back and forth between anemic growth and recession the last 10 years. Crime and gang warfare also rose during this time period.
Despite this Brazil went on to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics but at great economic and political cost at home. Estimates put the cost to hold both events range between $27 and $30 billion with approximately 90% being government financed. Polls showed that just under two-thirds of Brazilians felt these projects were doing more harm than good, additionally many people resented that the police and armed forces were mobilized to protect the tourists to these events and not to combat the crime they dealt with daily.
From 2015 to 2016 Brazil was engulfed by a series of massive protests over a worsening economy and revelations that many then current and former government officials were implicated in extensive corruption. The trail was followed all the way to the former President Luiz “Lula” Silva who has since been arrested and convicted on corruption charges. Before trials began though Lula’s successor, President Dilma Rousseff, attempted to block any further action against him by appointing him to be her Chief of Staff. The appointment was blocked by the Supreme Court and stated that President Rousseff was attempting to interfere with the investigation. President Rousseff was later impeached and removed from office in late August 2016. Her Vice-President, a member of the centrist Brazilian Democratic Party, took over and is serving out the rest of the term and even narrowly avoiding impeachment himself.
By the time the election season started in Brazil this year the people were ready for a change. Economically they have been hurting the last several years, with unemployment in the double digits. They feel unsafe as the country is 12th highest in the world for murders and from the free reign criminals seem to have in many areas. They also feel betrayed by much of the existing establishment which has been shown to either be corrupt or incapable of dealing with these major problems that have been affecting them for nearly a decade now.
One man with the support of many in the military exploded on social media stating in simple terms what was wrong and how to fix these issues. Jair Bolsonaro was able to vocalize the issues that millions of the everyday Brazilians were having and gave them clear solutions with confidence. Bolsonaro and his coalition partners rode the wave of anger and backlash the people had over the last two administrations.
The people of Brazil didn’t want nor, did they benefit from the billions spent on FIFA or the Olympics. Their calls for greater safety were ignored. The little economic relief provided to Brazilians over the last two administrations though popular prove that it isn’t enough if the system still prevents their success. There is an important lesson here for all those in politics to keep in mind: Listen to your constituents, tackle their issues, do not neglect your electorate’s priorities.