By Tom Kissock-Mamede-
On Saturday the 3rd of July 2021, Brazilians took to the streets to demand impeachment proceedings be brought against President Jair Bolsonaro. Roughly 800 thousand Brazilians took part in the demonstrations and although some analysts pointed out that there were not as many Brazilians present than in previous demonstrations, these observations ultimately missed the point in reference to what is at stake and why the world should be paying more attention to the deteriorating situation in Brazil.
To provide much-needed context, in 2018 Jair Bolsonaro, a little-known foul-mouthed congressman, took advantage of a power vacuum in Brazilian politics to get elected as President and take office in 2019. This power vacuum had been created by a corruption scandal known as Operation Car-Wash and led to the false imprisonment of ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It was also used in part to justify the impeachment of another former president, Dilma Rousseff of the same political centre-left PT party. The allegation that Lula has since been acquitted of was that he accepted an apartment as a bribe, and Dilma Rousseff was impeached because ‘on paper’ she was not fit to oversee the economic affairs and had doctored some of the books to hide losses. This would later be seen as a minuscule indiscretion compared to Bolsonaro’s antics during his time in office.
For many in Brazil, Bolsonaro initially represented a politician who would stamp out state corruption. However, since January 2019, he has been implicated in serious scandals and has still managed to maintain his position in Brazils’ highest office. He was photographed with the convicted assassin of left-wing congresswomen Marielle Franco, placed an agricultural lobbyist as the Minister of the Environment (a role in which Ricardo Salles was in charge of the Amazon, though he doesn’t hold the position anymore), attempted to place an evangelical missionary in charge of FUNAI- the agency responsible for handling indigenous affairs, has been associated with organised crime militias, has been implicated in what is known as the Rachadinha (a primitive but lucrative money laundering employment scheme), and he tried to place a proxy in charge of the federal police so he could relay information about a case his son Carlos was being investigated for. As well as this, Bolsonaro has undermined efforts to get Brazilians vaccinated against Covid-19, ignored over 100 emails from Pfizer offering vaccines, and is accused of inflating the price of vaccines and attempting to bribe other vaccine companies in return for contracts. The list of allegations is out of the scope of this article and would fill a book anthology. Yet, the main reason Brazilians are on the streets is because Covid-19 has taken its toll on the country- over half a million Brazilians have died from the virus since the pandemic began. Even though there’s a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry known as a CPI currently taking place surrounding Bolsonaro’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely to lead to impeachment because the house speaker Arthur Lira, the person who can action it, is an ally of Bolsonaro's. Thus, this begs the question, what can be done? And importantly, what can the English-speaking world do to help save Brazilian lives and stop the spread of coronavirus variants?
Firstly, the USA and UK need to show solidarity with the demonstrators across Brazil by making it publicly known that the international community understands their concerns. These governments must recognise that Brazil under Bolsonaro has become a global security threat. This is not only because of the Covid-19 pandemic but also because since taking office Bolsonaro has empowered illegal logging and mining in the Amazon which has brought considerable harm to its ecosystem and indigenous populations. This is a security threat because the forest acts as a critical carbon store to help combat the effects of climate change. Also, the more we encroach on forests, the more likely it is for humans to encounter pathogens that could spark future epidemics and pandemics. In the summer of 2019, the world did take notice when the Extinction Rebellion movement was in full swing, and the French government condemned what Bolsonaro was enabling. However, this was not enough, and Bolsonaro should have been threatened with international sanctions.
States should also put pressure on the Bolsonaro administration regarding the allegations of corruption and advise their private sector companies not to operate in Brazil due to endemic levels of corruption. Foreign governments can also suggest that Sergio Moro (the prosecutor of Operation Car-Wash responsible for briefly imprisoning ex-President Lula and then entering and leaving Bolsonaro’s cabinet) should become more vocal and encourage the investigation into Bolsonaro and his family’s corruption allegations. Many Brazilians in 2018 justified voting for Bolsonaro because Sergio Moro would become part of his cabinet, though he is yet to weigh in on the matter.
Essentially, this would show that a foreign state is throwing its weight behind another presidential candidate in the 2022 Elections. Sarah Maslin of the Economist recently argued that the most important thing Brazilians should be focusing on is to vote Bolsonaro out of office. This is of paramount urgency and Brazilians, alongside the international community, need to finally recognise that Bolsonaro, after being in office for three and a half years, has no redeeming qualities that make him attractive for re-election in 2022. It is also hard to stress how important it is to appeal directly to Arthur Lira to force impeachment proceedings. Many believe Bolsonaro will attempt to stage a coup if he loses the 2022 election, by inciting his followers to attempt a coup much like what happened at the Capitol building on the 6th of January in Washington. Bolsonaro always swam in Trump’s slipstream, and some argue that it’s best to impeach him before 2022 so he can’t steal inspiration from the Trumpian political playbook and make insurrection attempts the ‘new normal'.
To show solidarity with the demonstrators, contact your local elective representative and explain the issues to them. These are the people that can escalate the concerns in government. Talk to the Brazilian diaspora and go to demonstrations taking place outside embassies and consulates. Finally, keep sharing across social media and follow activist channels covering the demonstrations like Midia Ninja and Jornalistas Livres (though they post in Portuguese there’s normally an API to translate the content to English). At this point, Brazilians should focus on getting the right leader into office who can live up to what the country deserves: efficient leadership and a coordinated vaccination rollout. Lula is currently the main opposition running again in 2022 and he has already overseen large vaccination rollouts in the past (80 Million people were vaccinated in 3 months against the H1N1 Virus whilst he was President in 2009) and he could be an answer to providing leadership. For now, what is certain is that the demonstrator’s slogan #forabolsonaro (Bolsonaro out) needs to be realised whether by impeachment or at the ballot box.
English References/Further Reading:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-57709301 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-04/bolsonaro-protests-brazil-covid-vaccine-corruption/100266358 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/3/brazil-top-court-gives-nod-for-probe-into-bolsonaro-over-vaccine