Cold February Rains in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

Feb 28, 2022
4:13 PM

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

In Brazil, data protection is a fundamental right. 

On February 10, the Brazilian Congress approved a project that includes the right to data protection in the Brazilian constitution, transferring to the federal government the authority to supervise and create laws on the subject—thus preventing states and municipalities from creating their own legislation and, by doing so, violating citizens’ rights.

Brazil is still lagging behind in the topic and the application of its General Data Protection Law (the Brazilian version of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation), but it is taking a big step towards guaranteeing respect for the privacy of its citizens. 

It was also announced that, after 32 years, the work of identifying the bones of guerrillas who fought the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985) and were buried in mass graves in the Perus cemetery in São Paulo is coming to an end, closing yet another sad chapter in the country’s history. Forty disappeared people are believed to be buried in the cemetery in clandestine graves.

The good news, however, has been overshadowed by the catastrophe that has hit several regions of the country caused by rains that have been lashing Brazil since the end of last year. 

At the beginning of the month, more than 20 people died in the metropolitan region of São Paulo due to landslides and the force of the water. 

A few days later, the city of Petrópolis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, experienced the biggest catastrophe in its history, with more than 152 dead and a scene of total disaster in the former home of the Brazilian royal family. Videos circulated with frightening scenes of rivers of mud flowing down hillsides, carrying cars, buses, and even houses as the population sought ways to survive.

While the tragedy was unfolding, President Jair Bolsonaro was visiting Russia under protests from the U.S. and opponents in Brazil. 

Days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Bolsonaro decided to carry on with his trip to the country —followed by a quick stop in Hungary, one of the rare countries that maintain good relations with the Brazilian far-right president— and even spoke of peace and called Putin a “friend” with whom he shares values in common.

“We share common values such as belief in God and defense of the family,” Bolsonaro said. “We also stand in solidarity with all those countries that want and strive for peace.”

The visit did not bring any advantage to Brazil, economically and much less politically. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the President decided to remain silent and, unlike other Western leaders, did not condemn the invasion or possible war crimes

It is not yet known if the trip and further statements will have any impact on the electoral race. According to the latest polls, former leftist President Lula da Silva is still in the lead, but Bolsonaro has narrowed the gap.

At the same time, criticism of Brazilian diplomacy and plans to help and evacuate Brazilians trapped in Ukraine amidst the conflict are multiplying. Brazilians who managed to escape or even those who remain in Ukraine complain that they have not received any assistance from the embassy in the country or in neighboring countries like Romania.

After a few days into the conflict, Bolsonaro said that he had spoken with Putin for two hours and decided that Brazil would remain neutral. “There is no interest on the part of the Russian leader to carry out a massacre,” he said.

According to journalist Jamil Chade, however, Bolsonaro lied about talking to Putin.

The war in Ukraine has divided both the Brazilian right and left.

On the left, there are voices in support of Russia from both Workers’ Party activists and even senators, who issued a statement defending the aggressions, though they backtracked soon after. Members and politicians of the Communist Party of Brazil and the Socialism and Freedom Party, a satellite of the Workers’ Party, also spoke out in favor of Russian aggression and sought to justify Russian actions by criticizing U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO.

The argument is that Russia is only defending itself against NATO aggression toward Russia, namely moves to add more of Russia’s neighbors as members of the U.S.-led bloc.

The left’s criticism of NATO is well known (and often justified). However, the support for the Russian invasion along with a series of fake news spread by portals known for promoting disinformation has generated numerous criticisms.

On the right, explains David Magalhães, professor of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, “there is a part of the extreme right that, since 2013, 2014, is inspired by the Ukrainian extreme right and everything that happened in Ukraine in the context of what they know there as Euromaidan.” On the other hand, “part of the right is inspired by the nature of the Russian regime, which is of an ultra-conservative and illiberal nature, in that it has systematically violated minority rights, such as LGBTQIA+ and feminist groups.”

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro could face prosecution before the Supreme Court for having “direct, voluntary and conscious” participation in the leak of a secret Federal Police investigation that he posted on his social network last year. 

Bolsonaro allegedly used his position to gain access to classified information about a hacking attack on the Supreme Electoral Court to discredit the Brazilian electoral system.

Since he has a privileged platform due to his position, it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not to allow the case to be opened.

And for those who know Brazil, Carnival is one of the main events and popular festivals that moves the country annually. As in 2020, the street celebrations were canceled and this year the samba school parades in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were rescheduled for April. 

Despite the cancellation, several cities allowed private parties to take place in closed spaces and with vaccination and testing controls, generating heavy criticism of what it is viewed by many as the privatization of popular parties allowing the elite to celebrate while denying the poor the same rights.

However, clandestine street parties are taking place and authorities have apparently decided to turn a blind eye.


Raphael Tsavkko Garcia is a journalist with a Ph.D in human rights (focused on migration and diaspora). His portfolio is here. Twitter: @Tsavkko.