The Race Is On in Brazil

Apr 28, 2022
1:09 PM

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for reelection in October (Palácio do Planalto/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The next elections in Brazil take place in October, and campaign season has already begun.

Candidates are forging alliances and coalitions and preparing their political agendas. Once enemies, the former president and current presidential candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the Workers’ Party (PT), will have as his running mate Geraldo Alckmin, the former governor of São Paulo who switched from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) to the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB).

Only a few years ago, it was common for PT militants to accuse Alckmin of being a fascist —even a Nazi— and of using the Military Police to repress social mobilizations. Today, at Lula’s behest, they are silent and accept the new ally that aims to transform the image of the former president and attract votes from those on the right who are not satisfied with the extremist current president, Jair Bolsonaro, but who also have no great sympathy for Lula either.

The decision is considered an intelligent one by political analysts but has caused tension within the PT. In spite of everything, Lula maintains absolute control over the party, guaranteeing the rapid approval of his vice-presidential pick.

Meanwhile, São Paulo State Deputy Arthur do Val —who is known as “Mamãe Falei” (translated roughly as “Mommy, I spoke”)— resigned after having impeachment proceedings opened against him over accusations of sex tourism on his visit to Ukraine.

Had he been removed from office, he would’ve be ineligible to hold public office for eight years, but with his resignation, he can run for office again in October.

Bolsonaro vs. Justice System

The crisis between President Bolsonaro and the Supreme Court has entered new chapter. Congressman Daniel Silveira —famous for having destroyed a plaque in honor of Marielle Franco, the councilwoman murdered by militiamen in Rio de Janeiro four years ago, and for making constant threats against the judges on the highest court— was sentenced to eight years in jail.

By a vote of 10-to-1, Silveira was convicted of inciting the attempt to prevent the free exercise of powers and of coercion in the course of proceedings—when a person uses violence or threats to gain an advantage in a lawsuit. With the decision, he will lose his mandate and political rights for eight years.

Silveira recorded several videos in which he threatened democracy, spent a few months in prison and, even after his release, has not changed his violent and anti-democratic rhetoric.

Economist and philosopher Joel Pinheiro da Fonseca said that Silveira “accused Supreme Court justices of selling sentences, of embezzling money, of working for the PCC [Primeiro Comando da Capital, the largest criminal group in Brazil]. He tried to intimidate the judges with threats and incitement to violence—he even spoke of beating them in the middle of the street. All this was filled with bad language. And all this did not come from just any thug, but from a Congressman.

“Whoever considers this normal or acceptable cannot claim to be a defender of the rule of law. Daniel Silveira was convicted. Perhaps he will pay for his crimes and serve as an example to others who think that anything goes in our country, that one can slander, intimidate and threaten at will,” Fonseca said.

But just one day after Silveira’s conviction, President Bolsonaro signed a decree granting a grace or individual pardon to the Congressman. In clear defiance of the Supreme Court, the President decided to pardon his ally and open up another front in the persistent and deep institutional crisis in which the country finds itself. Bolsonaro bypassed a near-unanimous court ruling, citing freedom of expression as an “essential pillar of society.”

Allies close to the President still claim he could grant other pardons to allies like Allan dos Santos or Oswaldo Eustáquio, both accused by the Supreme Court of spreading fake news. Santos decided to flee the country while Eustáquio is in prison.

For the first time since 1945, the president of Brazil has specifically pardoned a convicted criminal.

Felippe Ramos, a political analyst and doctoral candidate in sociology at the New School for Social Research, believes the Supreme Court can overturn Bolsonaro’s decision and, if it does, “Bolsonaro could escalate to disobedience of the court’s decision and protection of the convicted Congressman, for example, granting a kind of ‘asylum’ in the Presidential Palace with support from his generals. Technically it would be a crime. Politically it would be a game over. The power of justice depends on the powers that be obeying its decisions. It is an existential moment for the Supreme Court.”

Ramos sees a scenario with the military banking on Bolsonaro’s decision and promoting a coup d’état. Alternatively, though, he also sees the risk of a possible re-election of the President, with Bolsonaro having “more room to further attack the independence of the court, disobeying its rulings or even expanding the number of justices to gain a majority. Hugo Chávez did this successfully.”

All the while, Bolsonaro keeps rising in the polls, both in terms of the presidential election and sheer popularity.

There is a real fear that, in addition to disrespecting the Supreme Court and institutions, Bolsonaro and allies will use the same institutions to persecute opponents.

In fact, Attorney General Augusto Aras, a close ally of the President’s, has used the courts to persecute University of São Paulo (USP) professor Conrado Hübner Mendes for an article published in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, as well as publications on social networks, in which the professor criticizes the actions of Aras and calls him “servant of the president.” Although the criticism is correct and absolutely protected by the right to freedom of expression, Aras is trying to intimidate the professor and other potential critics through the courts.

A few days ago, the same Aras asked the Supreme Court not to investigate the President for the charges made against former education minister and fundamentalist pastor Milton Ribeiro for embezzlement and bribery involving the Ministry of Education.

The Truth About Torture

On April 17, journalist Miriam Leitão released audio from the 1977 Superior Military Court that proves the court’s ministers knew about the torture practices at that time and did nothing.

In one of the recordings, General Rodrigo Octávio Jordão Ramos narrates the case of Nádia Lúcia do Nascimento, who suffered a miscarriage as a result of ill-treatment while in one of the military torture centers. There were those among the ministers who doubted the accusations, especially when they involved military rather than police officers—but the ministers did not shy away from making jokes about the torture.

Leitão herself was brutally tortured by the dictatorship while she was pregnant. The Brazilian justice system has so far failed to prosecute and convict military personnel and civilians involved in hundreds of instances of torture under the military dictatorship.

Beyond Politics

As in previous months, the rains continue to punish Rio de Janeiro. At the beginning of April, 18 people died in coastal towns in the south of the state.

And the cartoonist Angeli, one of the most revolutionary and important in Brazilian history, has decided to retire. Just like actor Bruce Willis, Angeli was diagnosed with aphasia and, at 65, will end a brilliant career that inspired generations of artists.

“Thanks for the company on trips, the surprise visits in the early hours of the morning, the advice, the chats and everything else. Thanks for everything, Angeli. I love you, man,” his friend and fellow cartoonist Adão Iturrusgarai tweeted.

For 50 years Angeli created characters that are still extremely relevant today, drawing political and cultural criticism and developing his own artistic language.


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