Brazil Still in Turmoil One Month After Presidential Election

Dec 5, 2022
3:38 PM

An Xavante Indigenous person attends a protest by supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro against his presidential election loss in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, November 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

November ended as an extremely violent month in Brazil—not only in the political field, with fanatics of the still-President Jair Bolsonaro again blocking roads and even resorting to terrorism, but also with the mass shooting at two schools in Aracruz, in the interior state of Espírito Santo. 

A 16-year-old gunman killed four people —three teachers and a 12-year-old child— and wounded 11 others at the two schools. The son of a military police officer, he wore a swastika during the attack.

The radicalization of the Bolsonarist discourse, as well as the defense of the use of weapons and the facilitation of access to firearms in the country, help explain the growth of the phenomenon of mass shootings in Brazil in recent years.

On the political front, after the initial occupations of roads —some of them liberated by football club fans who organized against mobilizations considered to be pro-coup and fascist— supporters of the defeated president had begun to assemble around army barracks, demanding military intervention to restore order.

In recent weeks, however, new radical mobilizations were seen in states where Bolsonaro received large votes, with roads occupied again and even attacks that could be described as terrorism: home-made bombs, shot fired against the police, and the illegal funding of radical activists who have burned trucks and even destroyed an ambulance. 

In the western state of Rondônia, which borders Bolivia, a man fired 10 rounds at the headquarters of a newspaper that is critical of the government and in Brasilia, a bar known to be frequented by the left was shot at. In both cases the places were empty, but no one can deny the escalation of violence and the danger these terrorist acts bring to the country.

From 2013 onwards, social media has become increasingly central to public debate, and the algorithmic dynamic has served to radicalize individuals and movements thanks to the bubble phenomenon that reinforces the sense of community.

“Although it is still early to tell,” explained historian Murilo Cleto, “it is possible to predict that Bolsonaro is losing control of his base. This is blatant in his speech. He says he is with the protesters and insists that the protesters are with him. But that’s because they no longer are.”

What is happening, Cleto adds, is that “his fanatical base remains stuck in the parallel reality that he has encouraged so much,” but he doesn’t necessarily has any control over it. Instead, groups of businessmen, mostly linked to agriculture, have been virtually setting the country on fire by financing violent and even terrorist acts to destabilize Brazil and prevent President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from taking office on January 1st.

As Bolsonaro’s isolation expands, nationally and internationally, so does the radicalism of his supporters. Close allies of Bolsonaro have accepted defeat, the transition process has officially begun, and, internationally, even allies or potential allies of Bolsonaro —such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni or Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman— have congratulated Lula da Silva on his victory.

“The immediate recognition of Lula’s victory by a hundred foreign leaders reveals three things: Bolsonaro’s enormous global isolation; an affective memory of the Lula period, which maintained good relations with the world; [and] the ostensible rejection of pro-coup moves in the country,” said Guilherme Casarões, professor of political science and international relations at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a think tank and institution of higher learning based in Rio de Janeiro.

And specialists see the election of Leonardo Brandt, a professor at the Law Faculty of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, as a judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and that of Ilan Godfajn to the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank, as victories for Lula da Silva and the image he projects on Brazilian foreign policy, signaling a return to the international scene.

Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also in talks to form an “OPEC of rainforests,” in line with Lula da Silva’s discourse that the environment should play a central role in his government.

Lula also promised the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, possibly with the Indigenous congresswoman Sonia Guajajara as its head—perhaps as an apology for the treatment of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples by the Workers’ Party, particularly during the government of Dilma Rousseff, when it undertook the construction of Belo Monte, which has been condemned by international courts and continues to harm Indigenous communities in northern Brazil to this day.

Despite having managed to elect a considerable base in Parliament —and contrary even to what I predicted in previous articles— the radicalism of many pro-Bolsonaro activists and politicians could cause a split in their base and weaken an eventual opposition to the Lula government. Bolsonaro himself, avoiding the spotlight since his defeat, seems to show little desire to command the base he created and emboldened.

In one of his rare appearances in recent weeks, Bolsonaro told Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin, who is also in charge of Lula’s transition team, to “please rid us of communism,” referring to the delusion of Lula da Silva as a far-left leader.

In another appearance during a military event in Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro remained silent but waved to supporters with a banner demanding a military coup.

Lula, known to be a great strategist, has managed to win over part of Bolsonaro’s parliamentary base of support even before taking office, focusing on the parties of the so-called Centrão (big center) as Bolsonaro becomes increasingly isolated and his militants radicalized—along with his own Liberal Party, which was fined almost 23 million reais by the Supreme Court for insisting on a bad-faith lawsuit attempting to smear the electoral process. 


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