America’s Political Violence Spills Over to Brazil (OPINION)

Jan 12, 2023
11:53 AM

Forensic investigators are framed by a cracked window damaged when supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Brazilian Supreme Court building, in Brasília, Brazil, Tuesday, January 10, 2023. Bolsonaro supporters who refuse to accept his election defeat stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace Sunday, a week after the inauguration of his leftist rival, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)


BOSTON — The violence that erupted in Brazil over the weekend has broad implications for Americans. Most immediately, it’s a reminder that instead of championing democracy, we’re exporting shameful coup tactics.

We need to remedy this harm. We also need to brace for impact as we see the repercussions on the immigration front.

We’re experiencing an erosion of trust and confidence in democracy that is both alarming and contagious. Striking parallels connect the January 6 coup attempt in Washington and the January 8 insurrection in Brasília. In both instances, assaults on democratic values and institutions were triggered by unfounded “stolen” election claims. Voter dissatisfaction is similarly expressed through mob violence.

It’s now dangerously clear that political malaise in the United States is spreading and wreaking havoc. We’re inspiring others to destabilize their own governments—which is particularly threatening in Latin America, a region plagued by coups and corruption.

Let’s be clear: Political instability is costly. It breeds corruption and inhibits economic growth. Brazilians are already experiencing significant hardship. According to the World Bank, the country is “projected to fall into its deepest recession on record.” In Brazil, political chaos compounds the dire economic crisis and vice versa, in a dire loop.

Unsurprisingly, a growing number of Brazilians are fleeing their country. Every day, the toxic political and economic climate forces more people to migrate. This is already playing out on the U.S. border with Mexico, where “the number of Brazilians apprehended by Mexican immigration authorities increased from around 300 in 2016 to nearly 17,000 in 2021.” As the political situation grows more volatile in Brazil, we’re seeing an increase in migrants.

The fallout will be felt particularly in Florida, Massachusetts, and California, where half of all Brazilian migrants in the United States live. In Massachusetts, Lawyers for Civil Rights is already seeing a growing number of newly arrived Brazilian individuals and families. They need housing, employment, and other support, including free legal assistance for asylum applications.

Immigration is not the only touchpoint. As Brazilian protests erupt, we’re also seeing the political aftermath in communities across the country, including in front of the Brazilian Consulate in Boston this week.

In this climate, we need to directly address the harm we’ve caused by investing in strengthening democratic values and institutions domestically and abroad. We also need dedicated resources to support and protect refugees, including those fleeing Brazil.

Organizations should consider making information and services available in Portuguese to ensure the meaningful community integration of Brazilian families and children. Language access alone can go a long way in helping people in need. In response to the Brazilian crisis, Lawyers for Civil Rights is now creating a series of “know your rights” workshops in Portuguese to help empower recent migrants.

To fight the latest attack against democracy, it is important for all U.S. citizens to strengthen their ties with the Brazilian community.


Jennifer Cardoso is a Brazilian Portuguese-speaking paralegal at Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal is the Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, an organization that provides free legal support to low-income people. Twitter: @IvanEspinozaESQ