Tuesday, June 2, 2020

"In a decade, Brazil has gone from dream to dystopia"

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Executive Director of Sciences Po’s Latin American and Caribbean Political Observatory (OPALC), Gaspard Estrada is a political scientist with a particular interest in political communication in Latin America.

Gaspard Estrada, in 2016. CAMILLE LEBOURGES

The coronavirus epidemic is exploding in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro denies the gravity of the crisis and continues his walkabout, recalling that he is nicknamed the "messiah" without "working miracles". How did we get here ?

Brazil is going through a moment that could be described as dystopian. As problems accumulate on the health, economic, political and societal fronts, the government, completely overwhelmed by events, seems more concerned about its own survival than that of its fellow citizens. It is striking to note that a decade ago this country seemed to be living a dream: the economy was operating at full capacity, poverty was decreasing, as were inequalities. Considered at the time as the "champion of the emerging" thanks to the triptych democracy-growth-predictability, Brazil even seemed destined to occupy a central role in the affairs of the planet.

Then the dream became a nightmare. Political, economic and social consensuses have been shattered. If the dismissal, at the end of 1992, of Fernando Collor de Mello (president since 1990) had unified the country around democratic achievements, that of Dilma Rousseff (president since 2011), in 2016, tested Brazilian democracy. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Bolsonaro rejects these standards of the democratic game, encourages violence on the street or on social networks by adopting the strategy of denial in the face of the pandemic and by encouraging his supporters to radicalize against those who do not share his opinion.

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When, in the midst of a health crisis, Mr. Bolsonaro says "the Constitution is me", does he use the virus for his own ends?

Absolutely. This expression is symptomatic of his conception of the role of president: it amounts to saying that the state belongs to him and that he can use it as he pleases. Respect for the rule of law becomes incidental. This is how he considers it normal to support the closure of Congress and the Supreme Court which would be in league with the opposition to elaborate "A plot" against him. So what could be more obvious than intervening arbitrarily in the police and the intelligence services, pursuing a policy that persecutes minorities, attacks journalists, censors culture and tries to silence the opposition? Not to mention its foreign policy, described as "diplomacy of shame" by almost all those who have served as ministers of foreign affairs of Brazil since the end of the military dictatorship (1964-1985).

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