Brazil’s Bolsonaro laying the groundwork for fascist state
Both Bolsonaro and VP Hamilton Mourao have not only praised the former military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985, throughout their careers but also celebrated the use of torture.
One of Bolsonaro’s most ominous quotes was when he said, as a Congressman, that the dictatorship’s mistake was not to kill an additional 10000 civilians.
It is no secret that Bolsonaro has hailed the worst of Latin America’s dictators, including Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Paraguay’s Alfredo Stroessner.
But the real danger is that in office, Bolsonaro has started preparing the ground for a fascist state, and has done everything to make the notion of fascism more palatable.
In March last year, Bolsonaro instructed that the Defence Ministry hold commemorations of the 21-year military rule, which sparked outrage.
What’s more is that Bolsonaro’s former minister of culture became infamous after quoting Hitler’s Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.
The longest-serving judge on Brazil’s Supreme Court, Judge Celso de Mellow, has sounded the alarm, saying his country is like Weimar Germany, with Bolsonaro supporters bent on destroying democracy and replacing it with dictatorship. Rallies have been held where demonstrators in support of Bolsonaro are calling for Congress and the Supreme Court to be shut down and replaced by military rule. Many of them wear paramilitary uniforms and carry flaming torches.
Bolsonaro himself has attended such rallies, as recently as last weekend on horseback, and it is believed that members of the Congress aligned to him and connected to his sons have been involved in organising such rallies.
The government has also incited supporters to pressure the judiciary, and silence critical media and universities, and deemed opposition “enemies of the state”.
Brazil has notably strong institutions such as the Supreme Court and Congress, as well as the independent media, which was responsible for forcing two presidents out of office for misconduct.
But Bolsonaro’s lack of control over these institutions has raised his ire, particularly the Supreme Court probe into the alleged fake news operation involving his sons.
He is also angry at the opposition request to have his phone searched as part of an investigation. One of the generals in the government, Augusto Heleno, issued a veiled threat that if the Supreme Court upholds the request, there would be “unpredictable consequences for stability”.
What many experts believe is that Bolsonaro is trying to provoke a crisis between the executive, legislature and judiciary in order to justify military intervention.
This is his only hope of staying in power, given his plunging approval ratings which have dropped to 27%, his abject failure in curbing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic - Brazil has the third-highest death toll in the world - and the fact that investors have been scared away from the country under his rule.
Bolsonaro has also started putting in place measures to give the security forces a free hand, and a new law has given security forces immunity from prosecution. Bolsonaro wants to replace the army’s top general with a younger and less qualified general who is considered loyal to him.
The Justice Minister, Sergio Moro, resigned over Bolsonaro’s insistence on replacing the head of the police, Mauricio Valeixo, in order to halt investigations into political allies and his own family. Moro gave an eight-hour deposition to investigators, stating that the president politically interfered in law enforcement institutions.
Valeixo was replaced by the head of intelligence, who happens to be a close friend of Bolsonaro’s sons.
Once again, the Supreme Court flexed its muscles and blocked the appointment, which has led to the defence minister dangerously claiming that the Supreme Court is overstepping its bounds.
Another ominous sign of fascist tendencies is the suggestion by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes last November to issue a new AI5 to stifle unrest. Why this is so significant is that an AI5 was first instituted by the military dictatorship in 1968, which led to the closing of Congress, the suspension of the constitution and rights guarantees, which also led to censorship and torture.
Not only do Brazilians need to see the grave danger signs flashing before their eyes, but so do leaders in the international community.
Bolsonaro should not be afforded the legitimacy he desperately seeks, and should not be given platforms to ventilate his ideas, whether at forums like the World Economic Forum or other multilateral gatherings.
The world needs to take a stand against leaders who support fascism and dictatorship, before they succeed at implementing their agendas and denying their citizens basic rights and freedoms.
* Ebrahim is the group foreign editor for Independent Media.