There is one plausible explanation for the fact that a neo-fascist is poised to win the impending run-off presidential election in Brazil - he has been coached by Steve Bannon, otherwise known as Trump’s ‘evil’ strategist.
When Bannon left the White House he set about boosting the fortunes of the far right in various European countries, masterminding the campaigns of a number of extreme right-wing leaders. One could be forgiven for making the assumption that Trump had released his ideological footsoldier to set the far right in the western world on a winning trajectory.
Given the ideological political battle being waged in Latin America, it was predictable that Bannon would set his sights on influencing the balance of forces in a strategic country like Brazil, and ensure that Trump would have a disciple ensconced in Brazil’s state house.
The catastrophe of this story is that Brazil’s right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is well ahead in the polls, and has turned out to be so extreme in his reactionary views that he is looking more like a neo-Nazi than an American style neo-con. Perhaps Bannon got more than he bargained for, or maybe it forms part of his strategy to have such an extreme force changing the narrative on virtually every issue in Brazil that it would make Trump look like a moderate.
Bolsonaro has taken the most outrageous positions, such as calling Brazil’s indigenous people parasites and advocating discriminatory eugenically devised forms of birth control. He has previously called people from Haiti, Africa and the Middle East the “scum of humanity,” saying the army should take care of them. Bolsonaro has characterised Afro-Brazilians as obese and lazy, and said “I don’t think they’re even good for procreation anymore.”
Bolsonaro has proved to be the quintessential misogynist, reportedly saying to one member of the National Congress, “I would rape you but you don’t deserve it.” He believes that women should not get the same salaries as men, and claims that he had a daughter “in a moment of weakness” after fathering four sons.
But beyond his racism and misogyny, Bolsonaro is the antithesis of a democrat. He has said publicly, “You won’t change anything in this country through voting, you will only change things through a civil war, and by doing what the military didn’t do...killing 30 000.” He has expressed enthusiasm for the country’s military rulers from 1964-85, and has public admiration for the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, as well as Carlos Brilhante Ustra, a colonel who ran a military torture squad in the 1970s. Bolsonaro has chosen a military general for the deputy presidency, and has promised to fill his cabinet with other generals.
This is not to mention how such a leader would destroy one of the world’s most precious natural sanctuaries - the Amazon. This aspiring strongman wants to privatise and develop the Amazon.
What beggars belief is how a majority of Brazilians have been conned into supporting him when many still have affection for Brazil’s former left-wing President Lula da Silva. But the same tactics that were used in the American election campaign were used in this campaign, likely under Bannon’s tutelage - an appeal to the ingrained racism and xenophobia in society, a push back against the establishment and corruption, and a notion that a strongman would be able to fix the country’s problems.
But the danger of Bolsonaro’s sudden rise to power is not only for the future political and social trajectory of Brazil, but also for the trajectory of many other countries, as a decisive win for Bolsonaro will embolden neo-fascists worldwide.
These political developments will also impact on South Africa in that having a neo-fascist as one of the five BRICS leaders will have severe ramifications for the ability of the grouping to align their foreign policies. If this is what lies on the horizon, BRICS may revert to merely being a grouping of countries that promote trade and investment, devoid of any common political vision or policy positions. That is if the grouping even survives the entry of such a leader, the likes of which the world has not seen since World War II.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor.