Brazil’s Pendulum of Politics

“There’s a struggle that repeats itself throughout
history, over and over again – the oppressors
against the oppressed.”
—Simon Bolívar

Interestingly, when Simon Bolívar coined that phrase in the late 1820s, he characterized the nature and history of the struggle of Latin American people in South America. He was a man who liberated not just one country but went on to liberate six countries and paid the ultimate price for it. The last two centuries of politics in South America have proven his assessment accurate. Because here, the privileged exploit the poor and indigent and have the arrogance to blame them for their own misfortune.

In the context of discussing politics in Brazil, I have lived under four different Brazilian presidents – Lula, Gilma, Temer and Bolsonaro. I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth between those who “consider” themselves privileged and those who are the poor and indigent in Brazil. With respect to the poor, indigent, and Indigenous people of Brazil, they are born with hardly any advantages in life and with very few opportunities. Their lives are hard, filled with struggle, disappointment, and suffering. In contrast, the privileged make a public display of difference, good fortune, liberties, the enjoyment and benefits of being born into a higher social class. But to sort out an apparent inconsistency, there are a few myths about Brazilian society that need brief clarification. First, in reality there is no such thing as five different classes in Brazilian society defined by the amount of monthly income one earns. Perhaps, on paper or in theory they exist, but in reality there are only two classes – the privileged and the poor. For the most part, all one has to do is listen to conversations of Brazilian people talking about the fortunes and misfortunes of other people. Their interests and values are predicated by differences in class. Soon, it becomes clear that class consciousness is a motivating force that characterizes Brazilian culture and value structures. A second clarification point and probably more controversial is Brazilians know very little about capitalism and democracy. That is, they know what they are but do not know how they function. This is due no doubt to the fact that the country was historically built off a system of colonial mercantilism not industrial capitalism. Also, modern attempts at democracy were unsustainable because they were subverted by this antiquated system. With respect to democracy, a lack of understanding in terms of the regulation and movement of people, goods and money constrains Brazil’s attempts toward political growth. The point here is that although some countries have socialist economic components and democratically elected governments; and others such as China and Vietnam are communist but have thriving economies thanks to capitalistic elements; and still others are capitalist and governed by monarchs, oligarchs, or despots, democracy functions best in capitalist societies.

In the most recent presidential election in Brazil, the polarization between the classes was so evident and so strong. People for Bolsonaro had a bevy of complaints they hurled at those who supported Lula. The atmosphere was so thick with antagonism that people were actually afraid to voice their preference for fear of being violently attacked. While on the other hand, people in support of Lula were armed with facts. In particular, how Bolsanaro (aside from his general disrespect, disdain, and hostile demeanor) through his negligence and denials, allowed over 660,000 people to die from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although they tried, his campaign could not muster an adequate response to that accusation. Then, after the first round of elections, the Bolsonaro campaign realized they could not win the election without the poor, indigent, and Indigenous of Brazil. So, they changed their tactics. At this point, they began to “talk” about the concerns of the poor and the Indigenous people, sent out public assistance checks to poor families, and made promises to address their problems and improve their lives. But for four years, Bolsonaro and his self-righteous class of the privileged ignored their lives and rendered them “unimportant” and unworthy as though they did not exist. Now, in the midst of a political battle for the presidency of the country, they needed them. However, the poor, indigent, and Indigenous were not persuaded by such rank, outdated tactics that the privileged had been using in political elections through the country for years, and mobilized their support for Lula even more – prevailing with Lula winning the presidency.

We now can say something about the economic future of Brazil. It appears Lulu is a better choice. Why? Because Lula is liked by the foreigners. During his first two presidencies, he impressed the presidents of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, and members of the G7 and G20. For Brazil, this is good politics because it means foreign investment will return to Brazil. On the other hand, Bolsonaro was not liked by the foreigners. His adherence to a political path similar to Donald Trump of the United States was economic suicide for Brazil.

Unfortunately, the political instability of countries in South America seems to swing from leaders that support the desires of the people to leaders that support the desires of the privileged every 10 to 20 years – over and over again. Whether this will happen to Brazil again remains to be seen. But perhaps now, under the leadership of Lula, the country of Brazil will grow economically and the people will prosper, and in this process learn how to use democracy to their advantage. All things considered, one thing is certain, Lula is the kind of president the poor, indigent and Indigenous people of Brazil desperately need.