Jorge Eduardo Saavedra Durão¹

There is no need to dwell on characterizing the neo-fascist plans stubbornly promoted by the President of the Republic, in the midst of a pandemic threatening the lives of thousands of Brazilians. With indifference and even sarcasm in his reactions to tragic death statistics, Bolsonaro has toughened the ideological cohesion of hard-core followers who spurn intelligence and worship death, whose ideal society would crystallize Brazil’s structural inequalities, and whose deepest values abhor solidarity and reject human rights.

In response to this conservative revolution, which translates into daily attacks on what remains of democratic institutions and constitutional order, many voices are calling for a “broad democratic front” capable of stopping the march towards authoritarianism. After Sergio Moro left the Ministry of Justice, party leaders – many of them deeply committed to dismantling democracy ever since the impeachment in 2016 – are planning to build a broad front to replace the head of the executive. Some warn that “we have never been so close to the brink” and seem to believe that it is possible to turn the wheel of history back to before 2018, that is, before the fateful moment when many so-called democrats helped put an extremist psychopathic leader at the helm of government. Bolsonaro’s personal base of support, built upon a corporative defense of the military, with roots in the militias of Rio de Janeiro, has spread nationwide to include significant portions of the police, private security contractors, a variety of groups involved in arms trafficking, as well as “old” Havan-style small and medium-sized businessmen[2] who fund the expansion of his movement. This is not to question the obvious fact that the bloc formed to carry out the 2016 coup is shrinking every day, and that even the bloc that once supported the Bolsonaro government is beginning to wither, with Moro’s exit as an important milestone in this direction.

We are thankful that Brazilian institutions – starting with authorities throughout the federation such as governors and mayors – have displayed their antibodies against the lethal virus of “Bolsonarismo.” The president’s perverse strategy of antagonizing governors who show any responsibility at all in the face of the pandemic, with his rejection of the policy of social isolation and his infamous attempt to hold them accountable for the collapse of the economy and now for the explosion in the number of victims, has certainly left them with no option but to confront such presidential opportunism head-on. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that Bolsonaro’s opponents include the likes of authoritarian politicians such as Wilson Witzel (RJ), João Doria (SP) and Ronaldo Caiado (GO).

Thus, the inescapable conundrum is the nature of the “broad democratic front” that many true democrats would like to muster. Let us not forget the radical dismantling of rights in Brazil, after Dilma Roussef’s electoral swindle in 2015[3] opened the gates for the storming of power by a diverse coalition of national and international capitalist forces, led by financial capital and U.S. imperialist interests, well represented in this Brazilian tragedy by their most effective agent, the former judge (and now former minister) Sérgio Moro, who was largely responsible for undermining Petrobrás and dismantling major Brazilian construction companies.

How far can we go in mobilizing this democratic front? What democracy do we want to regain? In its response to the coronavirus crisis, it is true that the National Congress has opposed deadly austerity policies floored by Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes and Bolsonaro, and had the merit of increasing to a meager R$ 600.00 the crumb of R$ 200.00 that Bolsonaro proposed to hand out as a monthly minimum income. However, the current sitting Congress, like the one that preceded it, has been a leading player in dismantling people’s rights. Until recently, the pro-business media missed no chance to give Congress all the “credit due for reforms” that have decimated labor rights, social security, environmental legislation, the territorial rights of family farmers, indigenous peoples and quilombolas (to favor landgrabbers and deforesters), policies to support family farming and food and nutritional security. The political coalition that approved a perverse constitutional amendment to put a ceiling on public spending , to the detriment of the Unified Health System (SUS) and public education, still dominates the National Congress where a spurious and supposedly middle-of-the-road “Centrão” caucus is alive and back in business, this time to horse trade its support for the very same Bolsonaro who was elected with a campaign against the wheeling and dealing of “old politics.”

Another serious obstacle to the unification of forces around the defense of democratic institutions, and against a coup by Bolsonaro, is widespread rancor against the PT (Workers’ Party). Are center- and right-wing forces willing to join forces with PT leaders? There was a timid attempt in this direction during May Day commemorations this month, when a range of major trade-union confederations organized a united online rally at which Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Lula, Dilma, Marina Silva, Ciro Gomes, Flávio Dino and others shared the virtual stage.

The central issue for the future of democracy – far beyond the immediate challenge of barring the threat posed by Bolsonaro – is how to build a political force genuinely committed to salvaging the social pact around the primacy of rights, as enshrined in Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. That social pact’s commitment to the rights of the great majority of Brazilian citizens requires a clear understanding that capitalism is no longer compatible with the advancement of rights or of democracy. Until we achieve a political force supported by millions of Brazilian men and women, based on solidarity and aimed at promoting a true revolution of the commons – with the State guaranteeing goods such as health, education, decent housing and a minimum income for all – we cannot expect to see the consolidation of a meaningful democracy.

We may actually be at the threshold of a major shift in the balance of power in Brazilian politics, with the fall of the president who would strike the death knell for what remains of our democracy. But the resumption of popular struggles at levels that might regain rights lost in recent years is still a daunting sojourn, towards which political and social left-wing forces have not yet even begun to find their way.


[1] Coordinator of FASE’s National Advisory Group.

[2] One example of how fascist businessmen act is in this week’s news: storeowners in Campina Grande, Paraíba, forced their employees to demonstrate in the street, kneeling in prayer for the reopening of commerce.

[3] When she named Bradesco bank executive Joaquim Levi to head the Ministry of Finance, with the mission of imposing a tax reform that would contradict the entire platform of candidate Dilma’s 2014 presidential campaign.