Brazil – Lawfare the new warfare

13th October 2018

Bolsonaro supporters

 Bolsonaro supporters celebrate after the first round in Brazil’s elections

Elections held in Brazil on 7th October have given the candidate of the right wing, the banks and the transnational corporations, Jair Bolsonaro the edge after the first round of voting.  Workers Party candidate, Fernando Haddad, backed by former President Lula de Silva, ousted in a right wing constitutional coup, is still in the race however, giving Brazilians some hope.

Bolsonaro gained 46% of the votes in the first round with Haddad gaining 29% of the share.  As the top two candidates, both will contest a second round run off on 28th October.

On the basis of first round evidence the odds are stacked against Haddad.  Workers Party leader and former President, Lula de Silva, is serving a prison sentence for trumped up corruption charges.  Dilma Rouseff, who succeeded Lula, was impeached in 2016 under equally questionable circumstances.

The Workers Party and Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL), a misleading name given its policies, are almost neck and neck with 56 and 52 seats respectively in elections to the Chamber of Deputies.  However, this slight edge may not benefit the Workers Party greatly, as many of the other deputies to the 119 member Chamber are from an assortment of right wing parties, likely to provide backing for Bolsonaro’s anti-people agenda should he win the second round.

The incoming congress is widely regarded as the most conservative since the end of dictatorship in 1985.

While the tenure of the Workers Party under both Lula and Rouseff did much to shift power away from the corporations and provide opportunities for Brazil’s poor, an incoming Bolsonaro administration would be avowedly free market.  Chief economic adviser to Bolsonaro, Paulo Guedes, is already limbering up to reduce state pension contributions, privatise state owned companies and give greater freedom for the Central Bank to interfere in the economy.

On the plus side Guedes is being investigated for fraud and the many military and police officers in the PSL ranks will not want their pensions affected adversely.  However, this will be scant compensation for the opening up of South America’s largest economy to the many US corporations who will no doubt be desperate to take advantage of a Bolsonaro victory.

The social agenda espoused by Bolsonaro is, unsurprisingly, equally reactionary promising a crackdown on crime, usually a euphemism for more authoritarian measures, and a return to “traditional family values.” He enjoys support from Edir Macedo, the owner of television station Record and head of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, one of Brazil’s biggest evangelical churches.

Haddad who does not enjoy such corporate or institutional backing has been clear that,

“We go to the democratic field with just one weapon — with argument.  We will not carry arms, us no . . . we will go with the force of argument to defend Brazil and its people.”

The campaign against the Workers Party is part of a trend which has been happening across progressive Latin America, dubbed “lawfare.” The political subjection of the judiciary to the right wing has resulted in legal proceedings against a number of progressive leaders of the region, which are rigged beforehand.  The objective is to discredit these figures and the political forces they represent, equating them with common criminals and disqualifying them electorally.

Lawfare is being waged with increasing intensity in the region, accompanied by neoliberal forces that define the new strategy against leftist political movements.  This judicial war represents a serious setback in the pursuit of progressive policies in the countries of the region.

As former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has stated,

“In Latin America, there are no longer solely military uprisings to replace governments, as happened in the past, but now there are coups in court that seek to undermine the progressive groups that have legitimately gained power.”

The chance to halt the tide of lawfare is still in the hands of the Brazilian people.  In two weeks’ time they could cast their vote for Fernando Haddad.  A Bolsonaro government would certainly be a disaster for both the people of Brazil and Latin America.  The odds against Haddad are high, given the current balance of forces, but the struggle is by no means over.