The Brazilian elections, held on a day when the whole world celebrated Halloween, seemed to many a carnival - motley, noisy, unbridled. In a word, a typical Brazilian event. In fact, this election was a rather dull replica of the 2020 U.S. election campaign.
The role of Trump was played, of course, by the incumbent president, Jair Bolsonaro, a staunch far-right activist, a voluntarist who knows no boundaries, extremely narcissistic, never doubting his own infallibility, not knowing the word “compromise.” Accordingly, the role of Biden was left for the socialist leader of Brazilian workers, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. That’s what the popular Qatari TV channel Al Jazeera believes, for example.
Bolsonaro ignored the pandemic and also said that black rights activists were “animals that should go back to the zoo.”
From the shores of the Persian Gulf, perhaps they can see better. Of course, comparing Biden, who graduated from two universities, to Lula, who barely made it to fifth grade and then went to work as a street shoe shiner, requires an extraordinary imagination. Perhaps the only thing they have in common is their age. Three days before the election, Lula turned 77. Biden was the same age at the time of the election.
Lula ran for president three times, Biden twice, but in the end, thanks to their tenacity, each of them got his due. Lula pulled off an unbelievable, never-before-before-seen somersault – from the presidential palace to prison and back again. After 12 years of political oblivion, he defeated incumbent President Bolsonaro, although the difference in the number of votes each of them received was no more than 2 percent.
Lula pulled off an unbelievable, never-before-before-seen somersault — from the presidential palace to prison and back again
Lula's supporters call him “our Phoenix bird.” The fact that the nation remembers his former good deeds during his two terms as president (2003-2010) played a huge role. Back then, the prices of Brazil's traditional export goods were skyrocketing, which allowed Lula to spend huge sums on all kinds of social projects. Lula and his team prided themselves on lifting 30 million people out of poverty. When Lula left office, his approval rating was 80 percent. Then U.S. President Barack Obama called him “the most popular politician on earth.” Time magazine wrote that Brazil had become a “first-world country” by a lot of criteria, while the United States had fallen to a third-world level.
But Brazil's miraculous tale did not last long. In 2018, Brazil was rocked by a powerful corruption scandal known as the Lava Jato, Car Wash. But it had nothing to do with washing cars. It was about the massive bribery of public politicians by Brazil's largest oil company, Petrobras.
The investigation was supervised by Judge Sergio Moro. Nearly a hundred people were put behind bars, including Lula. He was accused of corruption and money laundering. By Russian standards, the charges looked ridiculous - in particular, Lula was accused of illegally purchasing an apartment at a Brazil resort (which he denied doing) and accepting a one million dollar bribe.
Lula spent 580 days in a 15-square-meter federal police cell in the southern city of Curitava. As a result, he missed the 2018 elections, which, in the absence of a strong challenger, were easily won by Jair Bolsonaro. Lula's political legacy seemed to have shattered. The same happened with his family life. His wife died - it is believed that she was unable to bear the humiliating investigation against her husband.
Lula's wife died — it is believed that she was unable to bear the humiliating investigation against her husband
But gradually life and hope returned to the indefatigable Lula. He began to correspond with a woman named Rosangela da Silva, his lawyer Luis Carlos Rocha acting as a letter carrier who managed to sneak letters under his vest so that they would not be noticed by the guards. Later, he would tell Associated Press reporters that every time he brought messages to Lula, the future president's face would begin to glow. (At one campaign rally, Lula said he would publish the letters sooner or later, but they would only be available to those above the age of 18.)
At the same time, a light appeared at the end of the prison corridor. In 2019, an investigation conducted by The Intercept, an online publication, made it clear that Judge Moru, who became Brazil's justice minister under the current head of state, Jair Bolsonaro, was breaking the law. For example, he cooperated closely with the prosecutor, exchanging messages with him on the Lava Jato case, which is strictly forbidden by law.
Lula was released, returned to politics and fought again for the presidency. Many of his supporters were embarrassed by the fact that Lula, who once looked like a tiger, had grown old and looked like a frail grandfather. But Lula's fortitude was still unmatched. He successfully debated with Bolsonaro and eventually defeated him. The latter still hasn’t admitted his defeat and has been saying that Lula owes his victory to illiterate Brazilians from the country’s poor northeast provinces.
But there was another important factor, and it was not only a manifestation of the class struggle between the favelas and the palaces. Brazilians became totally intolerant of the president's authoritarian and voluntaristic style. This became most evident during the pandemic, which Bolsonaro treated with utter disdain, saying covid was “something akin to ordinary flu.” He threw lavish parties as the pandemic approached its peak, urging fellow citizens to abandon masks and social distancing. As a result, the coronavirus killed 687,000 people in the country. The nation grew sick of Bolsonaro who became a source of great irritation. Brazilian political analysts claim that many of the right-wing voters have turned their backs on him and voted for Lula.
The nation grew sick of Bolsonaro who became a source of great irritation
But let’s get back to the beginning. The atmosphere of intransigence and total division that had been characteristic of the U.S. was transmitted to Brazil like the coronavirus. The elections took place in an exceptionally toxic environment, where it was no longer a contest of electoral promises that mattered, but a culture war.
“From the Brazilian rainforest to the megalopolises of the southwest, a political divide was spreading, affecting churches, making pollsters enemies of the people, causing terrible feuds between friends, members of the same family, and even between government branches,” wrote Washington Post correspondents who observed the election. “One region went against the other, exposing more and more divisions over sexuality, religion, and race.”
It was as if the competing sides had forgotten all decency. Bolsonaro called Lula a “satanist” who wanted to close all the churches in the country and install “unisex toilets” in schools. Lula's campaign statements portrayed Bolsonaro as a “fascist dictator bent on cannibalism.”
“A global Americanization of the Brazilian political system has taken place,” says Guilherme Casaroes, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “Bolsonaro has been able to create a permanent state of culture war in the country.”
Bolsonaro's fondness for the former U.S. president is well known; it is not by chance that in Brazil he is called the “tropical Trump.” As if copying his idol, Bolsonaro distanced himself from the UN, threatened to withdraw from the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Agreement. Bolsonaro considers himself a staunch supporter of Vladimir Putin and hates Joe Biden.
What will Lula's third term be like? His policies will certainly be more moderate. Lula's policies will be supported by the leftist regimes that have formed the so-called pink tide (the English expression for the left in Latin America). In fact, almost all the leading countries of the continent are now led by leftists (only this year Colombia and Chile have joined them). So, they will be the first with whom Lula will talk.
But will the old socialist ways of the beginning of the century help him in today's chaotic world, where it seems that none of the old recipes for increasing prosperity are working anymore?