Why did Brazil elect Jair Bolsonaro?

The country just elected a new president known for his far-right and conservative views, and controversial, racist, homophobic, and sexist statements. But what made the country of Samba, Carnaval, and Futebol do such a thing?

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“The Economist” cover from September
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Jair Bolsonaro

A wannabe dictator

Bolsonaro is known for defending the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, saying that the only mistake the military made back then was torturing but not killing (enough) people. He’s also said that Brazil will only improve “after a civil war that kills at least 30,000 people, beginning with Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Brazil’s president from 1995 to 2003].”

About the LGBT community

“No parent is proud of having a gay child.”

About women

“I wouldn’t pay the same salary to a man and a woman.”

About nepotism

“If I want to hire a prostitute for my cabinet, I will. If I want to hire my mom, I will.”

About a secular state

“There’s no secular state. The state is Christian, and the minority that is against it should move away. The minorities have to bow down to the majorities.”

#EleNão

His outrageous statements have sparked a huge movement in Brazil called #EleNão (Not Him). The Facebook group “Mulheres Unidas Contra Bolsonaro” (united women against Bolsonaro) has almost 4 million members.

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EleNão

A brief recap

First, let’s do a recap of what’s been going on in Brazil in the last few years.

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“The Economist” covers about Brazil: 2009 (left) and 2013 (right)

Brazil’s “Occupy Wall Street”

In 2013, Brazil saw a wave of protests around the country that were compared to movements like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street. It all started when people decided to protest the increase in public transportation fares, but it soon became more than just that. The catchphrase of the protests was “it’s not just 20 cents”, in reference to the amount of the increase.

#1 Corruption

The main problem in Brazil is corruption. And you know why it’s the main one? Because it ties back into everything else. You’ll see.

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“The Brazilian Way”. The sign says: “Don’t step on the grass”. 🙄

#2 Social inequality

Brazil is a country of extremes, where the very poor live (literally) right next to the very rich. You might have seen this famous image, which shows a slum (favela), on the left, next to a luxury apartment complex (right):

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A favela (left) next to a luxury apartment building (right) in the Morumbi area, in São Paulo, Brazil. How can some people have everything, while others don’t even have basic sanitation?
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A “favela” in Brazil
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A Brazilian couple head to a protest in green and yellow shirts, while their nanny, dressed in her uniform, pushes a stroller with their twins; the image went viral in Brazil because of the irony it represents: who should be protesting? The marginalized black nanny, or the privileged white couple?

#3 Education

As I said before, you’ll notice that corruption plays a major role in all other issues in Brazil — the main one being education. An investigation from 2016 uncovered that the areas of education and health were the target of over 70% of all the corruption and fraud schemes uncovered by operations in the last 13 years. According to the investigation, the amount of embezzled money that was destined for education in that period is of at least R$4 billion (US$1 billion), but it could easily be more.

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Yup.

#4 Crime

Brazil has very elevated levels of violent and non-violent crimes. Drug trafficking is related to a large portion of those crimes. And this might shock you, but a career in drug trafficking starts early. As early as 8 years old. So remember the kids who don’t finish school? That’s where most of them end up. In 2017, in Rio, 13% of all the kids between the ages of 10 to 12 years old were already working in narco-traffic. A year before, it was half that.

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Diego Herculano/AFP
An example of what an “arrastão” looks like in traffic
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Actor Wagner Moura as Captain Nascimento in “Elite Squad”

How does all of this relate to what’s happening now?

The rise of fake news

Like in the U.S., fake news has played a huge part in this year’s Brazilian presidential elections, and they spread out through Facebook and WhatsApp — Brazilians’ favorite app. WhatsApp is used mainly to message groups instead of individuals. So you usually have your family’s group, your coworkers’ group, your school’s group, your neighbors’ group, and so on.

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Military dictatorship

From 1964 to 1985, the country was under an authoritarian military dictatorship, which began after a military coup to take down the president, João Goulart. The coup was actually supported by the United States, which, during the Cold War, feared that communism would take over Latin America.

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A page of the newspaper “Estado de S. Paulo”, with a poem replacing a censored article

Violence

In the weeks preceding the election and also after the election, there have been many disturbing events happening in Brazil. People who support Bolsonaro have gone out on the streets and attacked — and even killed — people who are opposed to him, or that are part of the minorities he targets with his hate speech, like the LGBT community. “They’re using Bolsonaro to attack us”, said transgender Jullyana Barbosa, who was attacked in Rio, to UOL. Capoeira master Romualdo Rosário da Costa, known as Moa do Katendê, was killed by a Bolsonaro supporter after an argument in Bahia on the night of the first round of the elections.

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State representative Rodrigo Amorim shows the broken street sign that paid tribute to councilwoman Marielle Franco, assassinated earlier this year under suspicious circumstances — she was a human rights advocate and constantly reported abuse committed by Rio’s police, which, as I mentioned earlier, is extremely violent. Note that he’s wearing a shirt with Bolsonaro on it.

Conclusion

All these years of built-up frustration, hopelessness, and fear have Brazilians hoping eagerly for change. It comes as no surprise that the potential next president of Brazil says he’ll fix everything — but the reality is that he has no idea of how he’s going to do it. When questioned about his economic plan, Bolsonaro has said that he “doesn’t need to know anything about the economy”. He’ll just hire someone who does.

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A satire based on the image a few paragraphs above, with the white rich lady protesting for “Justice For Brazil”, while her black nanny pushes a stroller behind her. Why can’t we start the change in our own homes?

Spreading awareness about lipedema.

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