The Brazilian Trump’s Visit to Washington Ends in Failure

Brazilian politician Jair Bolsonaro, who has been compared to Donald Trump, just finished a visit to the United States that was cut short as he cancelled an appearance at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He is currently polling second in Brazil’s 2018 presidential race.

The cancellation was not surprising (there were some others in New York City). A letter signed by dozens of academics argued that his appearance at the university “would be helping a racist, sexist, homophobic right ― wing extremist to achieve international recognition and solidify the political viability of his candidacy.” This was apparently the purpose of his trip. But opposition and protests made it clear that he would have to answer questions at GWU that nobody who had said and advocated the things he has would want to answer.

Bolsonaro greatly upped his international notoriety when he cast his vote in April last year in favor of impeaching then president Dilma Rousseff. He announced that his vote was dedicated to Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, an army colonel who ran an infamous torture center under the dictatorship. Dilma herself was tortured by Ustra’s unit.

His racist, misogynist, and anti-gay statements have been so violently over-the-top that the comparison to Trump ― whom Bolsonaro sees as a role model ― is almost unfair to Trump. He told a female fellow member of Congress that he would not rape her because she “did not merit it.” He wants police to be able to kill more people, in a country where extrajudicial executions by police ― especially of Afro-Brazilians ― are already a serious problem. He claims that the 1964–85 military dictatorship was not a dictatorship.

How does someone like this even have a chance at the presidency of Brazil?

Like Trump, his rise has had help from much of the Brazilian media; and like Trump, this is paradoxical because most of the big media outlets that have helped him don’t like him at all.

But his only hope at present is that the country’s politicized judiciary ― with help from the media ― may prevent the country’s most popular leader from running. Former president Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) is currently polling at 36 percent, with Bolsonaro a distant second at 16 percent. A judge who has repeatedly demonstrated his animosity toward Lula convicted him in July for allegedly accepting an apartment as a bribe from a big construction company. However, neither Lula nor his wife ever stayed in the apartment, nor did they sign any document indicating ownership. The evidence for the “bribe” came from an executive who had his sentence reduced from 16 to 2 years in exchange for his testimony.

There is one part of Bolsonaro’s dictatorship nostalgia that his opponents will have to deal with. In an interview with Bloomberg News last week, he said that young Brazilians should “talk to their grandparents about how that period [of the dictatorship] was and how it is today.”

During the dictatorship (1964–85) the income of the average Brazilian more than doubled, with GDP per person growing 117 percent (3.8 percent annually on average). All of this growth was before 1980, when Brazil was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Despite terrible inequality, most Brazilians’ living standards rose very rapidly.

But growth collapsed in the 1980s. From the end of the dictatorship in 1985, to 2015, GDP per person has grown at only about 1.1 percent annually.

And the vast majority of this growth took place after 2003, when Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party became president. By 2012, poverty had been reduced by 55 percent and extreme poverty by 65 percent. But the deep recession that began in 2015 ― from which the economy is finally just emerging ― reversed some of these gains. This allowed the deeply corrupt politicians of the Brazilian right to topple Dilma Rousseff in a “parliamentary coup.”

The lesson is not that Brazil needs a dictatorship, but rather that for democracy to take hold in Brazil, the next progressive government must advance farther from the failed neoliberal policiesthat began in the 1980s and 1990s.

Brazil’s democracy was dealt a devastating blow when Dilma was impeached and removed from office for something that a federal prosecutor concluded was not even a crime. The sentencing of Lula made it even clearer that Brazil’s traditional corrupt elite was willing to throw the rule of law and electoral democracy under the bus in order to retake power from the Workers’ Party, which they had never accepted as a member of their club.

But can they get away with it? And are they willing to risk that part of the price may be the kind of international disgrace and humiliation that Americans have suffered under a Trump presidency?

This article originally appeared in US News & World Reports.

More articles by:

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir