History Repeats Itself as Neoliberals Flock to Bolsonaro’s Side

The recent election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil comes as a shock to no one who’d been paying attention. The country’s judiciary, led by the neoliberal, PSDB party-aligned judge Sérgio Moro, chose to indict Lula on dubious charges of corruption. In May, the courts then upheld the sentence against Lula’s appeals, in spite of the very questionable validityof the evidence against him.

By then, polls had long made it clear that Lula was by far the most popular potential candidate, with Bolsonaro a distant second. Despite this, the judiciary continued to reject his appeals. By this point, they were very aware of the fact that if Lula wasn’t allowed to run, the election of Bolsonaro would be likely.

The reason for their decision becomes clearer with even a cursory glance at Bolsonaro’s economic platform. He ran on the promise of free-market reforms at the directive of his economic advisor, Paulo Guedes. Guedes is an unabashed capitalistfree marketeer, a graduate of the same University of Chicago that produced the Chicago Boys, the group of neoliberal economists famous for their cooperation with the mass-murdering and torturing Southern Cone dictatorships of the 70s and 80s. But he’s more than just an alumnus of the same school. In fact, he is something of a Chicago Boy himself, not only having studied alongside the others, but also teaching classes in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorshipthat espoused the virtues of the same economics that were being forced on the country at the barrel of a gun.

To Brazil’s capitalists, Bolsonaro is not the same terrifying fascist that he is to others. Rather, he’s one of their own. He was their natural choice, one they consciously opted for over the leftist alternative. His alignment with their interests is reflected in the stock market’s overwhelmingly positive reactionto the news of his election, as well as the fact that he received97% of the second-round vote from the most well-off regions of the country, yet only 2% from the poorest regions. His base are the same people who celebrated the prospect of Michel Temer’s neoliberal regimein 2016, entirely ignorant of the everyday struggles faced by the country’s poor.

Neoliberals have been expressing faux shock at his election, not pausing to ponder why Bolsonaro considers their economic ideology completely compatible with his anti-LGBT, pro-torture, anti-democratic and anti-environmentalist agenda,and even trying to divert attention away from his economic policies by drawing false equivalences with the protectionist Donald Trump.

Yet as they well know, in Latin America, the authoritarian neoliberalism that Bolsonaro promises is nothing new. It is, after all, the very source of the modern usage of the term, which first gained worldwide prominence as a description for the economic policies of the Pinochet dictatorship.In the 70s and 80s, neoliberal dictatorships dominated the bottom half of the South American landmass: Pinochet’s in Chile (1973-90), the civic-military dictatorships of Argentina (1976-83) and Uruguay (1973-85), and Stroessner’s in Paraguay (1975-89). They shared the same common traits: systematic human rights violations, including over a hundred thousand confirmed instances of extrajudicial murder, torture, and/or detention (mostly of leftists); the enforcement of ‘Western, Christian values’; and, of course, sweeping free market reforms at the behest of Chicago School economists, who were all too happy to collaborate.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that all of this sounds oddly similar to Bolsonaro’s program, because it is his program. His party’s very slogan includes the phrase ‘God above all’, he has threatened to purge opposition to his regime, and he’s even managed to find himself his very own Chicago Boy to be his future Minister of Economy.

To top it off, Moro, fresh from his political prosecutions of Dilma and Lula, has accepted a position in Bolsonaro’s cabinet as Minister of Justice. The neoliberal-aligned judge who just got done purging the only viable opposition to Bolsonaro’s election joining up with him immediately afterwards? It’s difficult to imagine a scenario that better demonstrates their adjacency. While the aforementioned dictatorships came to power in military coups, Bolsonaro’s rise to power was assured by a judicial one.

Quite clearly, like other unabashed Latin American fascists before him, Bolsonaro sees no threat nor contradictions to his project from neoliberalism. On the contrary: it is his preference. As capitalists worldwide express empty concern about the future of Brazil, the fact that yet another fascist’s interests are perfectly aligned with theirs looks set to remain the eternal elephant in the room.

George Ganitis is an Australian writer based in Argentina. He is an alumnus of La Trobe University’s History and Spanish departments. He can be contacted at ganitisgeorge@gmail or on Twitter at @george_ganitis.