‘Dictatorship Never Again’: Massive Pro-Democracy Protests Sweep Brazil

Yves here. While you were busy being agitated about Russia or China or Trump (again!), some positive things are happening elsewhere. It looks as if voters in Brazil are on track to turf out the authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro. I wish the article gave more detail about the voting methods dispute. Bolsonaro wants paper ballots, but if there’s no public supervision of transfers and counting, they are as cheating-friendly as other approaches.

By Brett Wilkins. Originally published at Common Dreams

Protests—some of them massive—in defense of democracy and education and against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s coup-mongering were held in cities across Brazil Thursday, less than two months before the first round of the South American nation’s presidential election.

Demonstrations took place in at least 23 of Brazil’s 26 state capitals, as well as in the national capital of Brasília. Many of the protests featured readings of a pair of pro-democracy manifestos, including the “Letter to Brazilians in Defense of Democracy and Rule of Law.” The missive, which has been signed by nearly one million people, was inspired by a similar 1977 document that helped bring down a 21-year, U.S.-backed military dictatorship admired by Bolsonaro, who served in its army.

During the reading event at the University of São Paulo (USP) School of Law—where large banners read “dictatorship never again” and “state of rights, always”—presidential candidates spoke out in defense of Brazil’s electronic voting system, which has been the target of baseless allegations of fraud by Bolsonaro and his allies. The right-wing president, who is pushing for paper ballots, has threatened to reject the results of October’s first-round presidential election if he loses under the current electronic voting system.

“Defending democracy is defending the right to quality food, a good job, fair wages, access to healthcare, and education,” said Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former leftist president who is running again representing the Workers’ Party and leadsBolsonaro by double digits in aggregate polling.

“[This is] what the Brazilian people should have,” da Silva added. “Our country was sovereign and respected. We need to get it back together.”

Bolsonaro mocked the massive nationwide rebuke of his rule, tweeting that “today, a very important act took place on behalf of Brazil and of great relevance to the Brazilian people: Petrobras once again reduced the price of diesel.”

A broad range of leftist activists spoke at and about the demonstrations across Brazil.

“Running over democracy is not as simple as the militiaman imagined,” tweeted Ivan Valente, leader of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress. “Bolsonaro is much closer to jail than to the coup… Brazilian society does not accept setbacks or coup bravado.”

Beatriz Lourenço do Nascimento of Black Coalition for Rights—one of the few Black faces in the room during the USP reading—recited her group’s anti-racist manifesto during the event.

“Brazil is a country in debt to the Black population,” she asserted. “We call on the democratic sectors of Brazilian society, institutions, and people who today show emotion over the ills of racism and claim to be anti-racist: Be consistent. Practice what you speak. As long as there is racism, there will be no democracy.”

Economist and social activist João Pedro Stédile, a co-founder of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), saidmembers of the group took part in Thursday’s “historic event” in “defense of Brazilian society.”

“We are in the process of building this broad front, representing all Brazilians who defend democracy,” he continued. “Democracy involves changing the government and eliminating neo-fascism, but above all, ensuring that the working class, the people, have the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Right to work, income, land, education, health.”

“Today’s act is just the start of a great journey of activities centered around 200 years of Brazilian independence,” Stédile added, referring to Brazil’s bicentennial on September 7. “We are organizing to continue with demonstrations and mobilizations, especially in the week of September 7th to 10th, when we take to the streets to defend democracy, sovereignty, and the Brazilian people.”

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  1. Mark Gisleson

    I would love to think that Russia is behind this. Good luck to the Brazilian people who deserve better.

    1. Matthew G. Saroff

      Are you suggesting that the pro-democracy protests might be Russian backed, or that Bolsonaro might be Russian backed?

      In either case, US involvement in Car Wash indicates that the concerns are more about US than Russian meddling.

    2. Mikel


      “…Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday that a deal was close with Moscow to buy much cheaper diesel, in what would appear to be the latest tangible benefit stemming from his friendly relationship with President Vladimir Putin. read more

      High fuel prices have hurt Bolsonaro’s re-election hopes ahead of an October vote, leaving him trailing in polls to leftist former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.”

    3. Polar Socialist

      I don’t think Russia or China meddle that much in elections or try to pick winners. Myanmar is important to China, so they will deal with whomever seems to be in charge there. Russia would probably have send troops to Kazakhstan even if Nazarbayev had clung to power.

      I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but if it does it’s certainly very hard to point out. I remember the big news about Russia funding Alternative für Deutschland, which then turned out to be an Ukrainian used car salesman in Berlin had made a small donation.

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    This posting is indeed refreshing. And as Mark Gisleson notes, the Brazilian people deserve better.

    Nevertheless, the U.S. was heavily involved in the case against Lula and the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef. And who was down in Brazil recently, probably with cookies? Vicki Nuland!

    Let’s keep our collective eyes on this. (I have followed Brazilian culture for years, and I can assure you that the U.S. media have no interest in covering Brazil.)

    1. ChrisRUEcon

      > Let’s keep our collective eyes on this

      F’realz … channeling all benevolent ${DEITIES}

    1. hunkerdown

      Rule of law is a deceptive term that erases the men who write the laws to subordinate others to their private will. It’s not meant to be an argument for law, but an argument for the imposition of human will as if it were a force of nature.

      A state of rights is a different, more expansive thing. Notice there is no daddy figure there, no childish self-abasement, no extrapolation of the nuclear family order into a state. When rights overrule elite human will, nobody needs a daddy to beg for cosmic adjustments. The problem is in choosing the rights well, and preferably not neoliberally.

      1. Joe Well

        It is a simple mistranslation.

        In Portuguese, “direito” can mean “right” or it can mean “law” in the broad sense as opposed to a particular statute or ordinance. For example, “estudar direito” is “study law” ie, go to law school. That is why “rule of law” was translated “estado de direito” when the term arrived in Brazil. If they wanted to say “rule of rights” they would have said “estado de direitos” plural. But the banner in the picture says “estado de direito”.

        1. vao

          Same etymology and expressions in French — “état de droit” — and in German — “Rechtsstaat” — both literally meaning “state of right”.

      2. hemeantwell

        IIrc for Hegel and the Frankfurt School, the crucial distinction was between a “positive” or affirmative/conformist conception of law and the rule of Reason — transparent and part of a democratic process of enlightenment — here discussed as “rights.” To me, the European Court currently epitomizes the former, an opaque black box issuing incontrovertible pronouncements, but Europe certainly hasn’t cornered the market.

  3. T_Reg

    I would love to see Bolsonaro gone, but, on a related note, I have to wonder if the Amazon is beyond saving. From what I can tell, Bolsonaro accelerated a long-standing campaign to utterly destroy the entire ecosystem.

    1. Joe Well

      It is so enormous, it is not beyond saving (though what is lost is lost forever because so many species are local), for one thing, half of it is in other countries like Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia.

    2. anon in so cal

      The Amazon is absolutely not beyond saving. Far from it. Hopefully Bolsonaro gets voted out before construction starts on his planned road through some of the Amazon’s most pristine areas.

      ETA: So a dirt road was already created. Bolsonaro wants to pave it. Very bad.

      “Brazil moves toward paving a road through a preserved Amazon area.

      After Bolsonaro repeatedly promised to pave BR-319, the area around it this year for the first time became the Brazilian Amazon’s main deforestation hot spot, according to official data.”

  4. orlbucfan

    How ironic. A lot of us “little people” have been raising cain over machine voting being rigged vs. paper ballots. Now, we have this idiotic, anti-environmental, Brazilian neo-fascist named Bolsonaro put into power with the help of the usual Far Right garbage here screaming the exact opposite message. I hope Lula kicks his a(family blog)!

  5. earthling1

    Another positive note is China is expanding its tree planting policy and is on track to create a plantation the size of California.
    Since 1982 China has planted more than 64 billion trees, in aggregate more than the size of the Amazon itself.
    It’s not that the Amazon is not worth saving, it’s what we all can do to mitigate the past destruction by planting trees.

    1. Robert Antonucci

      Check this out though, sadly vast forests were planted with dark (low reflectance or albedo), allegedly negating the benefits.

      1. c_heale

        The reflectance is secondary, surely. More important is that trees are growing and absorbing carbon dioxide.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Unfortunately, in typical Chinese style they’ve taken a good idea and turned it up to 11.

          Much of the area China is planting the trees (largely a belt between Beijing and the arid areas to the north) is not natural forest, but grassland/prairie. This has led to many unexpected and unwelcome impacts relating to albedo, nitrogen balances and aridity. A lot of specialists think there will be a huge die off of trees in the near future. The hydrogeology of the northern areas of China are very poorly understood (many years ago I did a research trip up to the border areas, it was fascinating but also quite disturbing to see how quick the Chinese were to ‘do things’ without really working through the consequences).

          Most of the specialists I know think the best option for many of those areas would have been to restore the natural pattern of grazing rather than just stick millions of trees in the desert. But the influx of han settlers in those areas meant there was little sympathy for the ‘old’ ways of living there. Many of the desertification problems arose from han people imposing arable agriculture over grazing in a landscape entirely unsuitable for this.

  6. Van Res

    About the voting system and the changes Bolsonaro and his allies want.

    “I would like the article to give more details about the dispute over voting methods”.

    In fact, Bolsonaro and his neo-fascist allies want a parallel voting system.
    Today the system is completely digital, with no printed copies of the individual votes.

    In Bolsonaro’s idea, the electronic ballot box will continue to be the main way of counting votes.

    But the ballot box will issue a printed version of each vote, which must be deposited by the voter in another “box”.

    If a candidate does not agree with the results of a polling station, he can request a manual count. So, the printed papers result would be compared with the digital results.

    It would be fair, if we disregard the Brazilian electoral history, before the system becomes electronic, when there had been countless cases of widespread counting errors, miscountings and corruption.

    And what many (even on the left, who in the past questioned the electronic system) fear is that
    – a candidate questions the results of the electronic counting;
    – corruption occurs in the counting of printed votes
    – would have a difference in the results of the eletronic counting and the printed counting.

    That would likely put the entire voting process at an stalemate.
    Exactly what Bolsonaro and his allies wants. Mainly now that they were in agregated pools with around 10 points behind Lula.

    Lula around 44 and Bolsonaro around 35.

    1. Paraupeba Johnson

      Van Res did a very good summary of the ballots issue. Since I’m in Brazil and I like the website so much, I will give it a shot at posting a comment.

      As stated, criticism of the electronic ballots historically came from politicians of the Brazilian left. The most important of them was probably Leonel Brizola, with a long political career since the 50s and deceased in 2004. The absence of a printed paper ballot is still treated as a real issue at least for some specialists, it’s not just a turtle which climbed a tree (a nice Brazilian saying for you). But it is a technical issue, and the context here is that Brazilian state institutions handle information security very badly.

      Still, as Van Res said, Bolsonaro doesn’t really care for the electronic ballots. He’s too much of a moron to understand anything more complex than tying his shoes. His only goal is to rile up the base, and those people live in a scary level of stupidity. The danger resides in the fact that a large chunk of the Brazilian Câmara (equivalent to the US House of Representatives) has taken hold of the federal budget for their own interests, coordinated by the Speaker Arthur Lira – he is the real head of government, as far as nominating posts and distributing money goes. Plus, thousands of high-salary positions have been filled by officers of the Armed Forces, and those guys have an insatiable appetite. That means there is a real political coalition with a potencial interest in using the chaos to keep things going as they are.

      This is where the latest “Letter to Brazilians” comes into play. Truth be told, there’s no such thing as “massive protests” against Bolsonaro, these are dreams of intellecutals. People are famished and afraid, you have to travel around the country to see it. Political violence is rampant. The evangelical movements are very strong and growing all around, and that is a field where the new right has been finding a lot of support. The piece by Brett Wilkins is very simpathetic to the Brazilian left (thanks!), but the political party it quotes (PSOL) is absolutely irrelevant, and will probably disappear in the ongoing political reform. At this point, it is hard to say what the “left” is and what it will be in the years to come.

      The “Letter” is a decisive event not because of popular support, but because it has aggregated a very large chunk of officials, bankers and industrialists to the “broad front” that Lula has been leading for the last year. This includes people, for example, with a lot of influence in the Federal Police. Notice that the “Letter” was written by laywers and staged at the oldest law school of the country, which is hardly a leftist symbol. That is probably related to the fact that Lula was very smart to leave no room in the center of the political spectrum for any “third way”. He has allied himself with everyone, even old enemies, and coordinated strong candidates all over the country. Curiously, Rio de Janeiro is one state where Lula’s coordination did not work so well, but then again the Worker’s Party never had a lot of strength in the old capital. Therefore, the Letter leaves very little room for Bolsonaro and Lira to try an adventure, and that’s is why it is centered on topics such as ballots and “rule of law” and only a brief, bureaucratic mention of poverty or inequality.

      Things are not going well at all here. Thanks for the support!

      1. Van Res

        Great overview of problems, Parauapebas Johnson.
        And would like to emphasize, as said:

        Truth be told, there’s no such thing as “massive protests”,

        Yes, there is not massive protests against Bolsonaro.

        And one of the most important points of the “Letter to Brazilians” is that it comes around
        – two months before the election day;
        – one month before September 7, 2022, “Independence Day”.

        This last date is very symbolic, because will be a “commemoration” of 200 years of the “independence” of Brazil, from Portugal “Empire”, in 1822.

        Bolsonaro and his allies are calling pro-bolsonaro’s “massive protests” at this decisive day around Brazil, but mainly in in Brasilia (Capital), São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. And probably they will occur, mixed with militar parade.

        Which happens regularly at such date, but which will be used by Bolsonaro this time to demonstrate that he has the support of the militar forces.

        The situation has been so scary Lula and other leaders of the center-left, center and center-right have called that Lula’s supporters do not make any manifestation at September, 7.

        There are worries about possible conflicts going wild with the increased tensions provoked by the extreme-right and neofacist supporters of Bolsonaro

  7. Rule of Purpose

    If Bolsonaro wa close to sign a deal with Moscow these protests can very well be Brazil being colourrevolutionized.
    Bolsonaro has served his purpose and must now leave just to keep Russia out of the US backyard.

    1. hunkerdown

      Would that imply Lula has been instrumentalized or even “housebroken” to the neoliberal order? It’s confusing that the US would prefer Lula otherwise, unless he is yet to change his tune to foreign fire sales Ukraine style.

      1. Van Res

        Well, there are lots of analists in Brazil that consider Lula and Roussef Governments (2002-2016), as a kind of mitigated neoliberalism.
        It was for me the best brazilian governments, since democratization (1984), by far, but there are no doubts for me that
        – increased intensively the financial capitalism in Brazil
        – did little to decrease
        * the desindustrialization process which begin in the 1990’s
        * amazon deforestation and the expansion of the “agricultural frontier” ;

    2. Van Res

      The situation is a little bit more complex.
      Bolsonaro is not alligned with USA since the end of Trump Government.
      Lula was in a non-alligned position in his past governments (2003-2010) and will probably be again.

      Lula will follow again the tradition of Brazil foreign relations. Will not submit to USA, will keep close ties to Russia.

      Remember that one of Lula’s main interest in the past was the creation of the Bank of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).

      He has even been heavely attacked by the few Major Brazil Media Conglomerates, because he said at the beginning of Russia SMO in Ukraine that Zelensky has a great share of blame.

  8. Jason

    Isn’t an electronic voting system more manipulable than one using paper ballots? Why does Bolsonaro want it out? And why do his detractors trust it?

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