Source: Reuters / Marcos Correa
Note: This piece was originally published in Portuguese by IREE, a Brazil-based think tank. Letícia Chagas is President of the Centro Acadêmico XI de Agosto. Having graduated in law from the University of São Paulo (USP), she is a researcher at the Tutorial Education Program (PET) in legal sociology.
To read the original piece, click here.
In the first week of January, Brazil announced the efficacy of the Coronavac vaccine, produced by Instituto Butantã and Sinovac. The news, accompanied by the request for emergency registration of the vaccine with the Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária (Anvisa), represents a crucial step toward overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, and inaugurates a new era for all of Brazil. Nevertheless, another task remains crucial for the country: the development of an alternative to the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro’s conservative and authoritarian nature has had a dangerous impact on the Brazilian population. The disregard with which the president has dealt with the pandemic—minimizing the consequences of COVID-19 and denouncing the Ministry of Health—has played in thousands of deaths.
Moreover, President Bolsonaro has sought to discredit vaccines; and it is possible that, for this reason, thousands of Brazilians do not want to be vaccinated. Given President of the Chamber of Deputies Rodrigo Maia’s inertia in commencing impeachment proceedings against the president, building a path for Bolsonaro’s defeat in 2022 is becoming an increasingly urgent task.
Several names have been trying to position themselves as viable alternatives. In the state of São Paulo, Governor João Dória is using the development and approval of the Coronavac vaccine as political capital for his candidacy. Names like former Federal Deputy and Governor of Ceará Ciro Gomes and television presenter Luciano Huck are also seeking to rise in the public eye, while the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, or PT) insists upon former president Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva as their presidential candidate.
Faced with so many candidates, some sectors have advocated for the establishment of a ‘broad front’ to defeat Bolsonaro. Although this proposal merits legitimate consideration, I believe that the defeat of Bolsonaro must be linked to another project for the country. We must consider what kind of Brazil we are hoping to realize through his possible defeat.
In this sense, it is notable that in a country with a population that has a black and female majority, the principal alternatives to Bolsonaro are all other white men. Moreover, all such candidates—Ciro Gomes, João Dória, and Luciano Huck, for instance—have close ties to Brazil’s traditional political and economic elites.
Some of these candidates have sought to promote themselves as part of a mission to secure personal power, not necessarily in service of establishing a country different from Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Dória, for example, was a strong supporter of Bolsonaro in 2018 and continues to support some of his initiatives; in the same week that the president proudly announced the effectiveness of Coronavac, Dória’s state government joined the federal program to militarize public schools.
So, even though Lula is the leading candidate that may be viewed as a hindrance to the establishment of a broad, anti-Bolsonaro front, I wonder if any of his rivals would relinquish their candidacies in favor of a more participatory, democratic, egalitarian national project. I fear that they would not. In Brazil, the possibilities of an anti-Bolsonaro alliance are limited by the perpetuation of whiteness and its desire for power.
Although I consider the case of Lula to be somewhat different, I likewise doubt that he is the best alternative for 2022. The insistence of the PT in preserving the possibility for his candidacy demonstrates that the party is making a classic political blunder: relying overwhelmingly on a single charismatic leader to the detriment of developing a broader, de-personalized political agenda.
The left should be willing to encourage new faces to enter the political arena; it should aim to do so because the emergence of new leaders may demonstrate to politically exhausted and disillusioned Brazilians that politics are accessible to all. It is curious, therefore, why a historical party like the PT has refused to promote other possible candidates.
Thus, if Bolsonaro is to be defeated, he must be confronted not only in speech but also in practice. His economic and ideological project—predicated on preaching hatred against Brazil’s racial and sexual minorities—must be combatted.
It is impossible to think of this new project as detached from social movements and the popular classes, nor as part of a neoliberal agenda. Also impossible is the rebuilding of the country by continuing to exclude the Afro-Brazilian community from spaces and discourses of power.
We should not, therefore, be satisfied with the current political ‘alternatives’ to Bolsonaro. Making the affirmative case for a ‘broad front’ does not imply endorsing projects of self-promotion, as seems to me to be the case for Dória and Huck, nor in simply prolonging the careers of old political cadres like Ciro Gomes and Lula.
If we want to defeat Bolsonaro, we must build a front around a project that, as of yet, has not emerged in the 2022 presidential race.