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Latin American

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Brazil: The Hard Right Wins Again

A man who makes Donald Trump look like a bleeding-heart liberal will almost certainly be Brazil’s next president. Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round of the Brazilian presidential election, with twelve other candidates running. Fernando Haddad, who will face him alone in the run-off in three weeks’ time, got only 29 percent.

Haddad, who leads the socialist Workers’ Party, will pick up most of the voters whose first-choice candidates have fallen by the wayside, but Bolsonaro needs only one in six of those votes to win the second round. Game over, in more ways than one.

Trump and Bolsonaro are populists cut from the same cloth. They both depend heavily on social media and on the support of evangelical Christians. They both oppose same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action for minorities, and drug liberalisation. But Trump’s views shift when it is to his political advantage – he once supported most of those policies – whereas Bolsonaro has always belonged to the hard right.

Trump is an instinctive authoritarian who chafes at the restrictions of the US constitution, but does not attack it directly. Bolsonaro praises the “glorious” period of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), which he served as an army officer, and claims that its only error was that “it tortured, but did not kill.” (It did, actually. At least 434 leftists were killed after being tortured.)

Trump is a racist, but he talks to his overwhelmingly white ‘base’ in dog-whistle code. Last year Bolsonaro said that the members of black rural settlements founded by the descendants of slaves “don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation any more.” No dog whistle there.

Trump pulled the US out of the climate change treaty, and Bolsonaro wants Brazil to do the same. But Bolsonaro also wants to privatise and ‘develop’ the entire Amazon: “Not one centimetre will be demarcated for indigenous reserves.”

Trump, like Bolsonaro, backs loose gun ownership laws. Both men want to bring the death penalty back (it never went away in some US states). Both men consider torture to be, as Bolsonaro puts it, a “legitimate practice.” But Bolsonaro also says that “a policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman.”

Trump is a sexist who was once caught boasting on tape about “grabbing pussy”, but mostly avoids such language in public. Bolsonaro told a woman member of Congress that “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly.” He believes that women should not get the same salaries as men because they get pregnant, and said that he had a daughter in “a moment of weakness” after fathering four sons.

Trump is an undisciplined narcissist who claims to be a tough negotiator, but will generally roll over if you throw him a few concessions and let him declare a ‘victory’. (Consider the new North American free trade agreement, for example.) His famously short attention span disqualifies him as an aspiring dictator even if he were that way inclined.

Bolsonaro, however, is a serious man. He has made a former general, Hamilton Mourão, his running mate, and promises to fill his cabinet with other generals. In a recent video produced by Haddad, he can be seen arguing: “You won’t change anything in this country through voting…You’ll only change things by having a civil war and doing the work the military regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000….If a few innocent people die, that’s alright.”

Bolsonaro doesn’t talk like that now, for obvious reasons, but there is no reason to believe that he has changed his mind. Brazil’s 200 million people may be in for some nasty surprises – and beyond the country’s borders Bolsonaro’s presidency will encourage neo-fascists and would-be military dictators in other Latin American countries.

That’s the real concern, and it extends to other continents too. The wave of non-violent revolutions that spread democracy to every part of the world (including Brazil) in the past few decades seems to have gone into reverse.

In some countries, like Thailand and Egypt, the generals are openly back in power. In others, like Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines, ‘illiberal democracies’ run by strongmen have replaced the genuine article. Even in long established democracies like the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy the nationalists and populists dominate the political scene.

There are some counter-currents, of course. Mexico, the other Latin American giant, is getting its first ever left-wing government this year. Hard right challenges to the established democratic order have been fended off in France, Germany and the Netherlands. But the tide is running strongly in the other direction.

How bad will it get, and how long will it stay bad? Quite bad and for quite a while, one suspects. The world is not yet heading back towards big great-power war, but we are entering the last critical decade before climate change overwhelms us with a growing number of governments that are not only potentially violent but militantly ignorant.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 14. (“Trump…policeman”; and “There are…direction”)

Brazil: The Hard Right Wins Again

A man who makes Donald Trump look like a bleeding-heart liberal will almost certainly be Brazil’s next president. Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round of the Brazilian presidential election, with twelve other candidates running. Fernando Haddad, who will face him alone in the run-off in three weeks’ time, got only 29 percent.

Haddad, who leads the socialist Workers’ Party, will pick up most of the voters whose first-choice candidates have fallen by the wayside, but Bolsonaro needs only one in six of those votes to win the second round. Game over, in more ways than one.

Trump and Bolsonaro are populists cut from the same cloth. They both depend heavily on social media and on the support of evangelical Christians. They both oppose same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action for minorities, and drug liberalisation. But Trump’s views shift when it is to his political advantage – he once supported most of those policies – whereas Bolsonaro has always belonged to the hard right.

Trump is an instinctive authoritarian who chafes at the restrictions of the US constitution, but does not attack it directly. Bolsonaro praises the “glorious” period of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), which he served as an army officer, and claims that its only error was that “it tortured, but did not kill.” (It did, actually. At least 434 leftists were killed after being tortured.)

Trump is a racist, but he talks to his overwhelmingly white ‘base’ in dog-whistle code. Last year Bolsonaro said that the members of black rural settlements founded by the descendants of slaves “don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation any more.” No dog whistle there.

Trump pulled the US out of the climate change treaty, and Bolsonaro wants Brazil to do the same. But Bolsonaro also wants to privatise and ‘develop’ the entire Amazon: “Not one centimetre will be demarcated for indigenous reserves.”

Trump, like Bolsonaro, backs loose gun ownership laws. Both men want to bring the death penalty back (it never went away in some US states). Both men consider torture to be, as Bolsonaro puts it, a “legitimate practice.” But Bolsonaro also says that “a policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman.”

Trump is a sexist who was once caught boasting on tape about “grabbing pussy”, but mostly avoids such language in public. Bolsonaro told a woman member of Congress that “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly.” He believes that women should not get the same salaries as men because they get pregnant, and said that he had a daughter in “a moment of weakness” after fathering four sons.

Trump is an undisciplined narcissist who claims to be a tough negotiator, but will generally roll over if you throw him a few concessions and let him declare a ‘victory’. (Consider the new North American free trade agreement, for example.) His famously short attention span disqualifies him as an aspiring dictator even if he were that way inclined.

Bolsonaro, however, is a serious man. He has made a former general, Hamilton Mourão, his running mate, and promises to fill his cabinet with other generals. In a recent video produced by Haddad, he can be seen arguing: “You won’t change anything in this country through voting…You’ll only change things by having a civil war and doing the work the military regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000….If a few innocent people die, that’s alright.”

Bolsonaro doesn’t talk like that now, for obvious reasons, but there is no reason to believe that he has changed his mind. Brazil’s 200 million people may be in for some nasty surprises – and beyond the country’s borders Bolsonaro’s presidency will encourage neo-fascists and would-be military dictators in other Latin American countries.

That’s the real concern, and it extends to other continents too. The wave of non-violent revolutions that spread democracy to every part of the world (including Brazil) in the past few decades seems to have gone into reverse.

In some countries, like Thailand and Egypt, the generals are openly back in power. In others, like Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines, ‘illiberal democracies’ run by strongmen have replaced the genuine article. Even in long established democracies like the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy the nationalists and populists dominate the political scene.

There are some counter-currents, of course. Mexico, the other Latin American giant, is getting its first ever left-wing government this year. Hard right challenges to the established democratic order have been fended off in France, Germany and the Netherlands. But the tide is running strongly in the other direction.

How bad will it get, and how long will it stay bad? Quite bad and for quite a while, one suspects. The world is not yet heading back towards big great-power war, but we are entering the last critical decade before climate change overwhelms us with a growing number of governments that are not only potentially violent but militantly ignorant.
____________________________
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 14. (“Trump…policeman”; and “There are…direction”)

One-Third of the West

14 December 2002

One-Third of the West

By Gwynne Dyer

Thirty people are injured by a bomb in Bogota, in an incident that will become commonplace as Colombia’s seemingly endless guerilla war moves into the cities. (Thanks, Irish Republican Army, for showing us how the pros do it. Before, we just used to massacre peasants in villages.)

Two-thirds of Argentina’s population live in abject poverty a century after it was the world’s most popular destination for emigrants hoping to better their lives. Then, per capita income in Argentina was $2,800 a year, among the highest in the world; now, it is down to $2,500, just ahead of Bulgaria. It is a reasonably safe bet that in twenty years’ time Bulgaria, scheduled to join the European Union in 2007, will have three times Argentina’s average income.

Venezuela is entering its third week of confrontation between the populist president, Hugo Chavez, re-elected by a landslide majority less than three years ago, and the strikers in the state oil industry. The strikers have the backing of the old political elite and desperate middle-class Venezuelans who fear that Chavez’s erratic attempts to do something for the poor majority will ruin what little is left of their own prosperity, and the battle may end up in the streets. No other oil-rich country except Nigeria contrives to have such a huge gap between rich and poor.

Fidel Castro’s worn-out dictatorship is still hanging on in Cuba after more than four decades in power. Lucio Gutierrez, jailed after a failed coup two years ago, was elected president of Ecuador last month. The crusading priest-politician Jean-Bertrand Aristide, overthrown by brutal generals in Haiti and then restored to the presidency after a long campaign by North American sympathisers, turns out to be just as incompetent and thuggish as his opponents always claimed. What is wrong with Latin America?

Most Latin Americans at the moment place the blame on neo-liberal economic policies imposed by Washington and the International Monetary Fund, but Latin America’s backwardness and political failure long predate the latest economic fashion. In fact, those neo-liberal policies did actually produce crude economic growth, which was quite high in the region during the 90s.

The problem is rather that this is the region with the highest income disparities in the world: per capita income of the top fifth of Brazilian households is more than thirty times greater than the bottom fifth. Poverty is so widespread that even if Latin American economies grew by 4 percent a year for the next decade, according to the World Bank, only half of the region’s people would be lifted out of extreme poverty.

That is longer than most people are willing to wait, so there is a region-wide revolt against the neo-liberal orthodoxy, with populist politicians offering vaguely socialist nostrums winning power in one country after another. Some, like Brazil’s president-elect Luis Inacio da Silva (‘Lula’), are serious and legitimate figures. Others, like Hugo Chavez, are charismatic charlatans. But the whole region is clearly changing course yet again, in another flailing, desperate attempt to escape its fate as the ne’er-do-well country cousin of the West.

Latin America IS part of the West, despite the ‘Third World’ rhetoric that has tended to obscure that fact for the past half-century. By history, language, ethnicity and religion, it is just as much a part of the West as the United States or Italy. Its half-billion people account for fully a third of the total population of the West; they just happen to be the poor third. Why?

It cannot be the particular part of Europe from which they take their languages and political traditions. Spain and Portugal, Europe’s richest countries four hundred years ago, went through a long and painful decline as their empires withered, but today they are prosperous and democratic countries. Nor can it be Latin America’s Catholic religious traditions: there is no longer any significant gap in prosperity and political stability between the Catholic south and the Protestant north of Germany, or between Catholic Ireland and Protestant England.

It can’t be the ethnic mix, either. A number of Latin American countries are almost entirely European in population, but the most successful ones, at least half of all Mexicans are part-Indian, and 40 percent of Brazilians are part-African.

Most of these countries made their first attempts at democratic revolution in the early nineteenth century, no later than most other parts of the West. They have never been cut off from the intellectual and political trends that swept the rest of the West. And you really can’t blame the Americans for it all. “Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to the United States,” said Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz a century ago, but Mexico is now enjoying a pattern of growth that will make it a serious rival to Germany in less than a generation.

So what is the real reason that Latin America doesn’t work like the rest of the West? I’m afraid I have no idea. Tell me it’s corruption, military coups, poor education, and I’ll just ask you why they persisted in Latin America long after they declined elsewhere in the West. The one consoling thought is that Brazil and Mexico, the countries that seem likeliest to escape from the pattern, make up over half the total population of Latin America.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 10. (“That is…West”; and “It can’t…part-African”)