As of May 21, Brazil is reporting 271,628 coronavirus infections and 17,971 Covid-19 deaths, breaking the 1,000 deaths per day threshold for the first time on May 19 with 1,179 deaths. After months of declining opinion polls, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is betting that he can solidify his far-right base in the teeth of what may soon be the world’s worst Covid-19 catastrophe. Meanwhile, although it faces an uphill battle in a national Congress dominated by right-wing and centrist forces, Brazil’s left has united to demand #ForaBolsonaro (Bolsonaro Out!) and filed impeachment proceedings. As the economy grinds to a halt and Bolsonaro pushes for an end to social distancing, Valario Arcary warns that the crisis may soon reach its most dangerous moment.
Valerio Arcary is a leading member of Resistência, a revolutionary socialist current inside the Party for Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) in Brazil. Originally published in Brasil 247, translated and published by No Borders News as part of our ongoing international coronavirus coverage.
A new moment has emerged within the overall political conjuncture because, as we reach a thousand deaths per day, the pandemic seems to be out of control and a catastrophic collapse of the hospital system in São Paulo is imminent, as has already happened in Manaus, São Luís, Fortaleza, Recife and Rio de Janeiro. Available data is murky, but unfortunately, partial social distance did slow down the speed of transmission. By the end of May, Brazil will be one of the pandemic’s global centers.
Unfortunately, there is sufficient data indicating that the economic depression will be deeper than last year’s 5 percent decline in GDP. It will be the biggest in Brazil’s history. The two crises will be inseperable in the coming months. The hardest days are ahead.
[Read next, Luciana Genro: Taking stock of the quarantine in Brazil.]
Meanwhile, the political crisis grows more dangerous by the day. The two principle factors that have changed in the last two months are the weakening of Bolsonaro’s government and, paradoxically, the radicalization of Brazil’s neo-fascist current. These two tendencies are evolving in opposite directions, albeit at different rhythms and intensities making it impossible until now to determine precisely which will tendency will prevail. However, it appears likely that the two will soon clash. And although no one can say exactly when this moment will come, the confrontation will be very dangerous.
There remains a critical unknown, that is what is the relationship between the military and Bolsonaro’s Bonapartist project. Nobody knows how far they would be willing to go. The military brass is obviously in favor of Bolsonaro completing his term in office. But it remains unclear if they would support a break in legality in the direction of a self-coup (one in which Bolsonaro suspends the Congress and other state institutions and assumes greater executive powers), and if there would be sufficient support in military high command for such an adventure. As always, when in doubt, it is best to prepare for the worst.
A video of a ministerial meeting that could provide evidence of Bolsonaro’s willingness to intervene in the Federal Police to guarantee protection for his family (a criminal act) has been placed in the hands of the STF. Businessman and political operative Paulo Marinho’s claimthat a cell phone recording offers proof that the Bolsonaro family was warned by Alexandre Ramage(whom Bolsonara appointed as the director-general of the Federal Police) of the existence of an investigation into Fabrício Queiroz(a long-time Bolsonaro associate) leaves the president in even more danger.
The weakening of the government can be explained by: (a) Bolsonaro’s estrangement from state governments, in particular, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro due to their defense of social distancing to fight the pandemic; (b) a rupture with the Lava Jato wing of the right led by prosecutor Sergio Moro (who recently resigned his post as Minister of Justice) due to Bolsonaro’s Bonapartist move to assume direct control of the Federal Police; (c) limits imposed by the Supreme Court (STF) on the government’s actions with respect to the pandemic; (d) the positioning of commercial media groups in opposition to the government owing to Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic and his authoritarian escalation; and, (e) the government’s declining opinion polls, especially among the middle classes.
But Bolsonaro’s government is on the far right and it will not be defeated without a fierce fight. There has not yet been a qualitative change in the nature of the political regime, which remains a liberal-presidential regime, despite Bolsonaro’s neo-fascist strategy of subverting internal control over key state institutions in the fashion of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori or Hungarian far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
The neofascist wing that responds directly to Bolsonarism has consolidated itself, stiffened its spine, and gained organizational and initiative capacity, and it has adopted a self-coup strategy. All signs point to a neo-fascist party under construction: (a) it has a clear, strong, and messianic leadership; (b) it maintains a close relationship with its mass base and is, ideologically, expressly homogeneous; (c) it is becoming more operational politically; (d) more unified organizationally; (e) more motivated morally; (f) it has greater capacity for action, such as organizing encampments and marches; (g) it has a clear action program, the end of quarantine; and, (h) it has support in the military and police.
That is alone is not enough. Bolsonaro maintains the support of a third of the population, even after the wear and tear of the last few months, meaning that the formation of a majority of more than 50 percent in favor of his impeachment is likely.
But the radicalization of the neo-fascist current, which is certainly a minority among the 30 percnet who support Bolsonaro, has as a strategy to win that 30 percent over to fascism. Turning them into fascists means transforming their sympathy for Bolsonaro into passion, exaltation, fanaticism. The strategy of subverting the regime, of counteracting the government’s weakening through a provocation, depends on the hardening of this mass current.
[For international coronavirus coverage and analysis from working-class and socialist points of view, read No Borders News.]