When President Donald J. Trump instigated and riled his alt-right extremist Republican supporters to take back their purloined country by storming the US’ Holy of Holies, namely: the Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, the historic occasion on which the US Congress was about to bring the gavel down on his false claims regarding a stolen mandate and, by the same token, sanctify Joe Biden’s electoral victory, little did the world know that an apocalyptically cataclysmic precedent was being set for Democracy the world over.
The 2022 – 2023 Brazilian election protests had begun shortly after the conclusion of the 2023 Brazilian general election’s second round on October 30, 2022, in which Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was elected president. Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, aka Bolsonaristas, alleging election fraud had started blocking roads and highways in the country. At least, 23 Brazilian states and the Federal District recorded roadblocks as of November, adding up to at least 267 roadblocks, according to data collected from Federal Highway Police (PRF). Brazil’s former president, Jair Bolsonaro, was said to have trashed the official residence, the Palacioda Alvorada, in the capital Brasilia. However, Lula was sworn into office on New Year’s Day. But Bolsonaro and his family had left the palace in a shitty state after four years of occupying the Palace of Dawn. Oscar Niemeyer, a key figure in the development of modernist architecture, was said to have designed the palace, built between 1957 and 1958, a structure generally considered a masterpiece of modernism and listed as a National Historic Heritage site in Brazil.
According to Reuters’ report, supporters of Brazil’s far-right former President, Jair Bolsonaro, had invaded and defaced the country’s Congress, Presidential Palace and Supreme Court on Sunday, in a “grim echo of the U.S. Capitol invasion two years ago by fans of former President Donald Trump.” They had smashed windows and flooded parts of Congress with a sprinkler system. They had equally ransacked ceremonial rooms in the Supreme Court, trashing everything in sight. They had thrown furniture through the smashed windows right on to the flooded compound. To be sure, the sight of thousands of yellow-and-green-clad protesters running riot in Brasilia had capped months of tension following the October 30 2022 presidential vote. Bolsonaro had argued that votes from some machines should be “invalidated”. However, his complaint was rejected by the election authorities, who had gone ahead to ratify Lula’s victory. Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE), Brazil’s leading politicians and international allies, all had endorsed Lula’s victory. Sadly, Bolsonaro’s intransigence had spawned and fuelled a small but committed protest movement that had kicked against the election’s outcome. Indeed, it was a case of mere mortals rushing in where angels feared to tread, given the staggering scale of devastation and destruction that Bolsonaro’s fans left in their wake. It was, frankly, a forest after fire. Expensive and exquisite rugs, marble floors, iconic paintings and confidential documents were all ruined irretrievably. Rare-finds and heirlooms were carelessly trashed in a moment of madness by a mob of unhinged ultra-nationalists.
The Palace of Dawn was/is Holy Ground in the entirety of Brazil, normally heavily guarded by armed-to-the-teeth security forces. But on this fateful day, the rioters had broken through the blockade set up by security forces and invaded ministries and Congress buildings in the capital on Sunday, in violence reminiscent of the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol. The Yeatsean “mere anarchy” was loosed upon Brazil, the leading economy in Latin America.
The newly-elected president, Lula, was nowhere to be seen at the time. He had fled to safety in this interregnum of lunacy. The good people of Brazil were far, far from the madding crowd, the Bolsonaro wrecking crew. Mayhem and madness reigned in the streets unhindered. And, if you’d looked closely, you wouldn’t see any family members of either Bolsonaro or Lula or their close political associates, business partners and retinues of hagiographers. Party Lotharios and hierarchs were comfortably ensconced in the lap of luxury sequestered in comfy silos of bliss, looking askance at the roiling madness in the streets. They were also “monitoring” developments on cable television while getting entertained by The Kardashians and/or the latest antics of Putin or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. And sitting on the side-tables were bottles of Scottish whiskey, orange juice and choice brandy plus plates of chicken fillets and associated delicious odds-and-ends. From time to time, they would toss into their mouths chunky pieces of sweetmeats accompanied by swigs of wine. For theirs was the sating and savouring of life’s little extras.
And the people? Yes, the people had had their say through the ballot box and thought they had done their own bit to contribute to the civic integrity and the political evolution of their fatherland. What more could they have done under the circumstances? But the incandescent forces of reaction must play hardball, saying: “Not so fast!” The United States has set a new normal for the rest of the world – the January 6 insurrection by Trump’s base has completely turned democracy on its head. It is not enough to campaign months and months prior to an election, going from village to village, town to town, region to region on the hustings, promising the people Eldorado and all. It is not enough to reel out well-scripted manifesto, drape the whole place in eye-catching and colourful banners; it is not enough to fill the airwaves with jingles, song and dance; it is not enough to organise concerts and hold rallies in order to sell your candidacy to the electorate. It is not even enough to lay it all down in oratorical glibness and histrionic demagoguery. You may make spasmodic forays into occupied territory bearing meretricious packages to hoodwink dye-in-the-wool adversaries, and to corner and corral undecided independents as well as the siddon-look cynics. Indeed, it is never enough to swindle and blackmail the impoverished and disinherited declasse with branded hand-outs and peanuts and allied forms of tokenism. It’s not enough, alas, to monitor the bought-over electorate on Election Day, to thumbprint on the square-box indicating your party, discreetly shadowed by your goons, the outwardly benignant jackals. Even when you have managed to swing it and have been declared winner, you simply cannot roar into a euphoric outburst of triumphalism. You’ve got to tarry awhile for the morning after. You’ve got to answer the following questions: Have you mollified all the reactionary forces dead and alive? Have the undead Guardians of the Oath given you the all-clear? How about the opposition? Has it been “neutered” one way or another? You must demonstrate you won fair and square. You must meet the minimum standards in global acceptability. That is, the international community must certify your victory beyond reasonable doubt. Some foreign vested interests must be “settled” (If you know, you know!). For, they are the self-hired mourners who weep louder than the bereaved. But perhaps, the most crucial of them all, there must be elite consensus required to endorse your win, otherwise, it will all end up in a conflagration of universal free-for-all. The people might be regarded as powerless and pliable but the politically astute always know how to read the popular mood and act accordingly. Never discount the Will of the people, for, ultimately, they win out as Jair Bolsonaro realised, painfully, too late.
Born on 21 March 1955, Jair Bolsonaro, politician and retired military officer, had served as the 38th president of Brazil from 2019 until 2022. He was elected in 2018 as a member of the Social Liberal Party, which he turned into a conservative party before cutting ties with the party. As an elected president, Bolsonario was able to chalk up a few achievements. He was regarded as an economic success story because he was able to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic well, leaving Brazil largely unscathed. He had attracted foreign direct investment, thereby causing the economy to grow while the US economy contracted. If anything, Brazil, under Bolsonaro, was the 10th most invested country in the world. Under him the GDP grew; the unemployment rate fell to 9.1%, lowest in seven years. He beefed up security in the country, especially in the crime-ridden areas. Thus, there was sanity in the favelas of Rio, generally feared as the seething coliseum of criminality. Furthermore, homicides fell to the lowest in the last 15 years as he was tough on crime coupled with his push for the free carrying of weapons.
The defence of economic and social freedoms was front and centre of President Bolsonaro’s administration. He was said to be “honest, patriotic, love[d] the Brazilian people and defend[ed] the principles and values of security”. He also supported individual freedoms and the free market. A staunch conservative politician, Bolsonaro had put a stop to the Sao Paulo Forum, a far-left organisation founded by Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Brazil’s Lula da Silva. Thus, under Bolsonaro, Brazil’s foreign policy took a 180-degree turn concerning regional alliances, thereby becoming a counter-weight to communist dictatorships in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Why did Jair Bolsonaro lose the re-election in 2022 in spite of his impressive scorecard? It is important to consider the obverse facts and figures. He was said to be a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action, drug liberalisation and secularism. Please keep in mind that the US aggressively promotes all of these practices. What’s more, rising poverty, desperation, and food insecurity had worsened in South America’s largest economy. According to Oxfam, more than 33 million were living below the World Bank poverty threshold. Moreover, the biodiversity crisis in Brazil brought Bolsonaro “down to earth”. It was alleged that he had worked really hard to make the indigenous peoples in the country, particularly in the Amazon, disappear! Thus, the combined forces of ecocide, genocide and environcide were powerful enough to unhorse the leader. Thus where Bolsonaro floundered, Lula flourished.
Born on 27 October, 1945 (aged 77 years) Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known mononymously as Lula, is a Brazilian politician and trade unionist, who serves as the 39th president of Brazil since 1st January, 2023. A member of the Workers Party, Lula was previously the 35th president from 2003-3010. He is the first Brazilian president to have been elected to a third term and the first to have defeated an incumbent president in an election. He had won the 2002 Brazilian presidential election, defeating José Serra in the second round. He was re-elected in the 2006 Brazilian presidential election, beating Geraldo Alckmin in the second round as well. On his ascension to power on New Year’s Day, 2023, Lula’s victory-cry was “Brazil is back!” And regarding the deforestation and illegal mining that flourished under Bolsonaro, the left-leaning Lula promised to crack down on perpetrators and bring forest loss (or habitat loss) under control. Lula called Bolsonaristas “fanatical fascists” and, under his watch, over 400 of them have been arrested.
Demographically, Brazil’s ethnic groups are made up of 44.7% white, 43.1% mulatto (mixed white and black), Black 7.6%, Asian 1.1% and Indigenous 0.4%. A Portuguese-speaking nation, Brazil’s services sector accounts for the largest sector, contributing almost 65% to its gross domestic product ($2.059 trillion by 2023 estimate) and per capita of $9,571. Brazil is rich in a variety of natural resources and is the world’s leading producer of diamonds, manganese, chromium, copper, bauxite and many other minerals. Brazil is ethnically diverse due to over a century of mass immigration from around the world and the most populous Roman Catholic – majority country. Having secured her independence from Portugal on 7th September, 1822, Brazil has developed in leaps and bounds to become the 3rd largest country in the Americas, the 5th largest country in the world and the 7th most populous as well. Brazil is a major global player in multilateral diplomacy through the Organisation of American States and the United Nations. By 2022 estimate, Brazil is 215,313,498 in population. It is famous for its stunning beaches, rainforests and diverse cities; known as the country of football or soccer with the world’s greatest footballer of all time, Pele! Brazil is special for lively rhythms of samba, colourful carnival, long stretches of sandy beaches and one of the most popular football centres – the Maracana stadium. Brazil is partly home to the Amazon Forest, reputed to be the Lungs of the Earth.
Do Africa and Brazil intersect at any level in all of this? Certainly. Black Brazilians originally came from Africa mainly through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Across time, many other Africans have migrated to Brazil which has almost similar climate conditions with sub-Saharan Africa. In an online study titled, “Africanisms in Action: Essentialism and Agency in the Musical Performance of Africa in Bahia, Brazil”, Juan Diego Diaz explores Afro-Brazilian history, religion, politics and musical activism. He interrogates the questions: How did Bahia emerge as an epicentre of African Diasporic culture in Brazil and the Black Atlantic? And what are the implications of this image for the study of tropes of Africanness? In exploring, therefore, the practices and realms from which the perceived Africanness emanates, including carnival percussion ensembles linked to black consciousness and, especially, the Afro-Brazilian candomblé religion, Diaz submits, convincingly, that these Afrocentric elements agglutinate Brazil’s most creative African symbols, images, and sounds. In more senses than one, it is argued that Brazil owes its unique diversity and its socio-cultural and spiritual strength to its African-based identities and national consciousness. We know for a fact that the orisa worship of the Yoruba is thriving in Bahia in particular and across Latin America in general. A cornucopia of multi-racial, trans-historical research across disciplines awaits scholars and researchers in this regard. Like the USA, like Brazil. But what does the future hold for us?
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, a dramatist, poet, fiction writer, speaker, rights activist and public intellectual, is a Professor of English at the University of Lagos, Nigeria .