Lula vs Bolsonaro: Countdown to Brazil’s elections
Tensions have been building for months as Brazil heads for an electoral showdown that will have major implications for the country and for the world. Leftist national hero and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is currently leading in the polls in the race to unseat current far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, but the outcome is all but assured, and fears are mounting that the dark, increasingly fascistic forces Bolsonaro has unleashed in recent years will take extreme January 6-style measures to retain power if Lula wins the presidential election in October. Brazil’s national elections will take place on Oct. 2, 2022. If either candidate secures over 50% of the popular vote on Oct. 2, they will be declared the winner. However, if neither candidate crosses the 50% threshold, a second round of elections will be held at the end of October.
The essential context for Brazil’s contemporary political scene has been covered extensively by the The Real News through the limited podcast series Brazil on Fire, hosted by journalist Michael Fox and co-produced by NACLA. For a special look at Brazil’s landscape ahead of Sunday’s elections, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez sits down with Michael Fox for a final look at this pivotal moment in Brazil’s history, and what’s at stake for the wider world.
Studio/Post-Production: Adam Coley
Maximillian Alvarez: Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us.
The Real News is a non-profit viewer-supported network. So if you want to help us keep bringing you important coverage of the issues and voices that matter, please head on over to therealnews.com/donate and become a supporter of our work. And thank you so much to all of you who are supporters already.
Tensions have been building for months as Brazil heads for an electoral showdown that will have major implications for the country and, frankly, for the world. Leftist national hero and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is currently leading in the polls in the race to unseat current far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. But the outcome is all but assured, and fears are mounting that the dark increasingly fascistic forces Bolsonaro has unleashed in recent years will take extreme January 6-style measures to retain power if Lula wins the presidential election in October.
Brazil’s national elections will take place on October the 2nd. Many positions around the country are up for a vote. But, of course, all eyes are on the battle between Lula and Bolsonaro who, in many respects, only secured the presidency in 2018 after his primary opponent, Lula, was arrested and imprisoned on trumped up corruption charges in the infamous operation Car Wash. If either candidate secures over 50% of the popular vote on October 2, they will be declared the winner. However, if neither candidate crosses the 50% threshold, a second round of elections will be held at the end of October.
Brazil has the third largest economy in the Americas. Even with the unprecedented and catastrophic levels of deforestation that have occurred in recent years accelerated under Bolsonaro, Brazil still retains a third of the world’s primary tropical rainforests. Under Bolsonaro’s far right government, Brazil suffered some of the worst outbreaks and casualties from COVID-19.
Moreover, as someone who is often referred to as the Trump of the tropics, and who has not hidden at all his nostalgia for and desire to return to the days of Brazil’s military dictatorship, Bolsonaro has built up and ridden a wave of increasingly fascistic political desires that have electrified the far right in Brazil, that have thrown gasoline on culture wars that bear eerie echoes to those in the United States, and that have increased political violence against working people and trade unions, leftists, Black and Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, non-Christians, and more.
As the world watches with bated breath, we at The Real News have been working overtime to make sure that our audiences have the essential context they need to understand the stakes of the upcoming election, this pivotal moment in Brazil’s history, and how we got here. And we have been honored to team up with the incredible Latin America-based multimedia journalist, filmmaker, and radio reporter Michael Fox, and the good folks at the North American Congress on Latin America, or NACLA, to produce the invaluable deep dive podcast series Brazil on Fire, which you can listen to on any of The Real News podcast feeds.
Now, I truly can’t say enough good things about Mike’s podcast series, which is unlike anything else out there available in English. And it’s truly been an honor to work on the series with him and with the folks at NACLA. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you binge all seven episodes if you want to know what is happening in Brazil, what Bolsonaro’s politics really look like, where those politics come from, and what the destructive effect they’ve had on the country is.
And to talk about the upcoming Brazilian elections, where things stand now, and what the stakes are for all of us, I’m honored to be joined today by none other than Michael Fox himself. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today on The Real News, man.
Michael Fox: Thanks so much, Max.
Maximillian Alvarez: So I won’t spend more time plugging your incredible series, but just want to really underline that for folks, that Mike has done a tremendous amount of work for this series. And we couldn’t be prouder to be publishing it at The Real News. So again, highly, highly recommend that you check it out. It is chock-full of original interviews, great sound design, compelling narrative, but also a whole bunch of history and context that you need to understand what is going on in Brazil right now. So first of all, everyone go listen to the podcast series.
Second of all, for those who have listened to it and for those who haven’t, we’re gonna dig a little more into the series and what you think it reveals about the current state of Brazilian politics. But I wanted to start right here where we are right now. We’re in the week leading up to the October 2 elections. Can you give us an up-to-date report on where things stand right now with these elections, what the polls say, what the mood in the country is that you’re hearing from folks? And what you think anyone watching and listening right now needs to understand about this election and the stakes of it?
Michael Fox: Yeah, completely. So right now the election is on Sunday. The polls, Lula is roughly 17 points ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls. So he has 48% in just the latest polls. Now, that’s just shy of the 50% but, give or take a few points, it is possible that he could win it in the first round if he’s able to take over 50% of the valid votes. That is not common in Brazil. There’s only been two elections that that’s happened since the dictatorship, that someone has won in the first round. So that’s not that likely, but it’s possible.
The sense on the ground is pretty intense. I was just talking with my sister-in-law who owns a cafe in Santa Catarina, and she was just talking about how everybody’s nervous about what’s gonna happen, but also nervous about their own… What are people going to think about their own political choices?
In fact, there was a report the other day that said that two thirds of Brazilians are afraid of being attacked for their political preferences ahead of this election, which is huge. And it ties into Bolsonaro, it ties into the podcast, what we’ve talked about. It ties into the rising wave of political crimes and attacks, particularly by Bolsonaro supporters against Lula supporters that we’ve seen increasingly just in the last couple weeks, but also that we saw in the lead up to the 2018 elections with Bolsonaro. And most analysts say that this isn’t gonna go away after the first round. This has been rising. It’s getting more and more concerning.
And so there is this intensity on the ground. I was speaking with a Black candidate for local office in Rio Grande do Sul just a couple weeks ago, and he had just received a death threat. And he was also saying that this is the most intense election that he’s had. And he’s worked on many, many in recent years. So it’s a really intense moment. But it’s also exciting. It’s also hopeful, because Lula is far ahead in the polls, by every possible analysis here he is going to take the election. If it’s not in the first round, it’ll be in the second round.
But the big question, which you also mentioned, is what happens, then, with Bolsonaro? Bolsonaro, he is the Trump of the tropics. He’s a Trump protege. He really fashions himself after Trump. And his whole strategy in recent years – In fact I did a report about this a year and a half ago for PRI’s The World about him talking about fraud in the elections, and how the electronic voting machines are going to cause fraud. And so he’s been building this narrative for a really long time to, whether it’s in the first round or the second round, then be able to say, look, these results just aren’t real. And then turn his people out.
So that’s, obviously, people’s major concern. And I’ll just say this before we move on to the next question, he has every reason in the world not to want to step down. There are many allegations, criminal allegations, not just against him but also against his sons. And as president, he then has immunity, and he’s able to manage the federal police. He’s able to organize things from within. That’s what he’s been doing in recent years. So, many people believe that he’s going to fight tooth and nail whether or not other forces, his supporters, the military [inaudible] are gonna support him. But many people believe that he’s going to fight tooth and nail to try and defend himself, at all cost.
Maximillian Alvarez: And we’ll talk about this a bit more in a second when we drill down on the podcast series that you have produced in partnership with us and NACLA. But I wanted to pick up on that question real quick. Because, obviously, here in the US we have this ideological compunction to filter everything through the image of our own selves. And so, right now across the media spectrum, everyone talking about the Brazil elections is talking about it through the prism of Donald Trump and January 6, where obviously Trump supporters tried to storm the Capitol and stop the election.
So we’re walking a tight rope here because I don’t want to give into that sort of American hubris where something only matters as long as it can be contextualized in what’s going on here. But, as you mentioned, there are a lot of very tangible connections here, including Bolsonaro’s expressed love for Trump, Trump’s endorsement of Bolsonaro. And, Jesus, in the podcast, there are some really terrifying moments where you’re talking to Evangelicals in Brazil who sound exactly like Evangelical extremists here in the US. And that just really sent a shiver down my spine.
So I wanted to just ask if you could say a little more about that. For folks here in North America who are watching this unfold, how legit are these comparisons between Bolsonaro and Trump, especially the comparisons between the upcoming elections and what we saw unfold here in the United States on January 6 after the 2020 elections?
Michael Fox: So this is a great question, because that is the trap that so many people in the US fall into, is seeing everything through our lens. But in this case, it’s actually, we have to see it through our lens. And this is part of the reason why I did the podcast. I wanted people to see the US through Brazil’s lens. I wanted people to understand the connections and the similarities. First, the connections, obviously, between Bolsonaro and Trump. But also Bolsonaro and the lawsuits against Lula and the connections, obviously, to the United States and the FBI that were involved in all of this.
But we need to understand what the role of the United States plays and has played historically in Brazil in order to understand this current moment. So, it’s actually really important to do that. But I mean, what I try and do with the podcast is take it even deeper. And also so that we can understand the dangers within the podcast. That’s why it’s so important. So we can understand the dangers within the United States by seeing what the reality is in Brazil, by stepping outside of our little US bubble, see what it is in Brazil and go, wow, that seems really, really familiar. But we’ve just seen it in different countries. And that’s not just because it’s familiar for us in the US, but it’s because this is another reality and then we can see ourselves reflected within that reality.
And part of this, we have to take a little bit of a step back before talking about Bolsonaro and Trump. Brazil and the United States have deep connections going back a long time. They’re both huge, massive countries. Brazil is larger than the lower 48 in the United States. So it’s important to understand that Brazil, if you look at a map of South America, Brazil roughly takes up half of it. And it has roughly half the population of South America. All the other countries combined are roughly the same as Brazil. I mean that’s generalizing, but roughly that’s the same. So that’s the size of this country and why it’s so important.
And oftentimes Brazilians, for instance, they don’t wear… And I’ve mentioned this recently in another interview I was doing. In many countries in South America, you’ll never catch guys wearing shorts. It just won’t happen. They all have long pants. And in Brazil, everybody wears shorts. Guys are wearing shorts, they wear ball caps just like in the States, you’ve got your flip flops on. It’s like there’s this direct connection between US culture and this looking towards the US. In fact, Brazilians, oftentimes, they will take US concepts and US words and they’ll transform it into their own thing.
And so there’s always this constantly of Brazil or Brazilians looking north to the United States, that’s the closest thing that they emulate. Because around them are all Spanish-speaking countries, and they don’t necessarily… I mean obviously in the South and other places you have these connections with these countries. And obviously there’s relationships and that, that are also really important, particularly when you had Lula and you have South-South relations and regional ties and all this.
But, in general, there is very much this focus on looking toward the US culturally. And then, like I said, words. There are these billboards, for instance, in Brazil they call them [speaking Portuguese] “outdoors”, which somebody obviously got the word in English and decided that’s what they’re going to call it. But that’s just one layer of it.
And then, you start to peel different layers back. One of the things I mentioned in one of the first episodes is about Olavo de Carvalho. Olavo de Carvalho basically is the far right philosopher who is responsible for the resurgence of the far right in Brazil. And he trained thousands of Brazilians in his far right ideology from his home in rural Virginia just on the outskirts of Richmond.
There’s all these crazy connections also about right after the Civil War in the United States, you had thousands of Southerners who then moved to Brazil, because Brazil was still a slaveholding country. In Brazil, they didn’t abolish slavery until 1888. And so, many thousands of slaveholders from the South actually moved to Brazil so they continue their slaveholding way of life, which is just terrifying. It was actually just a couple months ago that this one town, Santa Barbara d’Oeste in Sao Paulo, the city council ruled that… What do you call it, the Confederate flag could not be used for their celebrations anymore.
So this is this long history of looking north. And of course along comes Bolsonaro and along comes Trump. And in many ways, Bolsonaro came to power because he emulated Trump, he tried to follow in his line. When Trump was in office, Bolsonaro visited the United States four times. And, in fact, during one of those visits, he visited the CIA. He was the first Brazilian president ever to visit the CIA in Langley, Virginia.
And not just that, but he actually visited the CIA before he visited the Brazilian Secret Service in Brazil, just to show you Bolsonaro’s connections and his close, close ties in every way possible to who Trump is and what Trump represents. And this is obviously part of the reason why not just Trump, but Bannon, all these connections between Olavo de Carvalho.
There was a dinner that happened at the Brazilian embassy a while back before, I mean, Olavo de Carvalho, he passed away earlier this year from COVID, something he had previously denied. But at this dinner it was literally Bannon, Olavo de Carvalho, who are of the same traditionalist philosophy, and all these other top members of the Brazilian cabinet and stuff in Washington at this dinner. So I mean, these ties, they run deep, and this is part of what we talk about in the podcast. But it is really important to understand this current moment within this context of Brazil’s super close ties to the United States under Bolsonaro, how Bolsonaro wants to emulate Trump and emulate the US. But also understand not just kind of the relationship between these two, but what the United States means for Brazilians in general.
Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And, again, I think that the podcast series Brazil on Fire does a masterful job of teasing those connections out, showing, like you said, even going as far back as the 19th century, how we can see the seeds of the current political situation being planted. We can see the sort of spandrels of influence from each side of the hemisphere connecting with each other. From the plantation owners in the US South moving down to Brazil which, as you note in one of the episodes, received the largest share of slaves on this side of the world during the slave trade.
And going all the way up to youth pastors from the US going down to Brazil, the first lady speaking in tongues just like you see here. So, again, I think the way that narrative unfolds really does show how those connections emerged and what role they play in the current political context in Brazil.
And obviously we’re not gonna be able to go beat by beat through this whole series, which in and of itself is the product of years of original interviews that you conducted talking to different people across Brazil and outside of Brazil. You go from tracking the imprisonment of Lula and the US involvement in that. But you also talk about the military dictatorship in Brazil and why Bolsonaro looks so nostalgically and fondly, and why so many, scarily, so many other people in Brazil look fondly upon this time in Brazil’s history.
In the final episode, you look at the Amazon itself, what Bolsonaro’s reign in Brazil has meant for the continued destruction of the Amazon at a point when climate catastrophe is wreaking havoc upon the rest of the world. So I think the stakes are very apparent in everything that we’re talking about. And, again, I would point people to the podcast series itself.
But, in the short time that we have, I was wondering if you could give people a bit of an overview of the series, like the arc that you wanted to trace, the points that you thought were really important to tease out, to give English speaking audiences a fuller understanding of who Bolsonaro is, what he represents, and how that all led to where we are right now.
Michael Fox: Oh, that’s great, Max. Well, the arc, there’s several, obviously, happening at the same time. There’s one I wanted to walk people from before his electoral victory, walking forward from that time, 2018, kind of up until now, looking at how he was able to get elected, looking at how he came to office, what that’s meant for the country. But also the underlying themes that were happening at play. Obviously, one of the huge ones, which you’ve also talked about briefly, is culture war. And that culture war is tied to Olavo de Carvalho, in part imported from the United States, and how Bolsonaro himself embraced this and was able to use this as ammunition to really lift himself into power [crosstalk].
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and not to interrupt you, but for people watching and listening, by culture war, we mean doubling down on what everyone’s seeing happen now. What’s happening in fucking Italy, pardon my French. The family is under attack. Traditional values are under attack, like Christianity is under attack by queer people, by social justice warriors. A lot of it is the same shit that is being used to very disastrous effects. I just wanted to make sure people understood what we mean by culture war. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.
Michael Fox: No, it’s awesome. No, that’s exactly it. And how that was weaponized in order to push Bolsonaro into power.
And then, I wanted to look at the unleashing of his government. And I do this one overall theme, which for me was really important, was looking at his government and looking at Bolsonaro and say, is this fascism? How fascist is he? And what is fascism? Because in the United States, when I grew up – And I mentioned this in the podcast – As fascist is this bad word for somebody who’s an evil ruler. But I didn’t really understand what that was. Not until the lead up to his election did I really start looking into this and start trying to analyze, well, what is fascism? How does it come about? What are the different pieces that you need in order for fascism to arise? And then, what does it really look like in play?
And so what I do throughout the series I also lay Bolsonaro against that and try and analyze, well, what does this mean? And of course, by every means, except for dictatorship, Bolsonaro is a fascist. And what he’s trying to impose on Brazil is fascism. Because, basically, what you need, and what I’ve learned, is you need four key things in order for that to happen: You need a charismatic leader who is pushing violence and hate rhetoric. So attacking specific groups of people, like you just said, using culture war to attack LGBT communities, women, Indigenous, Black, gay. And then using violence to whip his or her people into a frenzy. And then they’re gonna push their supporters into power. And then dictatorship. That’s kind of the final layer of fascism, and that’s the piece that we don’t have.
But I wanted to look at Bolsonaro, Bolsonaroism within this framework to understand what it looks like there, but also so that people look at it and then start to question what that looks like in the United States. Because we’re seeing the exact same thing there. But to talk about the United States.
In fact, well, I guess Biden just started talking about fascism, or pseudo fascism, is that what he calls it? A couple of weeks ago, which was kind of surprising. But I wanted us to really start to talk about these things in a way and analyze it and understand what it actually means so then we can internalize it and say, all right, this is something that we need to understand, how it exists so then we can push back on it. And so that is one key thing.
And then, of course, one underlying reality within fascism and within Bolsonaroism as well is the destruction. It’s these two ideas that play throughout the podcast because they’re playing throughout Brazil right now, is this idea of democracy and dictatorship. That’s what Lula represents right now is democracy. And Bolsonaro, in many ways, represents dictatorship. That’s what he wants to go back to. He has, throughout his entire presidency, called for the closure of the Supreme Court, the closure of Congress. He’s constantly attacking everybody else he possibly can because that’s the way to whip his people up into a frenzy and get them energized and put them into the streets.
And it’s the destruction of the Brazilian state. It’s the sell off, the privatization of the Brazilian state. It’s the gutting of Indigenous and environmental agencies, particularly in the Amazon, that’s allowed illegal miners and land grabbers to move into Indigenous territories like never before. And so, that’s why I really wanted to talk about these conflicting themes of democracy and dictatorship, to understand that even if what we don’t have in Brazil right now is a dictatorship, the destruction of the social state, the destruction of the Brazilian institution and thereby the gutting of society is what Bolsonaro has been pushing. So even if we don’t have dictatorship, that’s the direction he’s been pushing.
And the great metaphor for that, and the reason why I end up on the Amazon is, the Amazon, that is really where the symbol of Bolsonaro… Ground zero is what I mentioned for the destruction of the country that Bolsonaro has unleashed. So that is the overall arc that I’ve been looking at. And, of course, now we stand at this crossroads just a couple days from the first round election, where these two different visions for the possibilities of the country are going head to head, and we’re gonna see what happens.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and we’re gonna round out by talking about Lula and what that vision represents for Brazil, Brazilian history, and what future humanity has left.
But before we get there, I wanted to pick up on that, what you just said, and really drill down for people the stakes of Bolsonaro’s presidency. Cause another really important aspect of your podcast series is that you give people an on the ground sense of what this looks like on a day-to-day level, both for the proponents of Bolsonaroism and the people who have been victimized by it.
So I wanted to ask if you could say a little more for folks watching and listening, what has this rise… I mean, we call it far right, but that kind of paves over the reality, as you said. We are getting very, very close to fascism through Bolsonaroism. And for folks watching and listening, you hear this more in the podcast, but when Michael says we don’t have dictatorship yet, that’s because it’s a big country, there’s a big governmental system, they’re not all working in lockstep with Bolsonaro’s desires.
There’s still internal factions and contradictions. And there have actually been high ranking officials who have either resigned, or the Supreme Court pushing back on what Bolsonaro wants to do. So there’s still some nuance there that we have to appreciate.
But, Michael, I wanted to ask if you could say a little more, what has Bolsonaro’s rise and the demons he has unleashed throughout the country that have whipped his supporters into this sort of frenzy, what has that meant for folks on the ground in Brazil? What has that meant for the Amazon? What has it meant for the region?
Michael Fox: I think the best answer is a quote that I heard recently, just a couple weeks ago, from a man named Marco Antonio. He is a Black lawyer in the town of Blumenau, which is actually the town near where the Brazilian Nazi Party was founded in 1928. And this is what I really dive into in episode four, which focuses on the rise of fascism, the present rise of fascism. It looks at, obviously, Nazism in Brazil and fascism historically, but then the current rise as well.
And I went and met him a few years ago. He had had all of these signs put up in front of his house back in 2017. So this is a year before Bolsonaro’s election, but a year after Trump’s election. And the signs in front of his house had the image of a KKK person on the front and basically saying, watch out, we’re watching you. And this is a country where the KKK, it’s only a symbol, as people know, from the United States. So tying back to this US connection. And it was obviously terrifying and really scary for him because it was right in front of his house. But he pushed back, he posted it on Facebook, he responded. And they actually found the people that had done this, they were members of a neo-Nazi cell there in Blumenau and also Sao Paulo.
And neo-Nazi cells are fairly prevalent in Brazil. But under Bolsonaro they’ve risen, at least according to one estimate by the main investigator focused on neo-Nazis in Brazil and Nazism in Brazil, who I interviewed for the podcast, she said that the number of neo-Nazi cells rose 60% under Bolsonaro’s first two or three years in power. So that shows how he has legitimized hate, he has legitimized hate speech and authorized these groups to rise and to move and to be vocal, not just outside or against other people, but actually inside of his government, which I get into in the podcast. So that is really concerning.
And what Marco Antonio, one of the things that he said then when I interviewed him then but also just a couple weeks ago, is he said, folks from Black communities, women, Indigenous, we’re just exhausted from years of these constant attacks, is the one thing. And then his big question is, once Pandora’s box has been opened, how do you put the genie back in the bottle? What happens then? And that’s his big concern, because that’s what has happened under Bolsonaro.
Of course, some people felt like that already. Some people had that inside of them, and then they saw Bolsonaro or saw Trump and felt then authorized to be able to speak their minds openly in public. Racism is endemic in Brazil. It’s been there for forever and exists still today, even though there’s this myth of racial democracy. But that was really, really deep. And that’s the reality kind of across the country.
But let’s say Lula wins. Bolsonaro has roughly 20% to one third support around the country. Bolsonaro’s people, it’s the same thing that’s happened with Trump. It’s the same thing that’s happened in the United States. Fake news has completely divided the country. And Bolsonaro’s people, they’re not just gonna go away and step down. If Bolsonaro says he’s won the election, they’re gonna believe he’s won the election, just like people believe Trump has in the United States.
So what does that mean, then, for Lula’s presidency? It means it’s going to be that much harder. What does it mean for Brazilian democracy? How do you respond to that in a way to bring people together and try and build unity in a moment when there is so much hate? And it’s being spiraled out of control online, and those hate crimes, and the attacks and the violence just only continues and gets worse. And that’s obviously what we’re seeing in the lead up to this election.
So no, it’s really, really concerning. It’s concerning, what we’ve seen until now. And it’s concerning what we may see going forward. And not just for LGBT rights and women’s rights and Indigenous rights around the country. But we’re also seeing, as you mentioned, this pushback from an Evangelical conservative right led by Pentecostal Christians, who are one of the largest caucuses in Congress, and they’re growing at an exponential rate. Right now, they make up almost a third of the country – And this is the largest Catholic country in the world, keep that in perspective – But within the next couple decades, they are going to be the majority. So what does that mean for social rights within Brazil as they’re trying to attack LGBT rights and gender rights and trying to push family values?
I mean, one of the things, and I know we got to go because there’s so many other things to talk about. One of the first things that Bolsonaro did, though, was he first took the Ministry of Women, and he fit it with the Ministry of Human Rights, and they also made it into the Ministry of Family. And he placed at its head an Evangelical pastor whose job it was to gut women’s and human rights policies, previous policies, and really push so-called family values and moral values. That’s been the guiding goal from her administration. She’s no longer there, but she was for the first three and a half years. So that’s what’s rooted in Bolsonaro’s government in so many different ways. And that still is going to root a major percentage of the population going forward for years, if not decades to come.
Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, again, there’s so much to cover here, and I can’t thank you enough for giving us as much of your time and insight as you have already.
I’ll only keep you for a few more minutes, I promise. But again, we do go in depth, or Mike goes in depth about this in the podcast series. But, in many ways, you all watching and listening, you kind of already know. I mean, before this podcast series, the last time we had Mike on The Real News was to give an update from Brazil about the truly catastrophic situation during COVID. And he was on with someone who was also talking to the great Marc Steiner from India about the catastrophic death toll that they were seeing all around them because of Modi’s disastrous policies. Just like Mike was watching what happened in Brazil as a result of Bolsonaro’s disastrous response to COVID-19, which prompted much great popular outrage.
And, Jesus, Bolsonaro’s gotten COVID like 8,000 times already. But apart from that, a lot of people have died needlessly. A lot of people have gotten sick. The economy has taken huge hits because Bolsonaro doesn’t think that COVID’s a big deal, has been pushing a lot of the same vaccine hesitancy and doubt about COVID, all that stuff has played out over these past two and a half years to disastrous effect.
The destruction of the Amazon, the violence that is being wreaked upon Indigenous people living in the Amazon by land grabbing people who have been given the green light to go in and destroy and claim and mine and deforest anything that they can. Obviously, that’s the biggest carbon sink in the world, and it’s happening at the worst possible time. We could go on for days about the sort of ripple effects and the real human toll – And non-human toll that all of this has taken.
But I think you guys get the point. Regardless of what happens this weekend, the effects have already been disastrous. And as Mike brilliantly said, the real question is how can we actually recover from this, and can we recover from this? How do you put these demons back in the box once they’ve already been unleashed and started to infiltrate the institutions of government and popular culture and so on and so forth? So it’s all just, again, a testament to the important work that Michael has done, which you guys should all, again, go listen to at Brazil on Fire and follow and support his journalism however you can.
So with the remaining few minutes that I’ve got you, Michael, I wanted to just ask about Lula. Let’s look at this alternative vision that you mentioned for the country. A potential path out of darkness. For folks watching and listening who maybe know a little bit about Lula, who maybe heard about his imprisonment, who maybe know that he’s this celebrated national figure, labor organizer, former president. What do folks need to know about the Lula side of this story? And what is the current feeling among folks in Brazil about Lula’s potential return to power?
Michael Fox: Well, he is a working class hero. And he is the quintessential rags to riches story. He was born poor in Northeastern Brazil in a house with a dirt floor. He went on to lead some of the biggest worker strikes in the late ’70s and the early ’80s that would then lead to the end of the dictatorship. So just that essence of himself was that feeling of democracy, fighting dictatorship, which is what’s fascinating, because we’re seeing the same matchup of forces right now.
Then, he was a presidential candidate. He founded the Workers’ Party. He was then a presidential candidate several times before he actually won in 2002. And he came in with a platform of [speaking Portuguese] Zero Hunger, and he unleashed a series of social programs. And I can’t even mention the multitude of things that he did, but he lifted millions of people out of poverty.
And there was a person, in fact, I was working on a story about Lula just today for The World, and there was a person who said it perfectly, who said that he made poor Brazilians have citizenship. He made it okay for us to actually exist within this country, which they weren’t. They were sidelined until then. So for so much of the population, Lula is more than just a politician, that’s only a piece of what he is. He’s a former union leader, a worker, and he is the essence of what people believe and believe in.
And not just that, but he actually went to jail. And when he was in jail, then you had this vigil that was outside of jail for 580 days. People would not leave. They said, we’re not leaving until Lula is out of jail. And I did a bunch of coverage of the vigil because it was in a town called Curitiba, which was only about five or six hours from my town in Florianopolis. And this is what all of episode two in the podcast is about.
But so Lula is so important to understanding this larger puzzle. And this is why he’s so key right now and why so many people want to support him. He was leading the polls back in 2018. Remember, I mean, just to take a real quick step back, there was an impeachment, there was a congressional parliamentary coup that happened in 2016 against then-president Dilma Rousseff. They took her out of power. Temer came into power. Temer, her vice president, started to gut the country. And then two years later, many people said, Lula is the guy to get the country back on the rails. He’s gonna put the country back on track, he’s gonna bring democracy back to the country. And he was jailed on biased charges by a judge to stop him from returning to power. And then that opened the doors to Bolsonaro.
And in fact, Bolsonaro then asked that judge to be his justice minister, and he accepted. So just to show the tit for tat that happened. But this is why Lula is so important right now. Of course, the ability for Lula to be able to actually enact things if he’s able to win is going to be extremely hard. It’s gonna be hard because the economy’s in a different place than it was. It’s gonna be hard because you now have energized Bolsonaro supporters. They’re gonna push back as much as possible.
It’s gonna be hard that in the Amazon, for instance, I was just speaking with an Indigenous leader and what he was saying is, and I asked him, well, what happens if Lula wins? Is he going to be able to turn things around? Because if you remember, really quick, as a very quick aside, Amazon deforestation was even worse out of control when Lula came to power in 2003 on January 1 than it is right now. And within just a couple of years, he was able to get it under control, passing a huge package of policies and reforms that basically, within two years, cut Amazon deforestation in half and was a huge success story. And all of that, Bolsonaro has undone.
So things like that can happen. There’s history there for things to be turned around. The problem is that today, because of Bolsonaro’s policies, illegal groups, narcotraffickers and powerful groups in the Amazon have been even more empowered and they’ve taken more, even more control of the deforestation, of the gutting of lands, the robbing of lands, the selling off of lands. And so, it’s gonna be even harder to stop all that, to create state institutions and to refund the environment ministry and the Indigenous community to be able to protect those areas because of the gutting of the social state that Bolsonaro’s done.
So he brings in a lot of hope. It’s not gonna be easy, if he’s able to take power. But if anyone’s gonna do it, and if anybody is the man that most Brazilians believe in, or at least the majority Brazilians believe in, can really put the country back on the rails, it’s Lula, the great negotiator, the great democrat, and amazing speaker who can turn things around.
Maximillian Alvarez: So that is the great Michael Fox, Latin America-based multimedia journalist, filmmaker, radio reporter, and host and producer of the invaluable podcast series Brazil on Fire, which you can listen to right now on The Real News Network podcast feed. It also has its own dedicated feed wherever you get your podcasts. We’ve been honored to work with Mike and the good folks at NACLA to produce this podcast, and everyone should go listen to it.
Michael, thank you so much for joining us today, man, we really, really appreciate it.
Michael Fox: Max, thanks so much. Pleasure. Let me know when you want me back.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah, man. Don’t tempt me. I might have you back on very soon.
And for everyone watching, this is Maximillian Alvarez for The Real News Network. Before you go, please head on over to therealnews.com/donate. Become a monthly sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you important coverage and conversations just like this. Thank you so much for watching.