LATIN-AMERICA

“Bolsonarism” in Latin-America – “He considers Piñera a key ally in South America”

SANTIAGO – For the first time in five presidential elections Brazil elected a right-wing president. The election of Bolsonaro made Chile´s right-wing widely celebrate his victory. In this interview with Dr. Marieke Riethof, Chile Today looks at what “Bolsonarism” might bring the country and the continent. Today in part II: the influence of Bolsonaro on Latin-America.

As Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro to be their new president, it is time to look forward to what his presidency will bring Chile and the continent. For example, how will Bolsonaro be on economy, foreign affairs and the crisis in Venezuela?

Similar to Pinochet´s dictatorship, Jair Bolsonaro has appointed a Chicago Boy, Paulo Guedes, to handle the economy. The Chicago Boys were a group of Latin-American economists who under the wings of Milton Friedman, professor at the University of Chicago, grew to be decision makers in their home countries. The Chilean Chicago Boys implemented the blueprint for an economic reform during the military dictatorship, which has its influence on the national economy to this very day. So what does their Brazilian counterpart, economics minister Paulo Guedes, promise?

“He (Guedes, red.) has promised far-reaching economic reforms, including privatization, ending protectionism, budget cuts and social security reforms. Guedes’ plan also includes the promotion of free trade with the US and Europe rather than Latin America and other developing countries. Guedes has already been quoted as being dismissive about Mercosur, for example. However, free market economics is not the obvious choice to deal with Brazil’s economic crisis.”

“Bolsonaro famously said that he doesn’t understand much about economics”

“Brazil’s economy is highly dependent on China so reducing trade with Asia would be a risky strategy. Strengthening economic relations with the US is only a partial solution, because not all of Brazil’s exports will find a market there. In addition, Brazil has also been affected by Pres. Trump’s trade wars and protectionism, despite the supposedly more market-friendly Temer being in power.”

“Bolsonaro famously said that he doesn’t understand much about economics, but his recent comments suggest that he is an economic nationalist rather than a free marketeer. He seems keen to boost Brazil’s major export sectors, such as oil, mining and agriculture, without going as far as privatizing Petrobras.”

“Worryingly, he has also threatened to remove protections of indigenous people and to crack down on social movements, such as the landless movement MST (Movimento Sem Terra). These threats will placate the powerful agricultural caucus, but they will also fuel further divisions, discontent and protests.

On Venezuela

The crisis in Venezuela has been a topic during different presidential elections in Latin-America. Understandable, as countries such as Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and also Brazil have their difficulties with Venezuelan migrants. Chile is a loud critic of the Maduro government and influential in the Lima Group. Both Bolsonaro and Piñera used Venezuela as bugaboo during the elections, pointing at their leftist opponents (Haddad in Brazil, Guillier in Chile) and accusing them of planning on turning their country into a Venezuela 2.0.

“Venezuela has become the spectre of political chaos in both countries. Bolsonaro’s position is hard line, calling for regime change rather than mediation, although it is unlikely that he would support direct intervention. Like Piñera, Bolsonaro has used the spectre of the political situation in Venezuela very effectively to whip up fear in his campaign, accusing the PT of turning Brazil into Venezuela and referring to a regional left-wing conspiracy. No matter how different the politics of the PT and the Venezuelan government are, these comments resonated with large sections of Brazilian society.”

“During recent debates about the Venezuelan crisis in the Organization of American States, Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment has made Brazil an easy target of accusations that the country is facing its own democratic crisis and should not claim the moral high ground. While Bolsonaro has been elected democratically, his attitude to democratic institutions is likely to lead to similar criticisms, undermining Brazil’s potential for mediation.”

“These divisions in the regional response to the Venezuelan crisis have sharpened with the rise of right-wing governments, which makes the situation more intractable. It is telling that that Bolsonaro’s first trip abroad will be to speak with Piñera, indicating that he considers the Chilean president a key ally in South America. I therefore expect Chile and Brazil’s position on Venezuela to converge but also growing divisions among Latin American countries on how to deal with a very pressing problem.”

“There is a worrying appetite for radical right-wing change in the region”

On the right-wing wave in Latin-America

The election marathon in Latin-America (14 presidential elections between November 2017 and November 2019) shows that Latin-America is moving to the right. Chile, Paraguay, Colombia and now Brazil all elected right-wing presidents, and in South-America only small countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia can be considered as countries with leftwing governments (leaving out Venezuela). Earlier this century, on the so-called “pink-tide” that went through Latin-America, nearly all countries delivered left-wing presidents. The election of Bolsonaro leads to the question: are left-wing policies out of fashion or just left-wing parties?

“There seems to be a turn towards right-wing politics in various parts of Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile (with important exceptions in Ecuador and Mexico). We can also observe that corruption – often spilling over from Brazilian scandals – has started to affect governments and politicians elsewhere on the continent. Feelings of political dissatisfaction in Brazil are stronger than elsewhere, but similar sentiments are causing political polarization in other countries, including Chile.”

Brazil now has its own Maduro – and Chile another problem

“However, dissatisfaction with politics and corruption are not simply a left-right issue. The large number of abstentions, blank and spoilt ballots in Brazil (approx. 41 million votes) suggests that many voters supported neither Haddad nor Bolsonaro. Furthermore, the presidential votes indicate significant divisions along class, regional, gender and racial lines. Even though many poor Brazilians voted for Bolsonaro, his support was much lower in the Northeast, among women and Afro-Brazilians.”

“The fact that the PT continues to be the largest party in Congress and that the party has the largest number of governors also point to the party’s enduring appeal among voters. However, the Brazilian left will face difficult discussions about strategy, electoral appeal and the need to overcome internal differences to form an effective opposition in the new context.”

“In the regional context, just as left-wing governments came to power amid widespread dissatisfaction and economic crisis in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we can now see a reversal and a turn to the right. The outcome elsewhere in Latin America will not necessarily be as extreme as in Brazil but there is a worrying appetite for radical right-wing change in the region.”

Dr Marieke Riethof is a Lecturer in Latin American politics at the University of Liverpool. Her latest publications include Labour Mobilization, Politics and Globalization in Brazil: Between Militancy and Moderation (New York: Palgrave, 2018) and various articles on labour politics, socio-environmental conflicts, human rights and foreign policy in Brazil. Her latest research focuses on Latin American solidarity campaigns and exile in the 1970s and 1980s with a focus on Chile.

Missed Part I of the interview: “Bolsonarism” in Chile? Read it here:

“Bolsonarism” in Chile – “His extremism will open avenues elsewhere in the region”

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