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

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 I: the influence of Bolsonaro on Chile.

The fear of many, but eventually the hope of most. The victory of Jair Bolsonaro came as anything but a surprise, after getting around 46 percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections. And as Brazil spoke last Sunday and elected Bolsonaro to be their next president, it is time to look ahead to what we can expect of his presidency. And most importantly, the effects of his administration on Chile and Latin-America. Chile Today speaks with Dr. Marieke Riethof, Lecturer in Latin American politics at the University of Liverpool, who expects Bolsonaro´s election to open doors for far-right politicians in Chile.

“I expect that Bolsonaro’s extremism will open avenues elsewhere in the region for revisionism and a questioning of democratic values. Political dissatisfaction is a major part of the explanation for this turn in Brazil. Although political dissatisfaction is higher in Brazil than anywhere else in the region (see the 2017 Latinobarómetro poll), other Latin American countries have also experienced political discontent that has the potential to turn into support for far right politics. Indeed, the Brazilian election results fit with the trend towards right-wing politics in various parts of Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile (with important exceptions in Ecuador and Mexico).”

“His dedication to Ustra is symptomatic of the erosion of democratic values such as civilian control over the military”

On human rights violations

Dr. Riethof heard the president-elect for the first time during the debates leading up to former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016. Bolsonaro then caused controversy when dedicating his vote to Colonel Brilhante Ustra, who headed the intelligence and repressive organization DOI-CODI (Departamento de Operações de Informações – Centro de Operações de Defesa Interna) in the early 1970s during the 1964-1985 dictatorship. The National Truth Commission (2012-2014) accused Ustra of having overseen torture and killings as part of this role.

“At the time, he was one of the most extreme voices in a debate characterized by strong opposition to Rousseff in Congress. During these debates, many deputies justified their vote with references to the political and economic crisis, corruption and appeals to nationalism and religion. Bolsonaro did the same but ended up dedicating his vote to Colonel Brilhante Ustra. Rousseff was detained and tortured as a student activist under the dictatorship, so Bolsonaro’s dedication was both a justification for repressive practices under the military regime and a personal insult to Rousseff. His dedication to Ustra is symptomatic of the erosion of democratic values such as civilian control over the military and dealing with past and present human rights violations. All of these issues are equally significant elsewhere in Latin America, including Chile.”

Chilean army pays homage to convicted war criminal at Escuela Militar [+ VIDEO]

“Tensions within electoral alliances have also divided the vote for major candidates in the last elections in Chile”

On democratic institutions

In Chile, politicians such as former presidential candidate José Antonio Kast and parliamentarian Camilo Flores have openly shown their affection for the former military dictatorship in Chile, led by General Augusto Pinochet. Ahead of the second round of the presidential elections in Brazil, Kast paid Bolsonaro a visit and has another visit planned, along with eleven Chilean parliamentarians this weekend. As Jair Bolsonaro openly criticized the democratic institutions, fears might arise Kast will try to ride the “Bolsonaro wave” and try tackling the same institutions, in Chile.

“Compared to Brazil, Chile has much higher levels of support for democracy and satisfaction with the way democracy operates, although these figures have also declined significantly since 2015 (2017 Latinobarómetro poll). The support for Kast in 2017 suggests similar driving forces, including economic problems, corruption and dissatisfaction with established politicians and political parties as well as support for extremely conservative values.”

Dr. Riethof points out that there are significant differences between both countries´political systems. “The Brazilian party system has become extremely fragmented, with thirty parties represented in Congress, breaking down the usual coalition options between the PT (Workers’ Party) and the centre-right. The electoral implosion of centre-right parties, particularly MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement) and PSDB (Brazilian Social-Democratic Party), meant that there was no viable centre-right candidate who could have captured the vote of people reluctant to support either Haddad or Bolsonaro. The Chilean party system is less fragmented than the Brazilian one but tensions within electoral alliances have also divided the vote for major candidates in the last elections in Chile.”

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.

Tomorrow on Chile Today part II of the interview: “Bolsonarism” in Latin-America

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