Thursday, June 4, 2020

Bolsonaro v. Institutions (June 4, 2020)

A culture of digital smear campaigns against critics of President Jair Bolsonaro has become a fact of life in Brazil. But allegations that the misinformation -- "violent and bigoted imagery, the fabricated correspondence, the outright lies" -- is being generated by members of Bolsonaro's inner circle is pushing the country closer to a political crisis, reports the Washington Post. (See last Thursday's briefs.) 

The Supreme Court is increasingly positioning itself as the strongest check on Bolsonaro, who is, in turn, lashing out against the judges. Serious criminal investigations involving Bolsonaro's sons and close associates, including the fake news probe, have pushed them to prominently question the judiciary and democratic institutions. As tensions rise between Bolsonaro and the supreme court, focus is shifting to the military and how it will respond, reports the Financial Times. (See Monday's post.)

"Today Brazil is a democracy governed by an autocrat," write Jason Stanley and Federico Finchelstein in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The key question is if Bolsonaro has reached the phase of fascist movement, promoting disorder with the objective of imposing dictatorial order." Bolsonaro is undermining the democratic institutions he himself heads in a number of ways, but the aspect that most links him to fascism is his defense of violence as an end in itself, they write.

While this might seem overly alarmist, last week a Supreme Court justice voiced concern, in similar terms, over anti-democratic rallies supported by Bolsonaro. "We must resist the destruction of the democratic order to avoid what happened in the Weimar Republic when Hitler, after he was elected by popular vote, did not hesitate to annul the constitution and impose a totalitarian system in 1933," Justice Celso de Mello said in a WhatsApp message leaked to the media. (Financial Times, and see Monday's post.)

Bolsonaro's rise came in a context of a growing demand for political power by traditionally marginalized communities in Brazil, writes Eliane Brum in a Guardian opinion piece. "No one has better leveraged hatred, fear and frustration than Bolsonaro. He has done so especially among sections of the white middle-class, who have suffered the erosion of their buying power and watched as the black community refused to return to its historical subaltern position. And especially among men challenged by women who decried sexual harassment and misogynistic jokes," writes Brum. These groups face significant violence -- epitomized by the 2018 assassination of  Mariele Franco, a leftwing city councillor who was female, black, lesbian and from a favela.

Franco's death is much more than a symbol however, and has significant relevance for Brazil's current political crisis. Franco is believed to have been killed by a paramilitary group with alleged connections to members of the Bolsonaro family. Former justice minister Sergio Moro resigned in April alleging that Bolsonaro sought to interfere in the federal police, which is carrying out several sensitive investigations involving Bolsonaro's family. (See April 28's post.) This includes an investigation into Bolsonaro's son Flavio's alleged links to a key suspect in Franco's murder, reported Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept in April. (Also these other pieces in The Intercept, The Intercept, and this one from last year.)

Currently, the investigation into the murder of Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, is led by the Civil Police and the Rio de Janeiro MP. The councilwoman's family is against the change in those responsible for the investigation, and believe it would be a setback. Last week the judges rejected a request from the attorney general to "federalize" the case. (Globo)

This weekend, Bolsonaro accused Brazilian journalist Bianca Santana of propagating fake news, but she said he brandished a piece she never wrote, and suspects that the accusation is retaliation for her participation campaign to keep the Franco investigation from being elevated to the federal police. (UOL

All of this within a context of growing protests against police brutality that overwhelmingly kills black men and youths in Rio de Janeiro -- see yesterday's post. New audio recordings in which Bolsonaro's appointee to promote black culture describes the country’s black rights movement as “scum” are likely to add insult to injury. “The black movement, those bums from the black movement, bloody scum,” said Sérgio Camargo in a recording obtained by Brazilian media. (Guardian)

News Briefs

  • President Nicolás Maduro and Venezuela’s opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, have agreed to a measure for battling the new coronavirus to be overseen by the Pan-American Health Organization, reports the Associated Press. The one-page agreement signed June 1 says both sides will work in coordination to find funds for fighting the coronavirus. It may seem small, but the move is the first step towards cooperation in a long time. “It’s hard to overstate how important this is for Venezuela,” WOLA's Geoff Ramsey told AP. 
  • There was little immediate messaging about the agreement among the opposition, and "the muted response reveals once again the political tight-rope walked by Juan Guaidó as he tries to attend to civil society and moderates’ demands to attend to the population’s needs, while keeping on board radicals who think any relief only helps Maduro," write David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Epidemiologists say Latin American countries are reopening based on political rather than health recommendations, as countries like Brazil and Mexico begin relaxing restrictions even as infection rates rise, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
More Brazil
  • Brazil registered a record number of daily coronavirus deaths (1,350) for the second consecutive day and infections looked set to pass 600,000 today, reports the Guardian. Brazil is now poised to overtake Italy as the country with the world’s third-highest number of fatalities.
  • Death is "everybody's destiny" Bolsonaro said by way of comfort to those who are grieving. (Reuters)
  • Most of Brazil’s small businesses, which account for more than half of its jobs and 30% of gross domestic product, are not getting the cash Bolsonaro pledged to help them through the coronavirus crisis, reports Reuters.
  • British-based banks and finance houses have provided more than $2 billion in financial backing in recent years to Brazilian beef companies which have been linked to Amazon deforestation, according to new research by the Guardian, Unearthed and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. 
  • Mexican health authorities reported 1,092 coronavirus deaths yesterday – double the country’s previous highest one-day toll. Daily infections were also at an all-time high of just under 4,000. (Guardian) Due to delays in centralizing information, the daily toll does not reflect actual deaths in 24 hours, but nonetheless, "the figure was a startling sign of how the pandemic has suddenly intensified," reports the Washington Post
  • A Mexican congresswoman's body was found in a shallow grave in a month after she was abducted in Colima state. Anel Bueno was a member of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's Morena party. He said, yesterday, that a suspect had been detained over the killing. (Guardian)
  • Colombia's Supreme Court announced it is opening an investigation into former president Álvaro Uribe in connection with illegal military spying on journalists and politicians, reports AFP.
  • Bolivian authorities are easing restrictions, even as experts warn it could lead to an explosion of Covid-19 cases, reports Reuters.
  • African, Cuban and Haitian migrants stranded in Honduras after borders were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic began trekking northward on Tuesday in an attempt to reach the United States, reports Reuters.
  • Chile's government said Wednesday it was prolonging a three-week shutdown of the country's capital Santiago as the COVID-19 death toll reached a new daily record, reports AFP.
  • Peruvian sex workers face an impossible choice between economy and health, reports EFE.
  • Panamanian trade unions protested against the lifting of the country's coronavirus quarantine, arguing that it will lead to a spike in cases. (AFP)
Critter corner
  • Sloths are the animal kingdom's rockstars, but the stress of fame and tourist selfies is taking a heavy toll, warn experts. (Guardian)
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... And in these times of coronavirus, when we're all feeling a little isolated, feel especially free to reach out and share. 

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