Jair Bolsonaro discusses violence against women, September 2016. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Jair Bolsonaro discusses violence against women, September 2016. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Although the Bolsonaro regime doesn’t look like collapsing immediately, its structure and support are waning and the mass movement is growing, argues Orlando Hill

In an article published in the online news publication Carta Maior, Gilberto Maringoni identifies four threats to Jair Bolsonaro’s government. The first is the recent revelations by Intercept exposing the highly politicised discussions and secret actions by the Operation Car Wash prosecutors, led by then judge and now ‘super’ justice minister Sergio Moro. The revelations make it clear what the left have always said that the operation was not impartial and had the objective of imprisoning Bolsonaro’s key adversary, the ex-president Lula, which consequently paved Bolsonaro’s way to the presidency.

The second threat is the narrowing of his political support. In the period of a week Bolsonaro sacked four members of his government, three of them high ranking generals and the fourth, Joaquim Levy, a neoliberal economist and banker.

Joaquim Levy’s removal from his position as president of the National Development Bank might come as a surprise. After all his career includes working for the IMF, European Central Bank and Bradesco, one of Brazil’s main private banks. He was also responsible for implementing neoliberal policies under both Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Dilma Rouseff as the Minister of Finance.

The reason given by Bolsonaro for forcing Levy to resign was his participation in a Workers’ Party (PT) government and his refusal to sack the director of capital market, Marcos Pinto, who was also a member of the PT governments and part of the team that created the Programme University for All (ProUni) which handed out 1.2 million scholarships in ten years.

The removal of Levy is a sign that Bolsonaro is much more motivated by ideology than pragmatism. It also represents a rupture with a sector of the bourgeoisie who benefitted from PT’s neodesenvolment project, but then supported Rouseff’s impeachment.

According to Luciano Coutinho, president of BNDES from 2007 to 2016, this attitude may lead to a crisis in the long-term financing of the investment of infrastructure projects.

“The belief that the financial market (dominated by great financial capital) will provide all the financing solutions and that BNDES should be radically reduced will lead to a huge setback for Brazil’s development.”

BNDES has been crucial for the development and accumulation of capital in Brazil. There is serious discontent in the financial market and what remains of the productive sector with the destruction of the BNDES.

There is a wing of the Brazilian military that opposes the privatization of state companies. General Juarez Aparecido de Paula Cunha was sacked from his job as president of the publicly owned national Post Office for opposing its privatization. In a meeting with trade unionists he defended the company saying it “is a strategic, self-sustaining, irreplaceable company; it is a citizen company; it works alongside the citizen, Brazil’s pride, present in the life of Brazil.” Bolsonaro thought the general was acting as “trade unionist” and should be sacked.

In his farewell speech as president of National Foundation of Indigenas People (FUNAI), General Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas criticised the pressure he was receiving from big landowners who “dribble hatred towards the indigenous people”. The removal of a general who was an advisor for the Canadian Belo Sun Mining company is a demonstration that the racism against indigenous Brazilians borders a genocidal level.

The third threat is the low economic performance. Once again, the financial market has reviewed downward the expectation for economic growth. This has become a monthly event. The general perception among investors is that 2019 will be yet another lost year for Brazil.

However, the pressure does not just originate from within the government. The fourth and most significant threat comes the huge popular and united demonstrations of students and workers against pension and security reforms and cuts in education funding. Over 43 million workers across the country downed their tools or followed the trade unions advice and stayed during the general strike of 16 June. The Landless Workers Movement (MST) and the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) took part on the day by blocking 50 federal motorways.

Bolsonaro is under pressure from within and from below. His tactic so far has been to tighten his neoliberal project and his hold on power. Could he then shut down the congress and deliver a coup as he said he would in past? It seems unlikely. In 1968, the military dictatorship was capable of performing a coup inside the 1964 coup and suspended all constitutional rights, intervened in local governments and institutionalised torture. The difference was back then the militaries had support from sectors of society and the economy was recovering after two years of recession.

However, despite the friction between the government and its political base (the national congress, the judiciary, the big domestic private banks, sectors of the military high command and the domestic industrial bourgeoisie) and the pressure from below it seems unlikely that the government will fall or become unfeasible in the near future. The ruling class has no alternative to Bolsonaro, and the popular movement is not yet strong enough to break through.   

There are two factors that can reverse this stalemate: new revelations from Intercept and increased pressure from the streets.

Guilherme Boulos, leader of MTST visited Lula in prison where they discussed the general strike and the recent demos organised by students and workers. Both agreed that the tide is beginning to change in favour of the popular movement. People were intimidated by the environment of fear and hatred that Bolsonaro created during electoral campaign. The general strike was crucial to change people’s perception and attitude towards the government. The expectation is the movement will grow stronger. The pension reform is still going through congress and the movement will react with further demonstrations. The people are conscious that Bolsonaro’s government cannot meet any of their basic demands. This will strengthen the movement. But Boulos stressed that the popular movement was not yet at a moment of offence.

Bolsonaro won an election and still counts with some popular support. However, the trend is for this support to curb and the popular movement to strengthen. The revelations by Intercept are crucial to strengthen this tendency.  On Tuesday 25 June the federal supreme court will judge the habeas corpus of the defence of Lula that deals with the suspicion of Sérgio Moro. The defence is asking for the dismissal of the case against Lula, due to Moro’s bias. If they are successful Lula walks free to join the movement and strengthen the opposition.

The information for this article was sourced from Brasil de Fato and Carta Maior.  

Orlando Hill

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.