Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the rallying cries of the supporters of presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is that, if Brazil once again falls into the hands of Lula and Workers’ Party PT, who ruled the country from 2002 till 2013, Brazil will become “another Venezuela”.
That is rubbish.
In fact, the Curmudgeon believes that the danger of Brazil becoming another Venezuela is significantly greater if Bolsonaro and his ilk take power.
The threat that Brazil would become another Cuba has always been the principal justification used by the Brazilian military and their supporters for the coup carried out (with American backing) in March 1964, that resulted in 21 years of heavy-handed autocratic rule.
But Brazil was not Cuba, nor was it ever likely to become Cuba. The Cuban economy was totally dominated by the sugar cane industry, which was dominated by foreign (largely American) owners. But only a small part of Brazil has ever been dominated by the sugar cane industry, and its owners have for centuries been Brazilian.
Even if Brazil’s sugar cane zone had “fallen” to Castro’s version of communism, any rebellion would have been quickly and decisively crushed by the Brazilian government. Separatist movements have regularly cropped up in several of Brazil’s regions; not one has ever been unsuccessful.
Turning to Venezuela, we ask: What should Brazilian voters fear about Venezuela?
One obvious candidate is runaway inflation, which ruins people’s lives. Hyperinflation existed in Brazil for almost a decade after the end of military rule. Fortunately, in 1994, inflation was conquered by the Plano Real’s economic policies. Those successful policies, previously denounced by Lula and PT, were nevertheless expressly continued by Lula after 2002 when he and PT came into power.
There is no reason to suspect a new PT administration would be any different. Yes, spending on public projects increased during Dilma’s presidency, but hyperinflation never occurred, because the memory of that lost decade still frightens most Brazilians.
The other fear is that Venezuela calls itself “socialist” (whatever that means). But the vast majority of Brazilians are not socialists, they are capitalists. Lula himself was a labor leader, and labor unions are a distinctive feature of capitalist countries—they’re not permitted in Cuba or Venezuela. Why assume Lula would do away with them now, when they constitute his principal power base?
In the Curmudgeon’s view, the one thing Brazilians should fear most about Venezuela is that both Chávez and Maduro have always relied heavily upon the military to ensure their rule. The Venezuelan military control every aspect of government. Military vehicles patrol the streets; the military represses all demonstrations against the government; military families are afforded special protections from inflation.
Chávez, when elected, was a retired Army officer. Bolsonaro is a retired Army officer, as is his vice-presidential running mate. Bolsonaro is on record defending the military dictatorship and its oppressive actions, including torture.
In short, it is not inconceivable that Bolsonaro, if elected and facing widespread opposition to his governmental programs or proposals, would turn to the military for support, just as Venezuela has done for the past 20 years.
That is the Curmudgeon’s worst fear, because he lived in Brazil during the worst years of the Brazilian dictatorship (1968-1970) and he knows the evil it did.