Tuesday, November 1st, 2022. Nearly forty-eight hours after the result of the Brazilian presidential elections announced Bolsonaro’s loss, he speaks for the first time. After his earlier threats that he wouldn’t go down easily in an attempt to disparage the Brazilian electoral system, small groups of his supporters have taken to roads. Small groups of up to fifty or a hundred people in over two hundred locations across the country build barricades with burning tires, dirt, and trucks they have stopped en route.. Hotspots of activity pop up every now and again, fireworks being set off and people falling to their knees in cries of celebration at fake news surrounding figures that have been cast as Bolsonaro’s enemies. As his disgruntled ministers urge him to fall in line with international leadership and acknowledge his successor, Bolsonaro announces he will give a speech. Journalists wait for an hour for him to come to the pulpit, and, when he does, he complicitly whispers to a high-ranking staff member, “They’re gonna miss us, huh?”
Bolsonaro speaks for two and a half minutes in a lobby below his Presidential Cabinet in the Palácio do Planalto, surrounded by what seems to be his entire cabinet team, without acknowledging his defeat. His tone is contrived, giving away as little as his 48-hour silence did. He still claims his cause to be righteous, and to have always played within constitutional limits, as well as saying that protesters are only expressing “legitimate dissatisfaction with electoral procedures”, a sentiment which is in line with his general attempt to create mistrust in Brazilian democratic institutions. Immediately after the speech, protesters festively announce they will not leave (and haven’t, for the past week), causing food and fuel disruptions across the country. The police in many sites declare support to them, despite their explicit orders from the Brazilian Supreme Court of Justice to disperse the protests on grounds that they infringe others’ right to free movement and the fact that Brazilian police have a reputation of violent protest . (This is not surprising, however, as some branches of the police involved are known to be Bolsonaro supporters.) The protestors’ demand? New elections or military intervention – both effectively coup d’états.
In his wake, Bolsonaro’s minister Ciro Nogueira announces that he will be heading the transition into the Workers’ Party’s (Partido dos Trabalhadores) government – he is the minder of the president now, who will not even acknowledge that his toy will be taken away on January 1st. And that is indeed what Brazil’s government has been to him: a toy, or, in more political terms, an “aparelho”, a device that he uses less to govern the country and more for his own means. At the moment, he is under investigation for four inquests, one specifically focused on his interference in Brazil’s Federal Police in part to protect his sons from being indicted for certain crimes. Another is the COVID-19 inquest, which revealed last year that Bolsonaro’s government knowingly delayed the vaccine acquisition process to negotiate for lower prices, evidently exacerbating the almost 700,000 deaths recorded in the pandemic, not to mention those that went unrecorded.
Having grown up in a progressive and left-leaning household in Belo Horizonte – one of Brazil’s biggest cities, the last four years have been desolate to say the least. I was studying abroad when Bolsonaro was elected, and, upon coming back, was terrified at how much narrower the opportunities for young adults were than when I had left. Even since transferring to BCB I can’t escape this – his outrageous decisions have destabilized our currency as well as most people’s jobs, making me worry for myself as well as my family and friends at home on a daily basis. Bolsonaro’s ‘aparelhamento’ (rigging, so to speak) of the State is very present in opposition speech, and, further than demonstrating his blatant corruption, it has left many Brazilians feeling we have barely had a president in the last four years. Not to say that his government hasn’t been grilling and destructive to the country—cuts in public infrastructure, education, health, as well as rising cases of violence show it has—but Bolsonaro is only rhetoric, no actual policy. Because of this, listening to Lula’s (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will enter into his third presidential term) speech after his election brought me close to tears. In his earlier government, Lula’s leadership took Brazil off of the hunger map, helping millions of Brazilians out of abject poverty. In his first speech, spoke of bringing back programs that he designed during his first presidential terms to address issues of inequality and financial uncertainty faced by even more Brazilians. After listening to his speech, I texted my friends at BCB despite their being asleep to tell them what I tell you now: I had not realized I had forgotten what it is to have a government leader with actual proposals and ideas for the country. Four years of Bolsonaro’s fascistic motto of ‘God, Country, Family, Freedom’ dulled my ability to imagine and think for my country, to wish for better. Lula, in that sense, has already for many Brazilians started to fulfill his main campaign promise- to bring Brazilians back hope.
In the image of me as a child, I stand over Rio de Janeiro, the city in which my father was born into extreme poverty. Partly through Lula’s egalitarian government and party, he has now been able to become a university professor. And yet, as I watch the news, I think of my mother and where she might be. We consider ourselves close in spite of her being a bolsonarista, but the extremes to which her ‘politics’ have gone have rather painfully highlighted how fraught our relationship can be. During the month leading up to the election, it got harder and harder for us to not provoke one another, and upon the results of the election, she got into fights with me and any other PT supporters that she encountered. I hope now that she is safe. I hope one day I can reach back into her, past her spreading of fake news that got her banned from some social media, past her inability to discuss ideas of governance, and into the brilliant mind and large heart that many knew long before the phenomenon of Bolsonaro. I hope the turmoil of the past four years can all be behind us, I dream of the day I will only be haunted by the authoritarian ghosts of the far right – and yet, I know at this point they are much more like zombies or vampires; they can survive most strikes except actual decapitation, and a stake through the heart. And yet, how can someone drive a stake through their mother’s heart?