Every so often I get so comment so good that it needs to be published as its own post (e.g. see Ethiopia).
Well, here’s one from a Brazilian, Alin:
1- Bolsonaro = Macri?
No. Macri is a standard vintage neoliberal, Bolsonaro is an actual conservative. Macri just tried (and failed) to legalize abortion in Argentina, something which even the leftists which ran Brazil the last 18 years didn’t try to do.
Also, the Brazilian economy is very different from Argentina’s, and not just in size and diversification. Brazil’s debt is high (and growing higher fast since 2014), but it is almost entirely denominated in the national currency and held by citizens, unlike Argentina’s. So Brazil is not exposed to the international financial markets to the same degree Argentina is, and does not need it to fund its deficit (for now).
2 – China
China is very important for Brazil, but not extravagantly so, like for some small Asian or African countries. Brazil’s foreign trade is actually quite geographically balanced and China does not take up a disproportionately large portion of it. Chinese investment has been growing, and it is this, specifically, that seems to concern Bolsonaro (i.e., fear of foreign control of key national assets) – a concern which seems common sense to me. But that’s very far from a trade war: I can imagine negotiations in which greater latitude for Chinese investment in Brazil is exchanged for more support for high-value Brazilian exports to China (Today, Brazil exports mainly soy, but you have seen that regional jets are also one of the main items).
3 – Democracy
This one is a no-brainer. Haddad is the candidate of the leftist Worker’s Party, in alliance with the Community Party of Brazil. Its official programme states that, in case of victory, the Executive will bypass parliament using “popular consultations with civil society groups” to enact legislation. There’s plenty more.
Bolsonaro is a military officer and is on the record as a supporter of Brazil’s 1965-1985 military dictatorship. Since I imagine most readers here have no specific knowledge of Brazil and only a hazy idea of a general category of “Latin American dictatorships”, here are some quick facts about the Brazilian case. First, the military intervened only to forestall a Communist takeover, and only after pushed to it by the largest mass protests in the history of the country, and they always said that democracy would be restored when the threat had abated. Second, Congress remained open and so did the Supreme Court; regular elections were held for Congress and for regional and local elective positions. Third, even the presidents continued to be elected, just not by direct popular vote, but by Congress. Fourth, when the military took over Brazil was the world’s 40th economy and had only a small industrial sector, when they left Brazil was the world’s 8th largest economy with the largest industrial base of the Southern Hemisphere. Fifth, facing urban and rural guerrillas supported by the Soviet Union through Cuba, the military regime killed ~450 people – that is the official estimate of the leftist groups. This, in 25 years and in a country of 90-100 million people at the time. More people are killed in Brazilian street in a day today. All this to say that Bolsonaro’s support for the military regime in the past is not necessarily at odds with he’s supporting democracy today. Even more because he’s winning.
4 – Race.
I’ve seen some commenters mentioning a racial divide in Brazilian vote. On the face of it, the more mulatto Northeast supported the left while the whiter South supported Bolsonaro, but that’s quite misleading. Contrary to Lee Kuan Yew’s generally accurate dictum, there’s no real racial divide in Brazilian politics and there has never been one. Racial classification is too fluid in Brazil for this to work (although the left’s introduction of affirmative action has begun to foster this in the last two decades). Bolsonaro also won in the mainly mixed-race North, Center, and among the large mixed-race population of the Southeast, and even in the Northeast, where he lost, he got the largest percentage of the vote a non-leftist has managed to get in the last thirty years.
Also, some commenters mentioned lacking information about Brazil. Yes, the pictures of the slums next to the high-rises are real – but they are mostly from the large cities of the Southeast (São Paulo, c. 20 million people, and Rio de Janeiro, c. 12 million). The rest of the country – and Brazil has 200m people – can be very different. Google pictures of cities like Gramado, Canela, Nova Petrópolis, Blumenau and Joinville, or just go to Google Maps, toggle pictures on, and click at random on small cities in the interior of Southern Brazil. You’ll probably be surprised.
5 – The Trump of Brazil?
Bolsonaro is comparable to Trump in winning against the establishment, and in this he has actually surpassed Trump. After all, Trump was nationally known, a billionaire able to fund his campaign, and managed a hostile takeover of an established national party. Bolsonaro was very much unknown (and what was known from his, from the press, was a cartoon far-right villain). He has no money. His party existed only on paper (it has no offices throughout the country and fewer than 10 elected officials – but now it has become the second largest party in Congress). He only has seven seconds a day of television time. All the establishment was against him, as well as all the press and all the beautiful people. His only strength was popular revulsion at the establishment and skillful use of social media. So he managed to defeat the establishment with less resources that Trump had at his disposal.
Ever since his victory became more probable, more and more sectors are scrambling to get into his good graces. He had early leads among evangelicals and farmers; now the main commercial and industrial federations of the country are getting behind him as well. But only now, when he already has all but won. More on this on the next point.
6 – Bolsonaro’s economic policy
Since his origin is as a military officer, Bolsonaro is obviously more used to command than to negotiations with the “market”. His naming Paulo Guedes as his main economic adviser, with public declarations that he (Bolsonaro) knows little about the economy and will give Guedes a free hand, obviously calmed the market. But people are unsure if this will hold, as some commenters said.
However, the main point here is that this is not really dependent on Bolsonaro’s will. It’s a question of mathematics. Without major reforms, which he is (on paper) committed to doing, the Brazilian federal budget will, in a year between 2022 and 2024, be entirely consumed with the civil servants payroll and the old-age pensions. Nothing will be left for everything else. And since the net government tax intake is in the mid-40%s, there is no fiscal space left to raise taxes. So Bolsonaro has very little choice in his economic program. He has to deregulate (much to do here) and lower some specific taxes to get the economy going again.
The outlook looks bleak on one side. The tail end of the leftist governments of 2003-2016 threw caution to the wind and blew a huge hole in the fiscal balance of the country, while mismanaging the economy to the point of causing the worst recession in Brazilian history (2014-2017 were worse even than the Great Depression). Not to mention all the loot they took in the largest corruption scheme ever discovered in the world.
However, structurally Brazil ain’t so bad. Even through the worst of the recession, the agricultural sector continued to grow relatively fast. The industrial sector, though badly maimed, remains large and considerably modern, and its unused capacity can be quickly put to work. Brazil has been having record surpluses in foreign trade. Interest rates are now the lowest in the last decades. So the real problem is just one, the federal government deficit, which is large but not unmanageable, especially because it is in the national currency. If Bolsonaro follows through with just a few of his promised reforms – privatization of some state companies to pay off the debt, streamlining the tax code, some reform in social security and getting rid of leftist regulations which hamper investment in agriculture and mining – Brazil could start growing strong again in a couple of years.
7 – Arabs
Arabs are very prominent in Brazil. We’re one of the few countries where the Arab lobby is stronger than the Jewish one, even though the Brazilian Jewish community is also quite influential. Bolsonaro’s overture to Israel has nothing to do with the Jews, it’s a sop to his evangelical voters. It’s hard to tell just how many Arabs are there here; of Lebanese alone there are some 10 million. Besides the leftist Haddad, the current president, Michel Temer, is also Arab – he is one of seven brothers, the only one born in Brazil, for the others were born in Lebanon.
We also have the largest Japanese-descended community in the world. And Brazilians are the third largest immigrant group in Japan. And… we’ll, this is much too long already. Hope it was useful!
While I once again emphasize that I am no Brazil expert, people who observed this election have noticed that while the voting gap between rich and poor gap has declined relative to 2014, the gap between the South and North-East has if anything widened even further, which suggests a larger racial factor.