Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections in October signal a momentous event in the country, one that will have long-lasting consequences. Throughout the campaign, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has suggested that, like the U.S. former president, he intends to ignore the results of the election. This would be only one more instance where the Brazilian president has closely followed Donald Trump’s script.
It is remarkable how both presidents have reacted in similar way to different events. During the COVID-19 pandemic, both Bolsonaro and Trump minimized the seriousness of the pandemic, which may have contributed to the catastrophic results it had in both countries. In addition, both presidents promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19. By the end of May 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) had suspended an international trial of hydroxychloroquine because of concern that it causes a “significantly higher risk of death” compared to patients who didn’t receive the drug, according to a study published in the Lancet.
Because of Bolsonaro’s cavalier attitude to the pandemic, it spread to the indigenous communities living in remote areas of the Amazon Forest and to Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, home of millions of people living in extreme poverty and without the protection of good public health services. An editorial in the Lancet stated, “Yet, perhaps the biggest threat to Brazil’s COVID-19 response is its president, Jair Bolsonaro.” The bottom line: Bolsonaro and Trump’s policies towards the pandemic have caused the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of people.
Both presidents have shown a complete disregard for the environment and the dire consequences of climate change. During an interview in 2022 on Fox Business Network’s Varney & Company, Trump told host Stuart Varney that climate change is a “hoax.” He explained, “In my opinion, you have a thing called weather, and you go up, and you go down. If you look into the 1920s, they were talking about a global freezing, okay? In other words, the globe was going to freeze. And then they go global warming. Then they couldn’t use that because the temperatures were actually quite cool. And many different things. So now they just talk about climate change. The climate’s always been changing.” Irrefutable.
In October of 2021 Bolsonaro’s Environment Minister Joaquim Leite announced a “National Green Growth Program” to promote forest conservation and advance sustainable development. In November, the Brazilian delegation to the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) announced a new climate action plan.
However, deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon increased dramatically during Bolsonaro’s first two years in office. Between August 2020 and July 2021, 13,235 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest were cut, a 22 percent increase over the same period the year before and the highest number since 2006.
At the same time, the Bolsonaro government promoted bills that encouraged deforestation by providing amnesty for land invasions, eased environmental licenses, opened Indigenous territories to mining projects of highly negative environmental impact, and used violence against forest defenders. An investigation released by the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon basin, the largest tropical forest in the world is at the doors of the “irreversible destruction of the ecosystem.”
Trump has left a legacy of widespread corruption during his four years in office. The group CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) has recorded 3,737 conflicts of interest by the Trump administration. The group states, “There are likely hundreds, perhaps even thousands more conflicts that we have no way of knowing about.” And adds, “Trump opened the presidency up for business, and for four years, influence was for sale.”
Not to be outdone by his mentor, Bolsonaro gave unlimited power to his three sons, which led to widespread corruption. While Bolsonaro blames former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silvia for corruption practices during his government, Bolsonaro’s family is now accused of buying 51 expensive properties with illegal funds. Two of his sons, both of whom hold public office, have been accused by state prosecutors of stealing the public funds of their associates and ghost employees. While Trump promised to “drain the Washington swamp,” Bolsonaro promised to bring “transparency above all else!”
Faithfully following Trump’s lead, Bolsonaro said that Brazil’s electronic voting machines were rife with potential fraud, with no evidence to prove it. In July, Bolsonaro summoned foreign ambassadors to further denigrate his own country’s electronic voting system, a move that caused international concern. In August, more than a million Brazilians, including top academics, former presidents, lawyers and some popular music stars signed a letter defending the integrity of the country’s voting system. “We recently saw how authoritarian follies put the United States’ centuries-old democracy at risk. There, efforts to disrupt democracy and people’s faith in the reliability of the electoral process did not succeed, and nor will they here,” said the manifesto.
Bolsonaro has been trailing former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silvia in public opinion polls. If Bolsonaro loses the election, there is widespread concern that he will organize a revolt and refuse to accept the results. This would be a sad copy of the January 6 events in Washington, D.C., a tragedy for Brazil and a dire threat to democracy in that vibrant country.
César Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America for the best article on human rights.