FAU community discusses potential impact of Brazil’s general election

The route of Brazilian politics could have a drastic shift after the second round of the election on Oct. 30.

Giovanna Brigo Cardoso, Contributing Writer

With the second round of Brazil’s election coming on Oct. 30, some people in the Florida Atlantic University community have been reflecting on the last four years of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government and share their expectations for the future of Brazil. 

Bolsonaro won the presidency in 2018 during a very challenging election against Fernando Haddad, from Partido Trabalhista – PT (Workers’ Party). Now, Bolsonaro is facing an even bigger challenge against former president Lula, also from PT, who served for two consecutive terms in 2002 and 2006.

Eyal Weinberg, a history professor who studies Latin American history including Brazil, said his expectations for the second round are uncertain. Looking back at the first round, he points out it demonstrated that the polls were not accurate, especially in specific states. 

However, his concerns are that things would not turn out to be stabilizing for democracy and for the electoral process, having a possibility of violence and instability in the political system and the judicial system.

João Staziaki, senior and club president of Solidarity, said he is not excited about it. 

“I think in 2018, Haddad also got more votes in the first round than Bolsonaro,” said Staziaki. “Lula’s strategy was to win in the first round by getting more than 50% of the votes but he couldn’t do that, so that is leading me to think that if he couldn’t get that goal, it does imply that maybe Bolsonaro’s campaign is going to consolidate and win [in the] second round.”

Stefan Hagens, a junior majoring in environmental engineering, expects a tight second round between Bolsonaro and Lula.

The first round was heavily pushed between the two favorites [Bolsonaro and Lula], but I think that now it will give a certain push on the people who voted for candidates from other parties,” Hagens said. 

Weinberg’s main field of research is the period of the military dictatorship, which began in 1964 and ended in 1985. He pointed out how Bolsonaro is challenging the country’s democracy, even with this historical background. 

“It seems to me that whether Bolsonaro wins or is defeated, there will be an attempt to challenge the elections in some way or another, it might be maybe just court appeals, but there is also a chance that he or, not even him, [part of his circle] will try to mobilize people,” said Weinberg. “Sometimes, although the attack would be of the voting machine itself, and maybe it is manipulated or damaged, the big idea here would be to make people sort of not trust the democratic institutions, and they will even be more mobilized to support their leader.”

Weinberg indicated how Brazil has one of the most reliable and fastest electoral systems in the world. However, he explained how some people tend to look at Brazil or other places in Latin America like they have a lot to learn, but it is quite the opposite in how elections are run. Brazil is proving to the world, although Bolsonaro is challenging this election, that the system is fairly effective.

Although this is a concerning attempt on the part of the current president, it is difficult to understand the population’s enthusiasm for the candidates, and Staziaki points out the roots of it. 

“I think for both Lula and Bolsonaro, the enthusiasm comes from nostalgia, a nostalgia of a past left-wing movement [for Lula] that helps people; and then for Bolsonaro, it is a nostalgia of the dictatorship,” Staziaki said. 

For Hagens, nostalgia is a difficult term to use regarding Bolsonaro’s presidency since there wasn’t any president like him in the past. 

Bolsonaro does give more of an importance to the military, and that is something that he is more open to expanding and investing in as opposed to the other social issues that are arguably even more of a problem in the country. That’s kind of what Bolsonaro might use from the past to influence his hopeful re-election,” Hagens said.

Weinberg recalled the rise of PT emerged from a certain movement of social struggles, related to human rights and to transitional justice. During Bolsonaro’s administration, the experience of COVID-19 in Brazil was catastrophic, but people are mobilized because they either are motivated from his evangelical understanding of the nation or they see the Workers’ Party as an enemy that led the country to a dark point in its history.

This vision of PT being an enemy came from corruption allegations in Lula’s government back in 2010, the last year of his presidency. In 2017, federal judge Sergio Moro sentenced him to nine and a half years of prison, as these charges were related to the Car Wash scandal (Lava Jato in Portuguese), the nickname for Brazil’s biggest corruption probe.

Operation Car Wash began in 2014, which Moro initially headed. The investigation centers on firms that allegedly had oil company Petrobras offer deals to them in exchange for bribes, which went into politicians’ pockets and party slush funds. However, the Supreme Federal Court, Brazil’s equivalent to the United States Supreme Court, annulled Lula’s corruption convictions in 2022, opening the path for his current run for the presidency. 

With this scandal, Staziaki recalled the role of the press in this situation and how it is reflected nowadays. 

“I think the problem with the press is that people got this conception that [the TV channel] Globo, for example, is petista [PT supporters], and they want Lula to win,” said Staziaki. “But they were instrumental in making sure that Bolsonaro became president.” 

Staziaki also pointed out the strategies and the scandal that benefited Bolsonaro in this election. 

“The Lava Jato and Sergio Moro were a way to tandem with the Bolsonaro campaign,” Staziaki said. “But corruption doesn’t just stand for stealing money from the government or taxes and enriching yourself; it also means political collusion, obstructing justice in order to get a president.” 

Hagens mentioned Bolsonaro and his family’s corruption scandals involving the embezzlement of public funding, which ironically, his campaign ran on anti-corruption during the 2018 election.

In 2020, prosecutors formally accused Bolsonaro’s son and senator Flávio of embezzlement, money laundering, misappropriation of funds and directing a “criminal organization.” The accusations and charges revolve around the president’s son’s engagement in a widespread but criminal practice in Brazilian politics known as the “rachadinha”, when he was a congressman in Rio de Janeiro from 2004 to 2018.

“Rachadinha,” which roughly translates as the “salary split,” corrupts politicians as they take a portion of their employees’ publicly-funded wages for personal gain.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolsonaro was responsible for a major anti-vaccine and anti-mask campaign, ignoring the rules the World Health Organization made. In 2021, the attorney general’s office began an investigation looking into Bolsonaro’s role in a vaccination corruption scheme.

Mixing the corruption scandals with the mishandling of Bolsonaro’s government in the last four years, Weinberg noted most people supported Lula in this election because they had enough of Bolsonaro. 

“Lula was elected in 2002 and then we see what we call today the ‘pink wave’ of various leftist leaders who are elected in Latin America,” explained Weinberg. “I think if Brazil elects PT [and Lula], then it will be an important message to the rest of the nation’s democracies movements that we see around.” 

A lot of Americans don’t realize the rest of the world affects the United States just as much. South Florida has an extensive Brazilian community, so it makes sense for the rise of interest in Brazilian politics in the area.

Brazil’s election is important in terms of economic connection, since there is a lot of trade happening. Staziaki pointed out the election directly affects American prices and geopolitics. While these relations exist, they are really important in terms of the geopolitical and social relations between the two countries. 

For those who are not as interested in the politics of Latin America but are interested in climate change, for example, Bolsonaro’s government defunding Brazil’s environmental agency, and the Amazon fires set by cattle ranchers and loggers, makes Brazil more important than it used to be. This stands out for the United States because of the attempts of the Biden administration to lead a climate change-focused agenda worldwide. 

Staziaki demonstrated his support in the fight against climate change by introducing a call to action. He says doing so needs the entire world to be on board, and every conservative politician who wins their election in their country keeps people one step further away from solving the issue. 

“If you are a person who cares about people, if you are a person who cares about the rest of the world, you are a person who cares about stopping climate change, about workers’ rights, about LGBT and women’s rights, or care about people of color, you should pay attention to the election because all of these are involved,” said Staziaki.

As an environmental engineering major, Hagens looks towards the environmental goals of the country, and he thinks Lula might be more open-minded on issues like climate change and the deforestation of Amazon. 

Hagens said he’s excited to use his voice in this election. For him, regardless if people are Brazilian or not, they should inform themselves and do research about it. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of is having dual citizenship. You may not always relate completely to your American side or to your Brazilian side. So, I think it is your duty as a Brazilian citizen to use your voice and vote,” said Hagens. 

Giovanna Brigo Cardoso is a contributing writer for the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Giovanna at [email protected]