Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bad Times for Brazil

Brazil's Bolsonaro celebrates - but should Brazilians be celebrating?
One of the planet's largest, most multiethnic democracies will be governed by a racist, homophobic, misogynist with an admiration for dictators...and it's not the United States.

It's mind-boggling that a man who insults black and indigenous people could be elected president of a nation with a black and indigenous majority. But it's no more crazy than that a man who disparages women could be elected by a nation with a female majority.

Both of these things - as well as newly-elected Brazilian Pres. Jair Bolsonaro's endorsements of dictatorship and mass executions - should disqualify him from being president of anything but a neo-Nazi encampment in northwest Idaho.

Bolsonaro's presidency - part of an authoritarian wave across Latin America - will test Brazil's young and feeble democracy, already under huge strain because one former president is in prison for corruption and many other politicians are also under suspicion.

Brazil is far from the only nation in the region slipping into authoritarianism, or in danger of it. Venezuela and Nicaragua are ruled by self-described socialists who are really just authoritarians with plans for becoming presidents for life. Bolivia's Evo Morales appears to want to do the same thing. Many observers believe that Mexico's newly elected president, a leftist populist known as Amlo, believes more in himself than in democratic institutions. And Amlo will also enjoy majority support in Congress, giving him vast powers to reshape Mexico's institutions.

But if Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega is brutal and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro is incompetent and brutal, both have at least preserved the forms of democracy in their nations. Bolsonaro, judging by his admiration for dictatorship, doesn't appear likely to do the same if he manages to consolidate power in Brazil.

Just a few decades ago, Latin America was emerging from a dark period of military strongmen into democracy. Today, many nations are electing authoritarians. Latin American democracy may have no more than a brief, passing phase.

Bolsonaro's victory is a massive tragedy for the environment, in a nation which is steward for most of the Amazon rainforest. And it will be a long-term tragedy for human rights and many young lives if Bolsonaro follows thru with his crackdown against criminals and popularizes gun ownership - a policy which has multiplied the U.S.'s homicide rate.

Perhaps Latin America's democracies suffered from a fatal error at birth by adopting presidential rather than parliamentary systems. In parliamentary systems the leader, or prime minister, must work his way up through the ranks, making compromises along the way. That process might produce predominantly mediocre, middling sorts of personalities. But, at least, the populists and extremists usually get filtered out.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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