International solidarity is urgently needed for Brazil

Now is the time to stand with the millions of Brazilians resisting attacks on democracy and equality, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

EXTREME right-winger Jair Bolsonaro’s impending inauguration as president of Brazil from January 1 has sent shockwaves around the world.

This is a man who has said that refugees are “the scum of the Earth” and is prepared to say: “If I see two men kissing each other in the street I’ll whack them.” Talking about his five kids, he said “four of them are men but on the fifth I had a moment of weakness and it came out a woman,” further claiming: “I would be incapable of loving a homosexual son… I’d rather my son died in an accident than showed up with some bloke with a moustache.”

In May 1999 he said “I’m in favour of torture,” and in 1993 he said: “Yes, I’m in favour of a dictatorship. We will never resolve grave national problems with this irresponsible democracy.”

The truth is the military dictatorship of Brazil which lasted from 1964 to 1985 presided over the killing and disappearance of hundreds of progressives.

Immediately after being elected, Bolsonaro received congratulations from Donald Trump, and one of his first decisions was to do exactly what Trump has done and announce he will move Brazil’s Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

This gives a clear indication of what is to come in terms of Brazil’s role in the world, especially with Bolsonaro also keen to back up Trump’s “regime change” agenda against left-wing governments in Latin America.

Additionally, a major fear is that it will not just be the people of Brazil who will suffer but the whole world.

His policy towards the environment and climate change is a big threat to life across the planet.

He constantly attacks environmental agencies and has said he wishes to open up the Amazon rainforest with a massive hydroelectric programme of dams.

He will support big business rather than preserving Brazil’s biodiversity and is committed to allowing the market to exploit Brazil’s vast natural resources. This will be devastating for the indigenous tribes still living in the Amazon region.

This is in a context where climate scientists across the world have warned that we have only 12 years left to reduce carbon emissions or see a huge surge in global warming and we need decisive action now.

I find it breathtaking to think that politicians in power, not just in Brazil, but in many places around the world, are prepared to take decisions which could see a mass extinction of humanity by the end of the century.

And even before he takes office he is fronting up massive austerity policies and attacks on civil liberties and on the rights of progressives, trade unions, social movements and others to organise.

In his first interview after being elected, Bolsonaro said he intends to treat social movements as terrorists, including the Landless Workers Movement — as Brazil’s Congress is currently debating anti-terrorist legislation which could allow for peaceful protest to be treated as a terrorist act, this is far from an empty threat.

Also of importance is Bolsonaro’s appointment of Paulo Guedes as his minister of finance. Guedes is a hard-line neoliberal economist in favour of privatising state companies and changing Brazil’s pension scheme. He is also committed to freezing state spending for 20 years.

Bolsonaro has also said he is going to work with current coup President Temer to approve a massive attack on public-sector pensions before taking office in order to “avoid problems for the future government.”

And then perhaps most worryingly of all, there is also Bolsonaro’s policy to make it easier for people to obtain guns.

In a country where 60,000 are murdered every year already, this is truly scary. But it’s not just murderers who do the killing. Last year the police gunned down and killed 5,144 people. Last year also saw 445 gays and lesbians murdered.

As well as standing shoulder to shoulder with all the Brazilians resisting these reactionary policies, we must remember that one of the main reasons Bolsonaro won was that the former president Lula da Silva (who was leading the polls) was not allowed to run against him because he was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and banned from running. Sergio Moro, the judge who prosecuted and sentenced Lula, has now been rewarded by being appointed the new president’s minister for justice and public security!

With Bolsonaro saying Lula should rot in prison, it remains an urgent task of international solidarity around the world to call for Lula’s freedom.

Our comrades in the labour and progressive movements in Brazil have told us they will need international support as they stand up strongly against the rise in hate crime that has surged because of the rhetoric of Bolsonaro.

At the launch of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative this week, speakers warned that a big surge in physical violence against gays, lesbians and women’s activists is likely to continue to rise, alongside a criminalisation of the left, labour, social and progressive movements.

For these and many other reasons, international solidarity is vital – please give the Brazil Solidarity Initiative all your support.

First published by the Morning Star.