This week on International Wednesday: Today, Amsterdam University College hosts a discussion about Brazil’s 2018 presidential elections for its regular ‘Who’s in Town’ session. Almost three weeks after the election in Brazil, Red Pers chose to bring a young perspective to what many have considered either “the end of democracy” or “a guarantee for change” — opinions differ tremendously.
“Have you heard of who our new president is? That’s crazy!” On 28 October, Sofia Bifulco (20), Politics student at Amsterdam University College (AUC), called her mother back home in Brazil. To her great surprise, she learns that her own mum also voted for Bolsonaro. For administrative reasons Bifulco could not vote herself. Today, she does not know what she would have done eventually. “The entire left-party was corrupted”.
End of October, the right-wing politician and former military officer Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidential elections with 55.7% of the votes against the Workers’ party ‘PT’ candidate Fernando Haddad. Often qualified as the Brazilian Trump, Bolsonaro’s infamous racist, misogynist and homophobic comments have been all over the news. His nostalgia for the dictatorship and advocacy of torture have brought up uncertainty for the future of the world’s fourth biggest democracy.
Corruption & Violence
Corruption has generated economic and political uncertainty. From mid-2014 to 2016, the Brazilian economy experienced a severe recession with rising unemployment and falling wages. In addition, interest rates and prices were on the rise.
As Economics student Felipe Carvalho (18) explains: “My parents and I moved to the US six years ago. Last December my cousins came to visit from Brazil and they took everything they could. It was so much cheaper in the US. Eating out, going to the supermarket, buying clothes (…) everything is very expensive in Brazil”. For instance, because of corruption, investments in the Brazilian economy are perceived as risky, which results in high interest rates and inflation.
Also, despite high taxes, public investments are very low, meaning that people have to rely on privates companies, which makes life expensive. Iohan Protasio Boitar (25), International Relations graduate from the Pontifical Catholic University of Goias, explains that despite Brazil having a Public Health Care System (the SUS), he still has to spend a large amount of money on private health insurance. “Generally speaking, public services cannot be trusted in Brazil”.
Sometimes people take easy solutions for very complex issues
Hugo Ruiz (28) works in computer science and moved to the Netherlands two years ago. “My main reason for moving to Amsterdam was security”, he says. “ I could not walk on the street and see a motorbike without fearing of getting mugged”. More security and less corruption – that is why Ruiz voted for Bolsonaro.
Leonardo Moura (28) moved to Amsterdam only two months ago. However, unlike Ruiz, he was a Haddad supporter. Moura also experienced violence in Brazil and got mugged twice. Nevertheless, he does not believe that the relaxation of gun laws as advocated by Bolsonaro is the right thing to do. “Sometimes people take easy solutions for very complex issues”, he argues. “If a criminal comes to you and thinks that you have a gun, instead of punching you he will probably try to kill you because now he is afraid of you having a gun”.
While Ruiz agrees that the increase of people carrying guns on the street would only generate more violence, he thinks that people should be able to keep one at home. “Let’s say it’s 3 am and someone is trying to break into your house. If you call the police they’ll get to your place in one hour or even not get there at all. So at least if you possess a gun then you can protect yourself”.
Debates & Incertitude
Many Brazilians were engaging in political debates on the streets. One day before the elections, Moura flew to Brazil. After a 20-hour flight, he arrived to São Paulo and joined his friend to march with a sign asking “Do you know who you’re gonna vote for? Let’s talk”.
“I wanted to generate debate and make people think critically about their vote, no matter what their choice was”. Among the Brazilians he talked to, many were still indecisive 24 hours before voting. Whilst they associated PT to the corruption, they for instance did not like Bolsonaro’s comments on women.
Like Moura, many other people marched on the streets and were part of the ‘Vira Voto’ movement, for example. This pro-Haddad grassroots initiative started on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and spread out over Brazil’s major cities. It aimed to persuade Bolsonaro supporters and indecisive voters to reconsider their vote through political discussions. As Moura explains, their idea was to turn “Bolsonaro votes into blanks and blanks into [votes for] Haddad”.
Bolsonaro will officially take over on 1 January 2019. Whilst some believe it will bring more security and improve the economy, others are more concerned about the growing discrimination and intolerance. According to Lucas Vidigal (27), a creative copywriter living in São Paulo, Bolsonaro’s openly racist, homophobic and misogynist statements allows for public intolerance. As Ana Pérez (20), Brazilian Economics student at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) explains: “We have seen more violent attacks to the LGBT community and open declarations of racism and homophobia“.
Likewise, Emanuelle Lack (30), who recently moved to Almere from Rio, is concerned about the future of democracy in her country: “I really worry about the veiled dictatorship, the one that has a face of democracy, respect for the constitution, but that takes away the rights of minorities“.
I really worry about the veiled dictatorship, the one that has a face of democracy, respect for the constitution, but that takes away the rights of minorities
Despite the atmosphere of uncertainty, Economics student Carvalho tries to remain optimistic: “Brazilians have always been very positive and very hopeful”. When comparing Brazil to the United States, he believes that even though there may be more opportunities in the US, in Brazil the interpersonal connections are stronger: “Nos Estados Unidos é bom, mais é oma merda; no Brasil, é oma merda, mais é bom”.
No matter what exactly the new presidency holds for the future, young Brazilians, in Brazil and the Netherlands alike, will hold on to what they value the most: Quality time with their families and friends and having a blast – day in day out. People will continue making jokes about their president and laugh at themselves eventually. Divisions and uncertainties will definitely not be able to ruin a Brazilian’s day.
The names of Hugo Ruiz and Ana Pérez are fictitious at the request of the interviewees. Their real names are known by the editor-in-chief.