• J.S. Mullen

Defending Brazilian Democracy

Possible looming dangers in the upcoming 2022 Presidential Elections

During the post-war period, several coups in Latin America were initiated by right-wing forces acting under the (correct) assumption that Washington would recognize their new government, maintain normal relations, and provide military and economic aid. Among these was the 1964 coup in Brazil that replaced the left-leaning Goulart with a brutal military dictatorship. Since the return of democracy to Brazil in the late 1980s, the country, though not without its problems, has been a relative bastion for democracy in the region. Bolsonaro’s authoritarian tendencies are well known, however, and the prospect of a close contest in next year’s Presidential elections with PT leader Lula de Silva should have defenders of democracy in the region on alert.

While the abrupt arrest of Lula in 2016 caught many by surprise, his recent exoneration and release has revealed the extent to which the courts in Brazil have been politically weaponized. It is not inconceivable that Bolsonaro, who without evidence claimed widespread voter fraud in 2018 denied him an outright majority, may attempt to interfere with the upcoming election, or refuse to accept its results. Such a result could be hugely detrimental to the Brazilian people and state, as well as massively destabilizing to the region as a whole.

Biden has already taken a firm stance against the coup in Myanmar. The White House should do the same with Brazil by preemptively signaling that it will be watching events closely, with the intent of supporting transparent democratic elections. The Obama administration set a poor precedent in this regard by choosing not to officially label the 2009 ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by the country’s military a coup, maintaining aid, and not recalling its ambassador. While Trump’s tenure saw U.S. disengagement with leadership in the region, as well as open praise for authoritarians such as Putin, Erdogan, and MBS, the Biden administration should take this early opportunity to reaffirm U.S. commitment to democracy in Latin America. The cost is low, and the potential danger is considerable.

J.S. Mullen

March 2020

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