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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Beatrice Rangel: Is Brazil Breaking with its Nonviolent Past?
Former Venezuela Presidential Chief of Staff Beatrice Rangel on Brazil's stress test for democratic institutions in Brazil.

By Beatrice E. Rangel

Contrary to most Latin American countries, Brazil evolved from colony to independent nation without violence.

By declaring "I am staying" the heir to the Portuguese throne, Dom Pedro informed his father, the emperor of Portugal who was back in Lisbon, that the country was independent. Transition from monarchy to republic was achieved through a nonviolent coup d'état legitimized by a declaration by Dom Pedro.

In the late 19th century, the country experienced the Canudos War which involved a religious zealot and his poor peasant followers who rebelled against the Brazilian government and were crushed in a third bloody and horrific attack by government forces. The punishing, unremitting scenes of battle and carnage were vividly depicted by Mario Vargas Llosa in his novel "The War of the End of the World." The Nobel laureate painted a very clear and fearsome picture of a madness that can horribly grow out of any small fanaticism and power-base.

The 20th century saw Brazil thrive both politically and economically up until the coup d'état that deposed Joao Goulart to install an authoritarian military regime that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985.

Since 1986 the country has lived under a democratic regime ruled by corporativist political institutions and mercantilist economic principles that shun foreigners to favor of local business. And during this period the country has not faced violent conflicts or armed dissent. All in all, Brazil has been the least violent country in a region where peaceful understanding has not been the approach of choice to resolve conflicts.

More recently however, the political system has been shocked by the discovery and prosecution of corruption, the disruption of the presidential term of Dilma Rousseff, and the escalation of the attack of organized crime against political institutions.

All these events have begun to tear people's faith in democracy while inviting an escalation in confrontation among political actors who are vying to regain the trust of population. Citizens however feel cheated and returned to poverty on account of the negative impact upon GDP produced by the decline of commodities in international markets.

Brazil's people have thus launched themselves in search of a rescuer.

For the poor, that leader clearly is Lula who cannot run for president given his conviction for corruption. For the middle classes, Jair Bolsonaro seems to be the redeemer.

This former army captain has promised to bring back law and order to Brazil. Bolsonaro has seized the despair and anger of his countrymen against the elites to foment an assault against a rotten establishment. And he seemed to be succeeding, as all polls showed him with a 20-25% lead.

But last week he was the victim of an attempt on his life by a deranged man claiming he was acting in the name of God. And while the attack has been condemned by the political establishment, truth of the matter is that there have been too many such incidents during electoral campaigns over the last 3 years when about 8 candidates to municipal and state posts have been murdered and even president Da Silva's campaign bus was shot at two weeks ago.

These incidents taken together with the attack on Bolsonaro seem to announce a growing intolerance and a great difficulty for political actors to accept the legitimacy of their opponents.

In addition, crimes against women are on the rise with cases of rape going up by 8.4 %.

Should this trend prevail, Mr. Bolsonaro could probably face the unraveling of political consensus and a spiraling of violence which could test his democratic nature while favoring his military instincts. And this could prove to be the stress test for democratic institutions in Brazil.

Beatrice Rangel is President & CEO of the AMLA Consulting Group, which provides growth and partnership opportunities in US and Hispanic markets. AMLA identifies the best potential partner for businesses which are eager to exploit the growing buying power of the US Hispanic market and for US Corporations seeking to find investment partners in Latin America. Previously, she was Chief of Staff for Venezuela President Carlos Andres Perez as well as Chief Strategist for the Cisneros Group of Companies.

For her work throughout Latin America, Rangel has been honored with the Order of Merit of May from Argentina, the Condor of the Andes Order from Bolivia, the Bernardo O'Higgins Order by Chile, the Order of Boyaca from Colombia, and the National Order of Jose Matías Delgado from El Salvador.

You can follow her on twitter @BEPA2009 or contact her directly at BRangel@amlaconsulting.com.


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