Chapter 4 charts the economic difficulties that coincided with Dilma Rousseff
succeeding Lula as president in 2011. As the world economy began to slow
down, Brazil failed to capitalise on the promise of the first decade of the
2000s. Deteriorating economic performance led to a big increase in
unemployment and put consumer spending under strain. Having borrowed heavily
to finance their spending, many families became over-indebted. In many ways,
the successes of the previous decade generated a crisis of expectations.
Chapter 7 looks at the way in which growing fears about violence helped fuel
demands for the kind of hardline security policies championed by Bolsonaro.
It starts in Fortaleza, in the north-eastern state of Ceara, where poor
neighbourhoods have been devastated by fierce gang wars. Organised crime
linked to the sale and trans-shipment of cocaine and other illegal narcotics
became a growing problem during the 1980s and 1990s, with homicide rates in
the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo among the highest in the world.
During the 2000s Brazil was able to improve security significantly in the
south of the country, but from 2012 the number of violent deaths started to
increase, especially in hitherto relatively peaceful parts of the country
such as Fortaleza.
Chapter 10 explores the social and economic conflicts in the Amazon region.
The small farmers and miners who have settled in states such as Para and
Amazonas over the past half-century are Brazil’s equivalent of US
‘rednecks’: strongly independent, fiercely conservative and big supporters
of right-wing politics. This section starts in Roraima, a state with a large
indigenous population, where the settler population voted heavily in favour
of Bolsonaro in 2018.
Chapter 5 explores the demonstrations of June 2013 and their aftermath. In
the run-up to the Confederations Cup of 2013 – the football competition that
serves as a dry run for the World Cup – frustrations combined with growing
disquiet about levels of public spending, culminating in an explosion of
discontent. The government misjudged the national mood and its popularity
fell precipitously. With the Workers’ Party government on the ropes, the
sensational Lava Jato corruption investigations delivered a knockout blow.
Lava Jato represented a political earthquake in Brazil. It exposed the
entire political and economic establishment to unprecedented scrutiny,
although the Workers’ Party was worst hit, ironically. since the probe had
been facilitated by reforms introduced by Rousseff herself.
The introduction discusses the book’s main themes, introducing Bolsonaro as a
populist leader and his movement’s similarities with other populist
successes around the world. The political earthquake of the 2018
presidential election is described and the Brazilian municipality of
Uberlândia is used as a case study to demonstrate the upheaval at a local
scale. The author’s background is explained and the context of Latin
American politics discussed. The powerful lobbies that backed Bolsonaro’s
presidency and the combination of social forces that allowed his rise are
introduced. Three factors are identified as underlying the support for his
brand of populism: economic recession, corruption scandals that undermined
the credibility of Brazil’s recent politics, and an increase in violent
crime. The three lobbies that form the book’s title are presented as uniting
those who were unhappy with the country’s move towards a socially liberal
left. The introduction ends with a description of the structure of the book,
chapter by chapter.
Chapter 3 looks at the impressive economic achievements of Brazil under
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, particularly in the midst of the
2008–09 global financial crisis that Brazil weathered well. The decade to
2010 saw Lula surprise many with an openness to capital, and an export boom
particularly to China meant economic stability as the reward. New approaches
to social policy, a wave of job creation and the expansion of credit lifted
millions of Brazilians out of poverty, creating a new consumer class.
Chapter 1 looks at the rise of Bolsonaro and explores the relationship
between his military and political careers. While Brazil’s democratic
politicians kept their distance from the military dictatorship that had run
Brazil between 1964 and 1985, Bolsonaro had served as an army captain in the
1970s and 1980s and extolled the virtues of military life. The army,
particularly his relationships with lower ranks, had shaped Bolsonaro’s
personality, and as a politician he lobbied in favour of military interests.
But whereas politicians and the media tended to dismiss Bolsonaro as an
eccentric irrelevance, his pro-military views were not so unpopular among
ordinary Brazilians who were overall less opposed to the armed forces than
their elected representatives.
Chapter 6 continues to chart the fall of the ruling Workers’ Party, with the
Lava Jato corruption scandal meaning that many Brazilians now saw Rousseff
at the centre of a corrupt administration. The president was impeached and
Michel Temer installed as her replacement. Former president Lula was
convicted and imprisoned in 2018 for his apparent role in the corruption.
The political stage was now set for the entrance of the outsider, Jair
Chapter 13 looks at the divisions within the Bolsonaro administration during
its first year and a half in office. Tensions between ideological extreme
right-wing activists and the movement’s socially conservative base, and more
pragmatic conservatives from the private sector and within the armed forces,
were a constant feature of Brazilian politics throughout 2019, and became
even more serious as a result of the pandemic. Bolsonaro underplayed the
seriousness of the disease and opposed local leaders who sought to impose
quarantines in order to diminish its impact. Conservative politicians such
as Joao Doria, the governor of São Paulo, Wilson Witzel, the suspended
governor of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the government’s first
health minister, and Sergio Moro, the justice minister, all supported
Bolsonaro in 2018 but will almost certainly oppose him in 2022. Bolsonaro’s
idiosyncratic approach to the pandemic also brought him and his supporters
into acute conflict with the Supreme Court. In May 2020 these battles
threatened to lead to an institutional crisis.
Chapter 8 focuses on the growing importance of paramilitary militias,
particularly in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Over the past twenty years
these militias have controlled a growing number of poor neighbourhoods, and
for many poorer Cariocas (residents of Rio de Janeiro) they are a cause of
greater concern than the drug traffickers they were set up to combat. Their
links with the police and local politicians make reform a complex challenge.
Rio also highlights a broader national problem: the rise in the number of
killings by police officers and growing support among police officers for
the repressive public security strategies advocated by Bolsonaro. In 2018
more than twice as many police officers were elected to the Brazilian
Congress as in 2014, increasing the political weight of the so-called bullet
lobby in Brazilian politics. At the grass roots, substantial numbers of
military police provide firm support for Bolsonaro, constituting in the
words of one writer the president’s “shock troops”.