Brazil and the United States have at least one thing in common in their recent political histories. Both had popular progressive presidents replaced by fascists: Donald Trump replacing Barack Obama in the U.S. and Jair Bolsonaro replacing Luiz Inácio da Silva (Lula) in Brazil. Both successors proved as incompetent as they are unpredictable, both utterly hopeless at dealing with the current pandemic crisis. Brazil has suffered more deaths from Covid than any other country except the U.S.
Lula was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2011, presiding over a historic period of economic growth and poverty reduction. Now 75 (Biden is 78), he had planned on seeking another term in 2018 and was the odds-on favourite. Unfortunately he was sidelined after being jailed on disputed corruption charges, leaving little opposition for Bolsonaro who went on to a landslide victory.
Bolsonaro, a fan of the Donald, has been deemed the “tropical Trump.” The title is apt. Bolsonaro is racist, misogynistic and homophobic, and rejects the reality of global warming. Like Trump he has an affection for dictators. He refers to Brazil’s former military dictatorship as a “glorious” period. He once said its error was that “it tortured, but did not kill.”
Also like Trump, he has trouble in-house. In only two years in office, he has had ministers of justice and education, a secretary of government, the head of the postal service and other officials resign. He has fired two health ministers.
And now his nemesis Lula has returned to the fray. A supreme court judge has annulled Lula’s convictions and restored his political rights. He will almost certainly challenge Bolsonaro in the upcoming presidential election. “You can be certain the left will be governing Brazil again after 2022,” he declares. “We will vote for someone who is committed to human rights and respects them, who respects environmental protection, who respects the Amazon.”
This is very good news for all of us. Brazil is South America’s biggest country with half the continent’s people and major control over the Amazon basin. We desperately need it onside in dealing with climate change. The renewed hope Biden has brought as president of the U.S. now may have its counterpart in an environmental champion in Brazil. If Bolsonaro is Brazil’s Trump, Lula may be Brazil’s Biden.