This year Brazil has faced changes in their presidential system which has put the country at risk of a democratic backslide. The 2018 election led to a vote to Jair Bolsonaro. The right wing president has been known to be oppressive towards minority groups and in the past exposed himself to being a racist, homophobic, and sexist. Minority groups such as Political refugees from Haiti and Syria, try to find a sense of security in Brazil, but Bolsonaro made it clear that they are the least of his worries and referred to them as “scums of the world.” His ignorant attitude towards these minority issues have not stopped Bolsonaro being viewed as authoritarian. In the book How Democracies Die, Levitsky mentions four main indicators of authoritarian behavior. Bolsonaro can easily be fit into each of these indicators, making him a true authoritarian.
Levitsky’s first indicator of an authoritarian leader is the “Rejection of Democratic Rules of the game.” This can be described as the banning of certain organizations, restricting civil and political rights, violating the constitution and using violent insurrections. With his dangerous, nationalist, mindset it is clear that Jair Bolsonaro is not suited to be a satisfying leader and the majority left believe that he is known to be closely authoritarian in regards to formly admiring Brazil’s dictatorship in 1964 to 1985. His recent plans for land management in the indigenous areas are aggressive and primarily related towards his fascination of the past dictatorship. Bolsonaro wants to integrate indigenous people into the dominant culture so mining can take place on their lands. The indigenous population is not supportive of this decision and want to continue keeping the land in its natural state. Though in the constitution it clearly states that indigenous people have the right to use the land for their needs, and mining can take place with approval of the indigenous communities. Bolsonaro has clearly showed his ignorance towards the constitution and the native people of Brazil.
The term “Trumpification” has recently been used to describe Jair Bolsonaro’s political actions towards Latin America. This leads to Levitsky’s second indicator, “Denial of the Legitimacy of the Political Opponents.” Bolsonaro has been in favor of President Trump’s policies especially relating towards immigration restrictions and other far right decision making. Such actions of “Trumpification” are documented as he once threatened to take Brazil out of the Paris Climate Accord in order to leave the Amazon open for future development. His frequent meetings with President Trump shows his admiration for the authoritarian mindset and working aside an enemy alliance.
A military government has been another drive for Bolsonaro’s plan to “Make Brazil Great Again,” by militarizing the law enforcement. The third indicator presented by Levitsky, “Where Toleration or Encouragement is Present.” Praising political violence has been evident in this presidency through a desired creation of a militarized government. A clear mission he has set forth is to create laws that allow the carrying of guns, and to back to a dictatorship that will help Brazil’s security in the areas of violent illegal drug trafficking. With the amount of violence occurring in cities, there has yet to be an occurrence of violence on ground near Bolsonaro. An increase of protests and rallies in streets, and even an instance of Bolsonaro being stabbed by an outraged citizen, which is considered a non-institutional, violent, ocurrance. His issue towards the loosening of gun laws can exemplify a huge detriment to the nation and could cause more violence towards individuals. Instead of creating safer regulation in drug trafficking and the intentions of creating a military government, citizen lives are put at risk to attain a political order.
Levitsky’s last indicator of an authoritarian leader is “Readiness to Curtail Civil Liberties of Opponents Including Media.” Bolsonaro relates to this through his fascination with Brazil’s former dictatorship in 1964 which can be regarded as a praised repressive measure of past government. Today it is obvious that with the rise of Bolsonaro there is a lack of sovereignty within the population with his idea of creating a smaller state of Brazil through the ways of lowering taxes, making it harder to own natural resources by limiting foreign ownership. It is important to be informed of this regime, because Brazil could be on edge of a democratic backslide.
Backsliding is a deterioration of qualities associated in a democratic governance within any regime. It can be the change of electoral procedures, civil and political liberties and accountability (Lust, 2015, pg. 2). The negative effects of these attributes in a democracy can be seen throughout Brazil today. As discussed, Jair Bolsonaro is a dominating leader in creating a military government and disregarding the liberties of citizens. His unwelcoming demeanor towards refugees fleeing to Brazil is another check of civil liberties. We can infer that Jair Bolsonaro’s authoritarian leadership is relevant towards the signs of democratic backsliding. With all that I have read of Bolsonaro, I clearly can interpret his stance as an authoritarian leader. As a world we need to understand the identifications of how a democracy can fail so we can prevent backsliding when we elect future political leaders. Bolsonaro’s political role creates a major stagnation towards the once democratic practice of governing. We have seen many unsatisfied views of the public, and the rule of law has been disposed through his misogynistic rhetoric.
“*Photo by CNN, “Jair Bolsonaro Fast Facts.”