Morality and Law
The Perfect Brazilian Storm

Brazil is facing a lethal trifecta: an interlocking politico-institutional, economic and sanitary crisis. A liquidity crisis and a currency crisis constantly feed on the political crisis, aggravated by the long running — and itself corrupted — Car Wash corruption investigation, writes Pepe Escobar, Brazilian author and journalist, columnist of the Hong Kong-based Asia Times. 

On June 19, Brazil broke a grim record: one million Covid-19 registered cases — more than fellow BRICS member Russia and India combined. 

That was the graphic result of supremely inefficient public health policies coupled with a hasty exit from partial lockdown — with President Bolsonaro relentlessly sabotaging its own Health Ministry and medical professionals, claiming quarantine would reduce Brazil to the status of a “poor African nation”. 

When Bolsonaro, in April, sacked then popular Health Minister Henrique Mandetta, he said, “life is priceless, but economy and jobs must be back to normal”. Mandetta’s successor, Nelson Teich, would resign less than a month later. 

Real Covid-19 mortality figures in Brazil may in fact be over 85,000, as of late June, and the real infection rate may be 7 times higher than official numbers. In comparison, neighbor Argentina, by the end of June, had roughly 52,000 infections and only 1,150 deaths. 

Brazil is facing a lethal trifecta: an interlocking politico-institutional, economic and sanitary crisis. A liquidity crisis and a currency crisis constantly feed on the political crisis, aggravated by the long running — and itself corrupted — Car Wash corruption investigation. 

Bolsonaro, in theory, keeps an electoral base of roughly 30%, even as in May no less than 19 million of Brazil’s 84.4 million-strong workforce was idle. Brazil used to be globally recognized in its efforts to fight hunger. Now the World Bank estimates that at least 7% of the population will be affected by hunger by the end of 2020. 

Workers’ rights and social rights have been rendered more "flexible, which translates as jobs in constant peril and larger swathes of the population depending on the informal economy. Brasilia’s neoliberal logic is that the nation is going through a fiscal crisis and the market must prevail by all means necessary over social policies. 

The hunger crisis already preceded Covid-19. Brasilia’s incompetence only accelerated it — as the central government is completely unprepared to deal with systemic food insecurity. 

Compounding the misery, Bolsonaro’s Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, suggested that Covid-19 provides the perfect cover for even more savage forms of deregulation. EU investors were not amused: 

“[We] urge the government of Brazil to demonstrate clear commitment to eliminating deforestation and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.” 

And if all that was not already gloomy enough, the Senate voted to privatize Brazil’s waters — subject to Bolsonaro’s certain approval. 

Brazil holds two of the largest aquifers on the planet — Guarani and Alter do Chao. The privatization project came up with the dodgy figure of the “water producing enterprise” — which defines the mode of exploitation of what is essentially a common good. 

Once again, Covid-19 was the pretext for a majority bought and paid for in the Senate to advance a rip-off of natural resources — endorsed by mainstream media — that may even dwarf vast amounts of protected Brazilian rainforest being bought by foreign capital, which then employs legions of miners and loggers for the benefit of international mining, beef, lumber and soy conglomerates. 

Russia and Global Security Risks
COVID-19 in Latin America: A Litmus Test of Leadership
Dmitry Rozental
The lull caused by the pandemic will end sooner or later, and the region will have to face its consequences. The inevitable decline in socio-economic indicators will be a challenge to regimes and socio-political systems, writes Dmitry Rosenthal, Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Latin America.

I love a man in uniform

Politically, Covid-19 has been a bonanza for the military factions of the Brazilian Deep State. Their apex is the Cabinet of Institutional Security (GSI, in its Portuguese acronym), the equivalent of the US National Security Council, staffed by 1,300-plus military. 

As Brazil is a federal republic, states carry plenty of autonomy over public health issues. Governors have unashamedly used Covid-19 to advance their political agendas, profiting from Bolsonaro’s inexistent managerial powers, while the bulk of mainstream media — also part of the Deep State — depicts the President as the sole responsible for the sanitary catastrophe. 

Then there’s the Judiciary branch of the Deep State. The Supreme Court is at war with the President, to a certain extent because most magistrates have been nominated by previous presidents such as Lula. 

Yet what’s actually taking place is an endless fascinating, elaborate kabuki, complete with interlocking Hybrid War and cognitive dissonance techniques, sometimes trackable at the premier military think tank. Every scenario ultimately leads to the military exercizing total power, either in the shade, behind an out of control, but in fact remote-controlled Bolsonaro, or via Plan B: the accession of power of Vice-President Hamilton Mourao, a four-star general, now clearly relishing his role as moderator and pacifier. 

Unlike in Argentina, the Brazilian military dictatorship did not implode in 1985; in a very cozy Brazilian-style “arrangement”, it decided to transfer power to civilians and adopt the posture of a “moderating power”. But not before they had guaranteed full amnesty for themselves. 

For 35 years the military have kept a relatively low profile — even under Lula, which most considered a dangerous communist. Now that’s over. Unlike swathes of governors, judges and mainstream media journalists, the military understand very well how solid is Bolsonaro’s base. 

This is a nation in which half of the population lives with the equivalent of 80 euros a month — less than half the minimum wage. Only 15% are enrolled via a standard job contract, and thus eligible for unemployment insurance. At least 45 million people don’t even have a current account. 

Crucially, over 40 million people fall into the informal economy — barely surviving only because of what they earn on a daily basis, and now in danger because of the anti-pandemic restrictions. Almost 100 million people — which amounts to nearly half of the total population — are in debt. 

As a palliative, Brasilia came up with the “coronavoucher”: a monthly hand out for the equivalent of 100 euros, roughly 60% of the minimum wage. Over 50 million Brazilians benefitted, and that may rise to 80 million. It works through a simple app. That has been essential for Bolsonaro’s popularity to relatively hold among vast swathes of the lumpen proletariat and even across the Northeast — the traditional stronghold of the Workers’ Party. 

Bolsonaro also continues to be supported by yet another crucial Deep State faction: the evangelical masses that keep spreading across the largest Catholic nation on earth. So, to a large extent, the traditional catholic pietas keeps being replaced by a bastardized Protestant ethic — where the economy prevails and tens of thousands of Covid-19 deaths are accepted as a fact of life. 

For all of Bolsonaro’s cartoonish, quasi-fascist outbursts and his colossal incompetence, he remains supported by the powerful Bible, Beef, Bullet lobby as much as when he was elected. Evangelicals, wealthy landowners, Armed Forces and police don’t have the impression their agendas are being compromised. 

Vast sections of working Brazilians are engaged against social distancing — once again privileging the opening of the economy, just as in Trumpist America. Rumors of a coup or a “self-coup” in Brasilia keep fooling the Brazilian Left over and over again. Yet whatever happens, even considering the dire scenario of a Covid-19 second wave, power in Brazil, as it stands, stays immovable. And under full control by the Men in Uniform.
The Trap of the ‘Golden Decade’: Why Popular Riots Came as a Surprise to Latin American Elites
Dmitry Razumovsky
Bolivian society, which has achieved “a cleaner democracy”, is now on the verge of a sharp civil confrontation, which would have been relatively unthinkable during 14 years of relative stability. The confrontation between supporters and opponents of the previous or current interim government has led to the risk of a full-fledged interethnic, interracial conflict, which could have unpredictable destructive consequences.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.