Brazil at Crossroads: Fate of the Country to Be Decided on October 7
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

Brazil began to prepare for the presidential elections, to be held on October 7, back in August 2016, when the then President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer. Now there is a struggle between extreme right and left forces, the outcome of which may have fundamental consequences for Brazil’s political life. On October 4, 2018, the Valdai Club experts discussed what led to a situation when “everything is at stake”, as well as the current balance of forces and prospects for Brazilian foreign policy, including its relations with Russia.

The starting point of the current political situation in Brazil was the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016, which marked the departure of the center-left Workers’ Party from power. For 13 years of the party’s rule, large-scale reforms were carried out, and the country in fact became a platform for a unique social experiment. Lyudmila Okuneva, Director of the BRICS Center, Professor at the Department of History and Politics of Europe and America at the MGIMO University, said that on the one hand the well-being of citizens was improved, and on the other, Brazil walked along the “ascent” path and quickly turned from a regional center of power into an active global player. The global economic crisis in Brazil coincided with a crisis of public administration, as well as financial, moral and psychological stress.

Against this background, right-wing conservative forces entered the political arena, and its domestic political course turned 180 degrees – social projects were blocked, production was nationalized, and the population began to grow poorer. At the same time, political instability persisted: two criminal cases were initiated against the incumbent President Michel Temer (they were frozen thanks to his efforts). In 2017, former President Lula da Silva, who still has a significant political rating, was sentenced first to 9, later to 12 years in prison. The main trend in the country’s political life is uncertainty, crisis of systemic nature and apathy of voters.

In the current election campaign, according to Okuneva, two radically opposing forces met each other in struggle – the ultra-right populist Jair Bolsonaro and left-wing former mayor of São Paulo Fernando Haddad, “protégé” of Lula da Silva. The former became famous during the impeachment of Rouseff, and later repeatedly made radical statements of racist and militaristic nature. In particular, Jair Bolsonaro spoke in support of military dictatorship. At the moment, his rating is 31%, while the rating of the left candidate is only 21%. As the expert said, in the country “two radicalisms are fighting against each other, the question is who will win. The most unprincipled political technologies can be used.”

Alexander Schetinin, director of the Latin American Department of the Foreign Ministry of Russia, outlined Russia’s position regarding the elections in Brazil. He said that it would remain the same regardless of their results. The history of relations between the two countries dates back two centuries: October 3 marked the 190th anniversary of the day Emperor Nicholas I established diplomatic relations with Brazil, appointing the Russian ambassador and thereby initiating political, commercial and cultural cooperation. These relations have endured many highs and lows, since political upheavals occurred in both countries – and they will withstand them today, in the “era of changes”. “We are interested in a strong and independent Brazil, playing a constructive role on the international arena,” Alexander Schetinin said. “Brazil will always remain a great country, and great countries have political constants. We assume that they exist in Brazil. Of course, the political platform of the elected candidate will determine the so-called stylistic nuances, but it has national interests that will move it forward. ”

Therefore, relations between Russia and Brazil do not and should not depend on the course of the government. Brazil is Russia’s partner in BRICS, the UN Security Council, Brazilians head a number of global governance institutions – the WTO and FAO, but this is not the most important thing. Mutual understanding between the two countries, according to the expert, is based on a common political philosophy, which presumes respect for national sovereignty, primacy of international law, and strengthening of security and stability. It is in the interests of Russia that the region remain strong, economically and politically stable.

Alexander Schetinin stressed the that situation in Brazil should not be reduced to certain perception stereotypes: it is wrong to define it as “chaos”. Instead of considering the current struggle as a confrontation between the left and the right, one should pay attention to the systemic/non-systemic indicators of the political forces involved. Jair Bolsonaro is gaining votes not only because of his “populism”, but also because he is supported by influential financial and economic elites. The diplomat also recalled that Brazil is a country with developed federalism, and therefore the elites are often chosen based on the interests of local groups. One way or another, it is difficult to predict anything in the current uncertain situation, and the only thing is to wait for the election results.