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Bolsonaro’s dirty tricks

Brazil on the brink of 1984?


An avalanche of millions of anti-PT messages, most of them slanderous lies or fake news, has inundated the screens of Brazilian WhatsApp users in favour of Jair Bolsonaro’s election campaign, sent by companies paid for the service. The accusation was made by leading newspaper Folha De S.Paulo, but at first ignored by TV Globo, which preferred to play down the biggest scandal of the campaign, which could have determined the result of the first round. Polls showed a last minute surge in votes for Bolsonaro and pro-Bolsonaro candidates around the country. The newspaper said pro-Bolsonaro businessmen had paid millions of dollars to companies which used foreign telephone numbers to avoid filters, and sent the anti-Haddad messages, using lists of WhatsApp users often obtained illegally.

The Election Tribunal washes its hands

Under election legislation this counts as a crime, because companies are banned from donating to the campaigns.  The PT asked the TSE, the Superior Election Tribunal, to suspend Bolsonaro’s candidacy as a result of his widespread campaign of defamation which presents Fernando Haddad as a perverted monster, recommending the distribution of penis-shaped baby bottles to crèches and ‘gay kits’ teaching homosexuality to schools. Haddad said 156 businessmen were involved in the campaign of fake news, and asked for a police investigation. The TSE ordered an investigation, but refused to suspend the candidacy of Bolsonaro, who denied any knowledge of the campaign designed to help him win the presidency. Hundreds of jurists and lawyers, including former ministers, presented a petition asking the Electoral Court to take a stand against Bolsonaro’s massive use of fake news, in view of the TSE’s apparent reluctance to condemn the right-wing candidate. Having begun the year confidently announcing an ambitious operation to prevent fake news, the tribunal seems instead to have given up even trying to stop Bolsonaro’s deliberate manipulation of communications, or, after it was denounced, doing anything serious to punish the candidate. Instead, it has ordered an investigation of both candidates.

International consternation

Meanwhile Brazil’s election is being closely watched around the world. Declarations of support for Haddad and rejection of Bolsonaro’s neofascism are coming from all sides. Over 200 European intellectuals, politicians and academics, including economist Thomas Piketty, signed a manifesto repudiating Bolsonaro, saying ‘the victory of the radical extreme right-wing in Brazil runs the risk of strengthening the international movement which has put reactionary and anti-democratic  politicians in power in many countries in the last few years.’
Thomas Piketty’s tweet about the Brazilian elections.
One hundred academics from Oxford, Harvard and other leading universities called on ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso to live up to his reputation and come out in support of Haddad, against Bolsonaro. So far FHC has refused to do so. Bolsonaro is not without his own international supporters. The ex-leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the USA, David Duke, said on a radio programme, ‘He sounds like one of us’.

Counting blessings

In Brazil, both candidates have been chasing support from churches. Pro-Bolsonaro evangelical leaders signed a document saying that “ a left-wing government would limit the right to belief and religious freedom”. It was reminiscent of the slanderous 1989 anti-Lula campaign which accused the PT of planning to close down evangelical churches. But Haddad was warmly welcomed by some of the older protestant churches and by the CNBB in Brasilia. Bolsonaro countered by visiting Rio archbishop Dom Orani Tempesta, but on the same day released a video in which he accused the CNBB and CIMI of being the ‘rotten part’ of the Catholic church, ignoring the fact that Dom Tempesta, like all other bishops, is a member of the CNBB.
Dom Mauro Morelli, emeritus Bishop of Duque de Caxias, condemned Bolsonaro’s attack on the Catholic church, saying ‘from his mouth spout stupidities and insults, revealing a man who is unbalanced and vulgar. If he is elected he will be defenestrated very soon.’
Video: Channel Noticias Sobre Tudo The extreme right-wing candidate, while insulting Catholic bishops, has become very close to the self-styled ‘bishop’ Edir Macedo, who is also head of TV Record, which he has placed at the service of Bolsonaro.
A live broadcast of a service led by Edir Macedo in front of a devout congregation. Video distributed live on ‘Canal do Bispo Edir Macedo’ a dedicated YouTube channel. For columnist Alex Solnik, ’one of the great contradictions of this election is that the candidate whose slogan is Brazil First and “God Above All” defends torture.’ Fernando Haddad accuses Edir Macedo’s Universal Church of the Kingdom of God of wanting to ‘govern the country’, citing his book Plan for Power.  Haddad also called Macedo ‘a fundamentalist charlatan who is greedy for money’.

BBB speaking

If elected, Bolsonaro’s communications strategist Arick Wierson says government advertising on TV would be cut. This will hit TV Globo most of all, benefitting TV Record, its main rival. Instead of using TV, the Bolsonaro strategy will be to reach the ears and eyes of the population directly, by distributing cheap or free mobile phones to those who cannot afford them, and then communicating directly with the population via social media. 1984 will have arrived in Brazil and Big Brother Bolsonaro will be talking directly to you, normalizing lies and employing a discourse that is pro-torture, pro-dictatorship, homophobic, racist and sexist. That is the future that faces Brazil if he wins.

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Jan Rocha's Blog

Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.

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