All over the world people have been speaking out against the ongoing massacre of Palestinians by Israeli State forces, militias and anti-Islamic groups.
Joining on social media and in the streets, a collective voice shouting #freepalestine, #Blacklivesmatter, and #soscolombia represent a powerful movement the same week of the unlawful police raids in poor, Black neighborhoods in Rio which resulted in 24 people being killed by Brazilian police.
Over the past three years, Brazilian police have killed over 2000 children and adolescents.
Where is Brazil within this global conversation?
Placing this nation in the public discourse would only strengthen the global solidarity for people’s struggles against the state, and perhaps one day bring an end to arguably the longest apartheid state in modern history.
Let’s review some of the reasons Brazil belongs in this conversation.
On any given Sunday in 2019, while my son and I are taking our weekly beach walk, our scene would be blitzed by a caravan of honking cars brandishing green, yellow, and blue flags.
These carreatas (motorcades) are a popular form of public protest by right-wing political supporters against the Left. The flags represent the nationalist agenda which defined the presidential campaign of Jair Bolsonaro. He was elected under the slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” This of course also reflects why he became the default candidate for the large Evangelical constituency (which includes many non-white Brazilians).
The video below is from a Northeastern state in Brazil called Ceará. It’s a conservative stronghold in this mostly Black region of the country. The well-produced video shows a caravan of Bolsonaro supporters showing their love before the election.
While most of the people in the video may register ethnically as ‘Latino’ to most Americans, in Brazil and the rest of Latin America, they represent the white elite class. The finger-gun hand sign that they flash is Bolsonaro’s go to pose in photos. He campaigned on fighting for the rights of his supporters to be heavily armed and join the federal police in the fight against street crime.
The cars are very symbolic. They represent a class hierarchy, reinforcing a power separation between the haves (who the State is dedicated to protecting) from the have nots who are lower-class and need to be policed at all times. Also the parade of shiny, often new vehicles (largely midsize luxury styles purchased through a Kafkaesque Brazilian credit system) serves as propaganda pushing the idea that a future under an extreme right-wing government will be prosperous.
My toddler is unsurprisingly entertained by the spectacle of horns and yellow wrapped bodies hanging out the window screaming.
But I recognize a MAGA rally when I see one.
I also know that this new regime represents more than the successful coup supplanting the nation’s first true democratic government and bringing an end to the years progressive movement of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rouseff. This raucous convoy was heralding a regressive domestic agenda that would infect the society, weakening and leaving it unable to bear the weight of a looming pandemic. And in the wake, would lie the remains of hundreds of thousands of Black and brown citizens.
I stood in front of my son as he peeked around my leg at the crowd. I recognized these faces. Sprinkled in the quilt of Brazilian flags were several American flags and Trump trucker hats. An uncanny but unsurprising spectacle.
Immediately following Bolsonaro’s election in 2019, the Brazilian president met with Donald Trump, resulting in a joint statement outlining the reverie of their collective political grifts.
Representing two of the five largest nations in the world, they pledged to make travel between countries a breeze, usher Brazil into NATO, increase mutual agricultural imports and many other ambitions. One explicit goal in the introduction section of the press release reads,
“The two Presidents agreed to deepen their partnership through the United States-Brazil Security Forum to combat terrorism, narcotics and arms trafficking, cybercrimes, and money laundering, and they welcomed two new arrangements to enhance border security.”
In the minds of these two dubious heads of state, this policy language was coded language in support of their foreboding conservative-populist campaigns. Among his many horrendous quotables, the former army captain-turn-President has stated:
- (regarding anti racism legislation) “My color is Brazil.”
- (When asked about police violence) “A cop who doesn’t kill isn’t a cop,”
This sounds very familiar.
In 1950, UNESCO sponsored the first large-scale research project which analyzed Brazil’s race relations and ultimately debunked the racial democracy. After Black movements surged forward with demands for true justice and democracy for all citizens. Simultaneously, the Brazilian government employed many tactics including the use of the military to double down by establishing “racial democracy” as official national canon and punishing any critiques of this dangerous myth. During the first years of the U.S.-backed dictatorship (1964–1985), Brazil even omitted the Race category from the national census of 1970. This was not the first time this had been done in the history of this nation which was the last to abolish slavery in 1888.
Today, tourism branding and censorship alone cannot stop the call for social justice in Brazil, so state violence is upgraded. The militarization of police and the criminalization of citizens is a global agenda distinctly shared between Brazil, the United States, and Israel. Brazil is the fifth larger buyer of “special operations” training and weapons (including tanks, helicopters, and drones) from Israel.
One reason why Afro-Brazilians are so supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement is because of incremental progress resulting from the different resistance strategies aligned under one definitive philosophy condemning racism. Brazil’s Black Coalition for Rights, was started in 2019 after the Covid-19 death toll reached 100,000 (mostly Black and poor) with a manifesto demanding:
“the eradication of racism as a genocidal practice against the black population.” The coalition consists of “different voices from the organized black movement such as black women; favela residents; people from urban peripheries; LGBTQIA +; Catholics; evangelicals; those who follow religions of African origin; quilombolas (descendants of enslaved Africans who remain on their ancestral lands); people from the countryside, water, and forest; and workers who are exploited, informal, and unemployed, all in coalition to form a pact against the practical consequences of structural racism in Brazil.” (via rioonwatch.org).
In the year that followed, Brazil surpassed the United States becoming the global epicenter for Covid-19 deaths. In the Amazonian city of Manaus, its healthcare system completely collapsed resulting in an average of 185 burials in the town’s mass graves.
President Bosolnaro’s response was to tell Brazilians to stop whining about covid.
Next week, we will hear directly from Black people on what are the barriers that keep Afro Brazil underrepresented in global unified struggles.