There was much rejoicing in the streets of cities, towns and villages all over Brazil on Sunday 31 October 2022 when it was announced that Brazil’s right-wing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, had been defeated in the country’s presidential election by his popular leftist opponent Luis Inacio da Silva, universally known as Lula.
Lula’s popularity is based on the fact that when he was president of Brazil for two terms between 2003 and 2010, he was able to secure a substantial transfer of the wealth arising from the sale of Brazilian commodities (at a time of relatively high commodity prices on the world market) in favour of the Brazilian masses.
“During 13 years of PT [Workers Party] government, 30 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty. By 2015 real wages were 78 percent higher than the accumulated inflation since 2002. Over 90 percent of beneficiaries of the poverty-eradication Bolsa Familia programme were women – 68 percent of those being Black women – and unemployment fell to less than six percent, the lowest level in history.
“Two hundred and fourteen technical schools and 18 state universities were created with free education at all levels made available to millions of students, many of whom were given scholarships (51 percent of those were women). Ten and a half million low-income people were placed in 2.6 million houses through the housing programme, and basic healthcare reached 70 percent of the population – another historic record.” (The stakes in Brazil’s election couldn’t be higher by Francisco Domínguez, Tribune, 25 August 2022)
Lula’s election was welcomed throughout Latin America, where in recent years country after country has been turning back left in their elections. Six of the region’s seven largest countries have elected leftist leaders in a tide of backlash against the right-wing populists beloved of Washington:
“Sunday’s result additionally marks another defeat for a member of the so-called Lima group, an ad-hoc group of regional leaders that supported Washington’s efforts to oust Nicolás Maduro from power. Nearly all of the politicians involved with the Lima group have been ousted by voters or seen their political parties replaced by leftist or progressive leaders who have sought to cooperate with the Venezuelan government.” (Venezuela’s Maduro celebrates Lula victory in Brazil election by Jose Luis Granados Ceja, Venezuelanalysis, 31 October 2022)
Lula’s victory also comes as a great relief to environmentalists, as Lula is very committed to trying to limit the pace of destruction of the Amazonian rainforest that is causing severe damage to our planet:
“His election … will likely be good news for the health of the Amazon rainforest, which is vital to the fight against climate change. Mr Bolsonaro championed industries that extract the forest’s resources while slashing funds and staffing for the agencies tasked with protecting it. As a result, deforestation soared during his administration.” (Brazil elects Lula, a leftist former leader, in a rebuke to Bolsonaro, New York Times, 30 October 2022)
In fact, during the first half of 2022, 1,500 square miles of deforestation took place, close to twice as much as in the same period of 2018 before Bolsonaro’s election.
However, things will not be easy for the new president, who takes office on 1 January. There is a fear that Bolsonaro may try to orchestrate a coup. In addition, Bolsonaro’s right-wing party still controls congress, which he will certainly take advantage of in order to try to frustrate attempts to promote progressive legislation and, incidentally, his own impeachment for the many crimes of which he is accused during the term of his presidency.
What is most urgent is the fact that after four years of the Bolsonaro government, 32 million Brazilians are going hungry. Clearly, the new president will have to address this problem, but will the Brazilian establishment allow him to do so?
Will the international establishment allow him to do so, as interest rates rise, eating into the government’s budget, or will austerity be demanded as the price of refinancing to enable welfare programmes to recommence?
Although Lula has vowed to raise the finance he needs by taxing the rich, this may not be easy. The world market for the commodities Brazil produces is suffering from a world recession, so national income from exports is likely to be even more badly affected than it has been in the recent past.
All this remains to be seen.