In defense of democracy in Brazil

Par Fernando Henrique Cardoso

It is time to speak up. We cannot remain silent. Democracy is at risk in Brazil. It is time to stand up for freedom. President Bolsonaro is relentlessly pursuing an antidemocratic agenda. While we still have freedom of action it is time to leave aside our political and ideological differences of the past and join forces in the defense of democracy.  

We are living through a ‘perfect storm’ in Brazil. The coronavirus pandemic is spiraling out of control and the President has dismissed two ministers of Health who wanted to follow the advice of the medical community to keep people at home and save lives. A tremendous social and economic crisis looms at the horizon exposing the appalling inequalities in our society. The global economy is also in tatters.

Frightened by the perfect storm, the leaders of a handful of countries cling to myths. In primitive societies nobody dared to challenge the prevailing myths. Today those who not only believe in myths but pretend to incarnate them, as in Brazil, pose as saviors of the nation. Actually their arrogance betrays the fear that their force may evaporate under the weight of a reality they cannot understand.

They look for enemies and traitors instead of dialogue and convergence to face the storm with minimal damage to the ship, to the crew and to all passengers on board, especially those at the lower decks.

Those in power often do not grasp the signs coming from other sectors of society. Since the politics of hate prevailed in Brazilian political life, the struggle between “us” and “them”, the opponent became an enemy. Enemies are to be destroyed, until and unless they are brought to their knees, surrender and abjure their “subversive” ideas that corrode “law and order”.

In today’s Brazil, this “us” against “them” is a criminal act. The victim is the stability of democracy, this civilizational achievement that enables us to solve our political conflicts in a peaceful way. Whoever promotes or acquiesces in silence to these authoritarian voices is not a conservative. He or she is an accomplice of this civilizational regression.

Some of them are instigators of violence, fanaticism and ignorance. They are the real “subversives”, not those who raise their voice to safeguard democracy: the common heritage of all Brazilians, men and women, civilians and military, conservative, liberal and progressive.

We live in troubling and uncertain times. It is our responsibility to call for rationality, common sense, solidarity and national unity, acknowledging that there are no magical solutions, but it is up to the country to look for them arm in arm.

Brazil has vulnerabilities, starting with its huge urban agglomerations where millions have no formal jobs and live in precarious housings. Not to speak of the many who lost their sources of revenue with the pandemics. The country has severe fiscal limitations that must be loosened in a moment of social and economic emergency.

But Brazil also has valuable assets: its universal Public Health Service, top rated scientific research institutions, universities, epidemiologists, military devoted to public service, a vibrant civil society, state governors and city mayors who pitched in to face the health challenge, not to speak of a fearless media and public institutions determined to preserve the common good.

What is lacking so far are persons who, instead of hate and resentment, can restore our trust in ourselves. Trust requires wisdom, sobriety, composure, capacity to convince by ideas and example not by force or threat.

The moment is fraught with risks. President Bolsonaro pursues an agenda which is not democratic. It is up to us, democrats, to stand up and oppose the threat to civic freedoms and human rights.

We must all be together, act together in the defense of democracy. We are all in the same boat and this boat may sink. To avoid such a disaster we need to affirm our conviction and hope in a better future for Brazil inspired by the values of political freedom and social inclusion. The military evidently must also be included in this dialogue about our common future.

Ours must always be a bias for hope. What is at stake is our survival as a Nation. The responsibility to safeguard democracy and invent the future is ours. Here and now.

2 Replies to “In defense of democracy in Brazil”

  1. Gerry Rodgers dit : Répondre

    The sentiments expressed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso are admirable, and we must hope that the message is widely received. The situation in Brazil is critical. Nevertheless, we should not neglect the share of responsibility of FHC himself in this situation. The threat to democracy in Brazil started not with Bolsonaro, but with the illegitimate impeachment of President Dilma Roussef in 2016, in which FHC’s own political party played an important role, with his support. The Centre-Right parties hoped to recover power through the destitution of Dilma, but they lost control of the political process, leading to an election which ex-President Lula would no doubt have won, but from which he was undemocratically excluded. The result was Bolsonaro. FHC’s message in favour of democracy would have been infinitely stronger if it had been endorsed by all living former presidents. But the message reflects not only universal values, but also a political perspective.

  2. Dario CIPRUT dit : Répondre

    Merci à Gerry Rodgers de mettre ainsi le point sur les i. Je ne suis que de très loin la politique brésilienne mais assez pour applaudir à ce nécessaire contrepoint. Ne pas reconnaître ses responsabilités dans la débâcle des démocraties est un trait commun à la droite libérale et à l’extrême-droite populiste. Et FHC en a pris plus que sa part en effet.

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