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Glenn Greenwald on Bolsonaro: Brazil Has Elected “Most Extremist Leader in the Democratic World”

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Far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro has been elected Brazil’s next president, marking the most radical political shift in the country since military rule ended more than 30 years ago. Bolsonaro, a former Army officer, openly supports torture and dictatorships, has a history of making racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments, and has threatened to destroy, imprison or banish his political opponents. He defeated Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers’ Party with 55 percent of the vote. His ascendance to power is leading many to fear the future of democracy in Brazil is in danger. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept, in Rio de Janeiro. He says that Bolsonaro is “by far the most extremist leader now elected anywhere in the democratic world.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Brazil, where a far-right former Army officer who openly supports dictatorships and torture has been overwhelmingly elected president. Jair Bolsonaro’s election marks the most radical political shift in Brazil since military rule ended more than 30 years ago. He won 55 percent of the vote, easily defeating Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers’ Party.

Bolsonaro campaigned on a promise to end corruption and crack down on crime, but many fear the future of democracy in Brazil is in danger. For decades, Bolsonaro has openly praised the country’s former military dictatorship, once saying the dictatorship should have killed 30,000 more people. He also has a history of making racist, misogynistic, homophobic comments, has spoken in favor of torture, has threatened to destroy, imprison or banish his political opponents. He has also encouraged the police to kill suspected drug dealers, once told a female lawmaker she was too ugly to rape. He also said he would rather hear that his son had died in a car accident than learn that his son is gay. On Sunday night, Jair Bolsonaro claimed he would help liberate Brazil.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated] You are my witness that I will be an advocate for defending the constitution, for democracy, for freedom. This is my promise. It’s not one of a political party. It’s not the word of a man. It’s an oath to God. … We will liberate Brazil and the Foreign Ministry from the ideology of its international relations that it’s subjected Brazil to in recent years. Brazil will no longer be different from the countries of the developed world. We will seek bilateral relations that add to the economic and technological value of Brazilian products. We will restore international respect for our dear Brazil.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of protesters poured into the streets of São Paulo and other cities in Brazil to protest Bolsonaro’s election.

PROTESTER: [translated] I am in mourning, not for me, but for Brazil, which doesn’t deserve this. It doesn’t deserve this ignorance. The Brazilian people are ignorant. Brazil owes a lot to Lula.

AMY GOODMAN: Jair Bolsonaro directly benefited from the jailing of the former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had been leading all presidential polls earlier this year. He has been in jail since April on what many consider trumped-up corruption charges to prevent him from running for president. Bolsonaro will be sworn in January 1st, 2019.

Just moments ago, President Trump tweeted, “Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won his race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else! Excellent call, wished him congrats!”

To discuss the implications of Bolsonaro’s victory, we go to Rio de Janeiro to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, one of the founding editors of The Intercept.

Glenn, welcome back. Your response to Bolsonaro’s victory?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think it’s really important to put it into its proper context. For a long time, the Western media was referring to him as “Brazil’s Trump.” That’s how he was marketing himself. The reality is much different. He’s by far the most extremist leader now elected anywhere in the democratic world. He’s far closer, as we’ve discussed before, to Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, or even General Sisi, the dictator of Egypt. A journalist, Vincent Bevins, based for a long time in Brazil and now in Indonesia, has made the argument that he’s far more extreme than Duterte.

I think that the key thing to understand about Bolsonaro is that he really comes not from this modern “alt-right” movement of the type of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen, but the Cold War far right that carried out enormous atrocities in the name of fighting domestic communism, which is what Bolsonaro believes his primary project to be. He recently vowed to cleanse the country of left-wing opposition, which he sees as a communist front.

And so, the threat and the ideology is far more extreme than anything in the democratic world. But the dynamics as far as why he won are quite similar, in that it was driven not by a sudden far-right ideology conversion on the part of this population in Brazil, but anger and desperation and hopelessness about the failures of the establishment class.

AMY GOODMAN: During an interview with a Brazilian television program back, oh, like almost 20 years ago, Jair Bolsonaro said, “Through the vote you will not change anything in this country, nothing, absolutely nothing! It will only change, unfortunately, when, one day, we start a civil war here and do the work that the military regime did not do. Killing some 30,000, starting with FHC [then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso], not kicking them out, killing! If some innocent people are going to die, fine, in any war innocents die.” Talk about his stances, Glenn Greenwald, on many issues, from LGBTQ issues to women’s rights, etc.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, that’s why I say he’s a real throwback to the kind of far-right movements of, say, the '60s, ’70s and ’80s than he is this more updated, modernized version. So, if you look at far-right leaders throughout the West, you don't really see much of a focus on, say, abortion and LGBT issues. If anything, sometimes the far right in Europe coopts those issues as a way of inciting xenophobia against Muslims, saying Muslims are regressive and want to drag the country back thousands of years in terms of social issues. Whereas Bolsonaro is kind of this much more old-school fascist, where a major part of his campaign was depicting LGBTs as a direct threat to children, saying that the reason LGBTs want to infiltrate public schools is because they want to convert people’s children into being gay so that they can have sex with them—an obviously highly inflammatory claim to make about a marginalized population in a society that’s already pretty conservative on social issues.

But the much graver threat is the fact that he explicitly reveres and wants to replicate the worst elements of the military dictatorship. When he stood up, very recently, in 2016 on the floor of the Congress and voted to impeach Dilma Rousseff, he specifically said he was doing it in honor of the notorious colonel who tortured not only dissidents in general, but Dilma specifically. So this is the kind of regime he wants to reinstate. Whether he’ll be able to do that is a looming question, but that’s definitely his intention.

AMY GOODMAN: Foreign Policy has a headline, “Jair Bolsonaro’s Model Isn’t Berlusconi. It’s Goebbels.” Glenn?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. I mean, that’s what I think the Western media is only now starting to come to grips with, is that he really isn’t even placeable on the standard ideological spectrum that has come to define even this new right movement that has obviously succeeded in the U.S. and the U.K., with Brexit, and is flourishing in many places in Western and Eastern Europe. He’s far more extreme than that.

Whether Nazi comparisons and the like are healthy or productive is something I’d prefer to leave to the side, because that tends, just generally, to obfuscate. I prefer to use Nazi analogies for people who have actually committed genocide. But I think that the threat that he poses to just basic human rights, the right of dissent and the ability to have an ongoing viable democracy can’t be overstated.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Trump applauding him, the significance and the importance of the U.S.-Brazilian relationship, Glenn?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I mean, I think that we all know now how President Trump sees the world, which is in this very simplistic framework where people who say good things about him are people that he likes and people who say bad things about him are people that he hates. And Jair Bolsonaro is somebody who has consciously modeled himself on Donald Trump. His children, when they came to New York, met with Steve Bannon. Trump—Bolsonaro himself has saluted the American flag and talked about how much he loves the United States under Trump. I’m sure he was very effusive in his praise of Trump when he spoke to him, and therefore Trump’s current posture, in his childlike manner, is to view Jair Bolsonaro as somebody that is an ally and a friend and somebody worthy of praise for that reason alone.

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