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Politics, paradoxes and self-fulfilling prophesies

For many months now President Mauricio Macri has been playing with fire – restricting the electoral alternatives to the populism incarnated by his predecessor Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in order to ensure that continuity is at the very least the lesser evil, while running the calculated risk of spooking the markets (supposedly covered by the insurance policy of the biggest International Monetary Fund loan in history). This strategy somehow managed to survive all last year’s crises, but in the anniversary week of that first run on the currency its basic premises now risk collapsing all along the line, thus making the current turbulence potentially more dangerous. Throwing money at the problem becomes akin to using water against an oil fire – it should not be forgotten that the 2018 crisis began exactly a year ago last Wednesday, when then-Central Bank governor Federico Sturzenegger deployed over US$1.4 billion to defend the 20-peso mark. The massive IMF package seemed to stop the rot (just like the blindaje mega-swap of some US$40 billion in early 2001) but this becomes relative when these huge sums only serve to magnify a relatively tiny market out of all proportion, feeding fuel to the flames. Ditto for absurdly high interest rates topping 70 percent to defend the currency – in the long term these serve to liberate an economy from dependence on the dollar (at least based on the precedent of Brazil) but in the short they swell both ends of stagflation by feeding obscene financial bicycles while strangling a credit already at rock-bottom levels (18 percent of the economy as against a regional average of 45 percent). Meanwhile, we have the supreme paradox of a market-friendly government being torpedoed by the markets with international financial dailies muttering about the “brink of default.” The official explanation of this paradox is fear of a populist comeback – a fear which is fast becoming both a vicious circle and a self-fulfilling prophesy because the more these market panics at the prospect of a Fernández de Kirchner victory derail the economy, the likelier that triumph becomes. Macri could thus be forgiven were he to conclude bitterly about the markets: With friends like that, who needs enemies? And yet the government badly needs to introduce some self-criticism into its approach alongside self-pity. The market reaction is not as counterproductively irrational as it might seem. There is not only a “Cristina factor” but also a “Macri factor” – whatever the dangers of populism, Macri’s economic record in three of his four years has not been so dazzling as to inspire much confidence.

How Politics Is Affecting Musicians From Brazil And Venezuela

Two South American countries have been in the news a lot lately. For musicians in both those countries, the news is affecting their work. Luna has been very outspoken in her music about the political unrest in her country. "I know that is not my afraid, it's they are afraid of me — of my power, of our power." As Contreras notes, Luna joins a long legacy of Brazilian musicians speaking truth to power. "During the military dictatorship there in the 1960s, there was an entire genre of music that developed around these musicians," Contreras says. Contreras describes Luna, like other artists in this lineage, having "almost a sacred responsibility" to speak up for her people who are subjected to racism, classicism and unfair treatment of any kind. While Venezuelan vocalist Lolita Del Sol made it to the festival this year, Contreras spoke with Alicia Zertuche, SXSW senior programmer and visa supervisor, who recalled a heartbreaking exchange with Venezuela's Desorden Público who couldn't make it this year. It's not because we can't leave the country, we are afraid to leave our families behind.'" Contreras says that whether they could make it to SXSW this year or not, the music of these acts will serve as a timestamp of the political climate and a symbol of perseverance.
Right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro becomes president of Brazil

Right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro becomes president of Brazil

Inauguration ceremony for Brazil's new leader, former army captain Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro came to popularity on a far-right nationalist platform and has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump for his populist, bombastic style. In attendance is US Secretary of State Mike…

LEVY: Predatory Politics Plague Brazil

In the jungle, the jaguar reigns supreme. On Oct. 28, Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Until the end of August, Bolsonaro trailed a man campaigning from a prison cell — former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In September, Bolsonaro was stabbed in the stomach by a man who claimed to be on “a mission from God” to bring Bolsonaro’s candidacy to an end. Far-right proclivities aside, Brazilians should worry about Bolsonaro’s dictatorial tendencies. As the campaign reached its closing chapters, Bolsonaro, in “Trumpian” fashion, suggested his political rivals would end up in jail or in exile. It would be a shame if they ended up in his jaws. Bolsonaro has suggested packing the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court with 10 new judges who would serve his political whims. Brazil’s democracy may be relatively young, but its political culture has become as rough-and-tumble as any. If those institutions are the casualties of Bolsonaro’s rule, Brazil will be worse off.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Has Supercharged Right-Wing Cultural Politics

Global proud boys are dancing. The crackdown on universities began even before his final victory. There’s a lot to grapple with in Bolsonaro’s win, not least the way it reflects the successful importation of US-style right-wing cultural politics into Latin America, represented by what in this country are often called wedge issues, including abortion, sexual rights, guns, gender equality, prayer in school, and so-called “religious freedom.” Two years ago, when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, there was a lot of talk about how he represented the Latin Americanization of US politics, a kind of populist style associated with Third World dictators. “He’s the most popular politician on earth.” Less than a decade later, Obama is gone, Trump is president of the United States, and Lula is in jail, on a flimsy corruption conviction. The state began to repress social movements. As commodity prices tumbled, and some of the most corrupt politicians on the planet shamelessly launched an anti-corruption campaign to destroy the PT and prevent Lula from running for president, a deep disaffection set into national politics: Brazilians are obligated by law to vote, but Sunday’s election saw absenteeism running at 30 percent. At first, polls showed that up to 80 percent of the population supported the ban. But after the National Rifle Association began pouring money into the campaign, paying for ads urging Brazilians to vote no—to defend their right to bear arms, even though Brazil’s Constitution contains no such right—the referendum lost, with more than 60 percent voting no. Meanwhile, many of Bolsonaro’s supporters showed up to vote carrying assault weapons, defending what they imagined was their universal right to bear arms. So we might rephrase Thomas Frank’s perennial question: What’s the matter with São Paulo?

Bolsonaro’s politics of nationalist redemption

Capping off an electoral campaign marked by passionate anti-establishment sentiment, the jailing of a former president and rising political violence, Brazil took a collective leap of faith and elected right-wing nationalist strongman Jair Bolsonaro to a four-year term. The big picture: Throwing out the conciliatory political playbook that winning presidential candidates have used since the country’s 1985 transition from military rule, Bolsonaro won for a simple reason: He credibly promised to turn Brazilian politics upside down. Under a banner of radical right-wing reform that raised investors’ expectations, Bolsonaro’s insurgent candidacy became a social phenomenon. The 63-year-old former Army captain and longtime Congressman exploited popular social media platforms with fake news, thrived on misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric, promised a purge of the left and embodied a no-holds-barred approach to the country’s spiraling criminal violence. Though his Social Liberal party performed better than expected, winning 52 seats in the 513-member lower house of Congress, Bolsonaro will need a larger coalition to pass legislation. While Bolsonaro himself has equivocated about his position on old government pension programs, his market-friendly economics advisor has promised comprehensive pension reform. It remains to be seen where exactly the requisite votes will come from. Meanwhile, a proposal to privatize state electricity and energy companies has reportedly been shelved. Public security is the campaign issue on which Bolsonaro may feel he most needs to deliver immediate action. Why it matters: Brazil’s hard turn to the right opens the door to the military’s return to power as Bolsonaro sets the country on a new course for trade and foreign policy.

America’s demoralizing caravan politics

The caravan itself — the way it's being portrayed in the media and manipulated by the president and his party, and the response to all of it on the part of the Democrats — encapsulates everything that's going wrong with politics in 2018. Let's take a look at three of the guilty parties here. The charlatan-demagogue in the White House Roughly 7,000 people (most of them Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence in their home country) are walking north through Mexico toward the southern American border over 1,000 miles away. This, says President Trump, constitutes a national emergency. Never mind that the caravan adds up to just 0.7 percent of the roughly 1 million people who will immigrate to the United States this year — or that there is zero evidence for Trump's race-baiting claims that "unknown Middle Easterners" are "mixed in" with the caravan. But treating a modestly sized group of people seeking to make a better life for themselves in the United States as some kind of existential threat to the country is both morally outrageous and an expression of world-historical cowardice on the part of the president. But it's a form of cowardice tailor made to appeal to timorous Trump supporters, and they appear to be responding appreciatively to the message. If those who favor a liberal immigration policy hope to prevail, they need to combine that position with an acceptance of the legitimacy of sovereignty and borders — with Americans consciously choosing to accept a high number of immigrants. But there's another reason as well. Put it all together, and we're left with a perfect storm of ugliness, civic breakdown, and dysfunction — with maximalist demagogues encouraging and empowering one another on either extreme, and no one standing up for a more sustainable and broad-based consensus on which a fair-minded and reasonable policy on the migrant caravan might be constructed.

Brazil’s Military Strides Into Politics, by the Ballot or by Force

Image RIO DE JANEIRO — Members of Brazil’s armed forces, who have largely stayed out of political life since the end of the military dictatorship 30 years ago, are making their biggest incursion into politics in decades, with some even warning of a military intervention. The growing appeal of Brazil’s armed forces in politics comes amid a rightward shift in South America and rising authoritarianism in democratic nations including Poland, Hungary, the Philippines and Turkey. Mr. Bolsonaro, the first former military officer to mount a viable bid for the presidency since democracy was restored, recently said he would appoint generals to lead ministries, “not because they are generals, but because they are competent.” The campaigns seize on broad frustrations across Brazil. “This is a cry of desperation against all of this corruption,” said Luciano Zucco, a 44-year-old lieutenant colonel who took a leave of absence from the army this month to run for a state legislature seat. “There are many people trying to create the conditions for that, but for my part, I don’t believe it.” Maurício Santoro, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University, said that while no one in Brazil was calling for a lasting dictatorship, many Brazilians, particularly those who did not live through military rule, found the idea of a short intervention appealing. “You have many people in Brazil who like the idea of the military throwing out the current political class and in six months calling for a new election.” The debate over such an intervention has grown as active duty and retired high-ranking generals have weighed in on political issues in ways not seen since the dictatorship years. General Bôas, the commander of the army, took the highly unusual step in April of issuing a statement on Twitter that was widely interpreted as a warning to the Supreme Court. It was a particularly big decision, because Mr. da Silva was running for president again and appeared to be the front-runner in the race. “We want to adhere to the rule of law as much as possible,” Mr. Mourão said. Military leaders still do not refer to that era as a dictatorship, contending that the armed forces in fact preserved democracy by sparing Brazil from the rule of authoritarian socialists.

WhatsApp is upending the role of unions in Brazil. Next, it may transform politics.

Disparate bands of truckers turned to the messaging app to organize thousands of drivers in the largest and most effective truckers strike in the nation’s history. “We tried to do this many times before WhatsApp, but it has never been so successful,” said Rutino, who has been driving trucks for 40 years. The truckers strike began in mid-May. They quickly struck a deal to temporarily clear the highways in return for temporary cuts to fuel prices. Eight days into the strike, 87 percent of Brazilians supported the truckers, according to one poll. We had to identify the leadership at the base of the movement, which had been started through WhatsApp,” Da Costa said. Da Costa called these leaders in for a meeting and transmitted their requests to the state governor. The governor struck a deal with the representatives for lower state vehicle taxes and tolls, and mediated an accord with Temer to slash the cost of diesel. WhatsApp has become a depository for outrage against the political elite in a country with 35 political parties, where the line between corruption and compromise can be especially thin. Social networks increase the pressure and allow it to be organized pragmatically,” said Francisco Bosco, a philosopher who wrote a book about social media and political culture in Brazil.

Latest Uproar in Brazil’s Raw Political Debate: A Netflix Series

Image RIO DE JANEIRO — A new Netflix series about a sprawling corruption investigation has muscled its way into Brazil’s heated politics, outraging supporters of a leftist former president who is trying to make a comeback and stirring debate about how closely a docudrama should adhere to the facts. “I think this is very serious for them.” The show’s creator, José Padilha, a Brazilian based in Los Angeles, said the furor had only benefited the series. Three successive presidents have been implicated: Mr. da Silva, who was convicted of corruption and money laundering; Ms. Rousseff, who was impeached and removed from office over unrelated charges of violating budgetary rules but also faced criminal investigations; and the incumbent, Michel Temer, who has faced charges and remains under investigation. Mr. da Silva wants to stand as a candidate in the October election, although he was convicted last year of corruption and still faces charges in six other corruption cases. The title of the Netflix series comes from Mr. Padilha’s theory, expounded in columns, that only the corrupt can get ahead in Brazilian politics. Some critics have called him a reactionary, a charge he denies; he has made donations to a smaller left-wing party that has not been embroiled in the corruption investigation. On the left, the response to Mr. Padilha’s show has been outrage. “I think he did it well, though reality is richer.” In a speech during a rally last Wednesday, Mr. da Silva said he might sue Netflix. “The series fuels already existent points of view,” he said. “A lot of what is in there is very well known to Brazilians.” But the series has found some fans among Brazilians.