Lula and Bolsonaro:the clash of two visions for Brazil

The release from prison of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, has created a dramatic confrontation of two visions for Brazil. More than just opposite, these two visions are antagonistic. Without forcing the terms, it appears to be the realization of the Gnostic’s world vision that read history as a struggle between good and evil, or according to St. Agustin’s The City of God, a struggle between love and hate.

Actually, Bolsonaro’s vision is based on spreading hate for the homo-friendly, the LGBT, the Blacks and the poor in general, and in exalting dictatorships to the point of praising notorious torturers. For his part, Lula affirms that he harbors no hate, but a love that brought him to implement social policies for including millions of the marginalized, guaranteeing them the vital minimums.

We recognize that this projects a vision that appears dialectic, dividing history into light and dark, but, sadly, that is how it is, even when this dualism is rejected.

This is taking place in the context of world ascension of conservatism, of fundamentalism both political and religious, and the exacerbation of the logic of capitalism as expressed in ultra radical neo-liberalism, turned into the Bolsonaro government’s axial option. This radical neo-liberalism, formulated by the Vienna and Chicago schools, from where Paulo Guedes comes, maintains that “there are no rights other than the laws of the market, and poverty is not an ethical problem but reflects technical incompetence, because the poor are individuals who, due to their own shortcomings, are the losers in the competition with the others”. That theoretical presupposition implies that there is no need to worry about policies for the poor. It is a government of the rich for the rich.

Lula, by contrast, affirms the centrality of social justice; starting with the great majorities who are the victims of capitalism. Lula proposes a social and participatory democracy which includes those majorities. Instead of relying on the support of the social movements, whence he came, as was successfully done by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales Ayma, recently unseated by a classist and racist coup, he tried to realize that vision through a presidency based on a coalition of political parties, He considers this his major mistake, .

In Brazil, racism and intolerance –that were always present, but closeted– have explicitly emerged. They used to hide under the name “Brazilian cordiality”. But as Sergio Buarque de Hollanda, (in Roots of Brazil), noted, that cordiality can mean violence and hate as well as openness and love, because both live in the heart. Hence the name “cordial”.

Surfing on this national and international wave Bolsonaro was elected President and former President Lula was arrested and convicted through lawfare, the judicial body that was implementing the Lava Jato.

Jair Bolsonaro, even after being elected, frequently uses fake news, open lies, and governs with his children in a nepotistic authoritarian and often crass form.

Lula appears as a well known charismatic leader who speaks to the hearts of the forgotten masses. He proposes a social democracy, a State ruled by laws and the urgent need to regain all that has been dismantled.

Everything depends on the style in which this clash will take place. Bolsonaro is avoiding direct confrontation. Because he knows the limitations of his talents; he has left it in the hands of his Secretaries of Justice, Sergio Moro, and of the Treasury, Paulo Guedes, who are better prepared.

As I see it, Lula must avoid lowering himself to a confrontation at Bolsonaro’s level. It is important that Lula bring to light what Bolsonaro hides and cannot use: the crassness of the facts, the tragedy that devastates the great humiliated and offended majorities. There is no need for a long speech in reply to Bolsonaro, because he, himself, is self destructive. Lula must be positive as he speaks to the hearts of the destitute masses, firmly denouncing the evil perpetrated by the measures of exclusion, contrary to established rights, and life itself.

To summarize a lengthy reasoning: It would be wise to adopt the attitude of the best man the West has given, the poor and humble Francis of Assisi. With his realist sensibility, he knew that reality is contradictory, composed of the dia-bolical (that which divides) and of the sim-bolical (that which unites). He did not point to the darkest side of our reality, but emphasized instead the luminous side, so that it inundates mind and heart. As the Poverello of Assisi proclaims: “where there is hatred, I bring love; where there is discord, I bring unity; where there is desperation, I bring hope; where there is darkness, I bring light”.

This option implies a conviction that no government can stand if it is based on hatred, lies and the rejection of Earth’s most humble and poor. Truth, sincere intentions, and selfless love will have the last word. Not Cain but Abel. Not Judas but Jesus. Not Brilhante Ustra but Vladimir Herzog.

Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher, Earthcharter Commissioner


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