Election of Bolsonaro in Brazil adds to rise of right wing populism

Jair Bolsonaro was elected as Brazil’s new president last Sunday (Photo by Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images)

Last Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician known for making homophobic and misogynist statements and supporting neoliberal policies and military dictatorship, won Brazil’s presidential election.

According to the National Observer, “[Bolsonaro] has threatened to ‘disappear’ Indigenous peoples and has vowed to open up the rainforests of the Amazon to extractive industries. With time running out to avert climate breakdown, Bolsonaro's election is a catastrophe — he recently threatened to follow the lead of Donald Trump and quit the Paris climate agreement.”

Bolsonaro has promised to make it easier for mining companies to operate in Brazil regardless of the impacts on the environment or on Indigenous peoples.

The CBC has been widely criticized for reporting following Bolsonaro’s election that, “for Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.”

In a tweet, the CBC said, “Brazil's new president elect, Jair Bolsonaro, is a right-winger who leans towards more open markets. This could mean fresh opportunities for Canadian companies looking to invest in the resource-rich country.” 

The CBC coverage and tweet sparked an outcry that has also opened a public discussion about the media’s role in covering the rise of right wing populism. In an interview with the National Observer, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University said, “Right wing populism around the world is on the rise. What some political scientists call ‘illiberal democracy’ is on the rise. The response of professional journalists to the rise of right wing movements is important because they undermine democratic institutions. Journalists have to be able to reason through these puzzles in news coverage.”

In an opinion article on the CBC, Jon Beasley-Murray, who teaches Latin American Studies at the University of British Columbia, argues that it would be ethically and politically irresponsible for Canadian companies to dive further into Brazil's economy for the sake of profits, and that the Canadian government has an obligation to think carefully about the countries it trades with.

The Council of Canadians agrees there are clear links between trade and politics, and that the media plays an important role in exposing increasing neoliberalism and right wing populism for the threats they pose to democracy. As part of the larger push for social and environmental justice here in Canada and around the world, we are working for the implementation of the human rights to water and sanitation and have denounced the actions of Canadian mining companies abroad that infringe on these rights. We also support the rights of Indigenous peoples under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil is a serious step back in the global movement for a better world.