“We feel profound repulsion towards those who are not Brazilian” said Jair Bolsonaro, referring to foreign NGOs that work in Brazil to defend the Amazon and indigenous groups, threatened by the government’s predatory and unsustainable environmental policy.
This powerful phrase becomes even more worrying when it comes from the president, and not one of his anonymous militants on social media. However, a large sector of the press has treated this overly xenophobic and racist statement as though it was a mere “controversial statement”.
Perhaps this part of the press has become numb to the ridiculous statements of the president, given that the declaration comes shortly after he publicly insulted the governors of the North-East of Brazil with racist and stereotypical remarks, or perhaps the press is simply too cynical.
Bolsonaro’s xenophobia should be dealt with more seriously than it has been done thus far by the press. Firstly, because he spoke in plurals (“we have a profound repulsion”), as though his aversion to foreigners is shared by all Brazilians.
Fascist leaders have a knack for speaking in the name of the people, of the “majority”, whilst they create a so-called enemy of those people, however they often only draw attention to their own personal enemy and that of the allies of dictatorial and autocratic governments.
The majority of Brazilians don’t reject foreigners. The country is a melting pot of Italians, Japanese, Germans, Sirians, Lebanese, Turks, Spaniards, Haitians, and immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. And of course the Portuguese, the first Europeans to colonise Brazilian territory and who brought African slaves to the country.
We all know this, whether that’s because we studied this in history or through our own personal experience, and until the extreme-right rose up from the ashes of the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff (ex-president from the Worker’s Party), cultural diversity was always a non-problematic part of our lives.
I want to believe that those from different countries residing in Brazil, whether they voted for Bolsonaro or not, would be horrified by his declaration.
I also hope that the members of the Jewish community, that at one point applauded the racism of the president during his campaign when directed towards afro-Brazilians from the quilombos, have been shocked by his decision to appoint an extreme evangelical as the president of the Supreme Tribunal.
A fundamentalist evangelical will not be tolerant of those who don’t believe Jesus is the mesias, as is the case with the Jews. In this sense, the Jewish community have been lucky until now, if you compare them with the Umbada and Candomblé communities that is.
Even before this president of the Supreme Tribunal takes up office, many places of worship of the Candomblés and Umbanda centres have been invaded by the pro-Bolsonaro militia. Sinagogues for now have been safe, but for how long will this last?
Secondly, the disgust of the president towards foreigners should be seen as something serious, not only as “controversial”, because for Bolsonaro this is a selective disgust that is part of a nationalism used to fool the ignorant and unwary.
We have witnessed shameful subordination of Bolsonaro and his sons to Donald Trump. If this president really rejected all foreigners he would be unable to pledge allegance to the flag of the US, nor would he sell our country to foreign interests of huge transnationals, whilst unemployment, hunger, violence, poison caused by pesticides and an environmental crisis ravish Brazil.
Petrobras, for example, under Bolsonaro’s administration was just sold for nothing, to 160 investors from the UK, Canada and the US. So what repulsion towards foreigners is he really refferring to? And why has the commercial press been unable to call him out in a clearer way?
Truthfully, Bolsonaro has expressed his xenophobia because foreign NGOs have been an important source of international condemnation of his predatory environmental policy and of his negligence regarding the climate crisis and global warming.
Fortunately, foreign NGOs can still carry out their complaints and condemnations, since Brazilian organisations and institutions such as INPE and Fiocruz, have been silenced by the governent.
In fact, Bolsonaro rejects anything that prevents him from becoming the ridiculous tyrant of a fundamentalist evangelical nation (although it’s worth pointing out that I’m not reffering to all evangelicals nor all evangelical churches, but those that although they say they’re ‘evangelical’ are morally far from the teachings of Jesus and much closer to moral bankruptcy).
In reality, Bolsonaro, and the ideologues of his campaign that led him to victory know that a fascist can’t maintain himself in power without support, and thus are creating a permanent construction of an enemy, a political discourse of ‘us versus them’.
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From the mouth of Bolsonaro, those pronouns (us and them) are void of meaning but can be filled with meaning according to the needs of the government: ‘us’ the heterosexuals, and ‘them’, the LGBT+ community; ‘us’ from the south and ‘them’ from the northeast; ‘us’ the caucasians and ‘them’ the afro-Brazilians, ‘us’ the men and ‘them’ the women; ‘us’ the good citizens and ‘them’ the undeserving, and so on.
Using different devices such as lies and fake news, these pronouns acquire meanings that best adapt to the fascist government, so that Bolsonaro’s supporters are constantly mobilised and hating someone or a group of people. Hate is the main political emotion that drives this strategy.
As seen in other parts of the world where there has also been a rise in the far-right that threatens civilisation, Bolsonaro perpetrates his xenophobia only days after Trump tells two Americans, of Mexican and Somali origin, to go back to their own countries. Bolsonaro and his allies know that the permanent fabrication of an enemy is providing results, and consequently they have been able to govern without limits.
The huge contradiction of this fascist strategy is that in this creation of an enemy, one must convey that enemy as powerful and impossible, or at least difficult, to defeat. Foreigners appear almighty in such a rhetoric. This is a contradiction that fascism can’t overcome, and it is departing from this contradiction that we can tear down Bolsonaro’s sceme to sew violence among us.
Fascists disgust me!
This opinion column was originally published in Portuguese the UOL Blogosphere. To read the original content, click here