The treacherous and very effective propaganda of the right managed to make corruption the exclusive axis of this election campaign, where nothing else is said. And so far the results for Bolsonaro have been remarkable.
As I was waiting to board my plane on my way back to Buenos Aires, I had the chance to chat with people working at airport in Rio de Janeiro. The conversation left me desolate, deepening the feeling that I would get from the streets of Rio during the week. I spoke with several cleaning staff, airline personnel, casual workers and vendors in shops and bars. All, without exception, people of a very humble social origin, wondered why I was leaving on the eve of the “Great Day”. Pretending to be a distracted tourist who ignored the political affairs of the country, I asked what was special this coming Sunday. Answer: “Tomorrow Brazil chooses whether it will be governed by a giant or by a thief”. Several people explained to me: the giant is Bolsonaro, and Haddad is the thief. And the giant will win, they all assured me. And what is the giant going to do? I asked another. “He’s going to make the revolution Brazil needs,” he answered without hesitation. “The revolution?” I asked, feigning surprise and disbelief. “Yes,” he told me. “A revolution to end bandits and thieves. The giant will be responsible for cleaning this country.”
In a discourse reminiscent of what one hears daily in Argentina, my interlocutors said that the PT (Workers’ party) “had stolen everything”, that Lula deserved to be in jail, that his children had become billionaires. “Bolsonaro,” one of the most infuriated, said to me, “he’s a patriot who loves Brazil and with the cleansing of bandits that he will carry out, this country will be great and respected again.” The sinister hand of Steve Bannon – the ultra-reactionary campaign advisor of Donald Trump and whose team has been installed in Brazil for months – appeared unmistakably. After all, the slogan of the “giant” is a copy of the Trump campaign in Portuguese: “Let’s make America great again,” said the man from the US. Now it is Brazil who, holding Bolsonaro’s hand, that must resurface from the ashes to which the PT reduced it.
There was an additional element in these answers. Beyond their belief, there was a strong feeling of camaraderie among these precarious and exploited workers, who when meeting in the corridors of the airport said: “tomorrow, tomorrow will be the Great Day!” A religious fervor “re-united” (religaba) them (religaba from there the origin of the word “religion”). The Messiah – Jair Messias Bolsonaro, who adopted his second name after a fantastic baptism in the waters of the Jordan in the midst of extensive media coverage – was about to arrive and this Saturday we were on the eve of the epiphany that would project Brazil to the place that It corresponds to him in the world. “Sixteen years (Sic!) of government of the bandits” had turned this great nation into a sort of international beggar because of official corruption, tarnishing the honor of an entire nation and plunging it into violence and despair.
These litanies were repeated with remarkably precise similarity. At one point I asked somebody if the Bolsa Família program, which had brought more than forty million Brazilians out of extreme poverty, had not served to improve the situation of the poorest. The answer: “No. It was just alms. They want people to continue as they are, so they can steal at will”. Seeing the surprise in my face another added: “Rice and beans for the poor, big bribes (coimas, in Portuguese) for the rulers.” One of them, with a cross tattooed on his neck, went further and affirmed that ” Haddad is even more corrupt than Lula, so much so that with his crimes he almost bankrupted Sao Paulo’s city council. He had no better opinion of his running mate, Manuela D’Avila, from the PCdB (Brazil’s Communist Party), because he had been told that, since she was an atheist, she would outlaw all religions. A third person added that if the PT triumphed it would be Lula who would govern from prison, where he would remain for just a short time. Then, pardoned by Haddad, he would go abroad and from the safe haven of his ill-gotten fortune he would manipulate Haddad at will. The thieves would remain in power. But “luckily the giant got up,” he said with a sigh.
It took me an enormous effort to listen to so many lies and infamies. And I was amazed at the unprecedented effectiveness of the new techniques of political propaganda. Media terrorism campaigns are not new in Latin America. In 1970 the candidacy of Salvador Allende in Chile was fought with a daily torrent of defamation through El Mercurio newspaper and TV Channel 13 of the Catholic University. But the effectiveness of these manoeuvres was not very great. Now, however, there was a qualitative leap and the impact of this massive brain wash – via political neuromarketing and big data – grew exponentially. For popular movements it is imperative to understand the processes of formation of political consciousness in the digital age if you want to neutralise this type of campaign. In Brazil, WhatsApp became the preferred, if not exclusive, vehicle through which much of the popular classes are informed about public affairs and, with the help of evangelicals, decide to vote in favor of hyper conservative candidates. The access to big data allowed the intrusion of Bolsonaro’s propaganda into millions of WhatsApp groups, not subject to the same control as in Facebook, and from there launch an overwhelming daily barrage of lies and defamations against the PT and disseminate hundreds of fake news every day.
The objective of this is to encourage cognitive dissonance among the recipients and create a sense of uncertainty and chaos – conveniently magnified by the media – that demands the appearance of a strong messianic leader that brings order among so much confusion. Bear in mind that those under thirty only turn on the TV to watch football, do not read newspapers and only listen to music on the radio or on their smartphones. Their level of information is very low, and their beliefs and perceptions were masterfully manipulated by Bannon and his local associates, operating on that social sector since March of this year. However, when the surveys ask in the favelas and low income neighbourhoods, which are the main problems of their community, corruption (“the thieves”) appears in third place, after the insecurity and the economic problems (high cost, unemployment, low salaries, etc.). But the treacherous and very effective propaganda of the right managed to make corruption – the fight against the supposed thieves and the moral regeneration of Brazil – the exclusive axis of this campaign, where nothing else is said. And so far his results have been remarkable. This Sunday we will know how successful their evil plans were and what lessons should be learned from other countries in the region that are going through a situation similar to that of Brazil, especially Argentina.
This article was originally published in Spanish on Saturday 27 October, the day before the election. Read the original version here.
The article was translated into English by Alborada