Brazil is a mid-performing democracy that has experienced significant declines over the past five years in Clean Elections, Civil Liberties, Gender Equality and Personal Integrity and Security. These drops have been due to a number of factors, including the use of disinformation campaigns in electoral processes, attacks on freedom of expression, pervasive violence against women and ethnic minorities, and the lack of accountability for police abuse. Brazil boasts one of the world’s largest economies – driven in particular by exports of soybeans, iron ore, and petroleum, as well as raw sugar, beef, poultry, and sulfate chemical wood pulp.
Following the military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985, the early years of re-democratization were marked by hyperinflation, economic instability, social inequality, and food insecurity. While these issues were mitigated to varying degrees between 1994 and 2019, many re-emerged as a result of ongoing corruption scandals, the rise of far-right politics, the struggle to adequately respond to COVID-19 and a marked increase in political polarization. While millions of Brazilians were lifted from poverty in the early 2000s, inequality rates in the country remain amongst the highest in the region. In 2013, mass protests against increases in the cost of public transportation triggered a broader movement against the then-governing party. Compounding public discontent over the next several years were serious corruption scandals, illegal campaign financing, lack of political dialogue and the rise of anti-establishment far-right discourse. These events marked the following years and electoral processes, and they drive the climate of polarization that continues in politics to this day. In some cases, this has resulted in acts of violence in the context of elections.
Brazil is a multicultural and multi-racial country. The social dynamics between the different races that make up Brazil’s demography, which are rooted in a history of slavery and the marginalization of Afro Brazilians and Indigenous Peoples, form a point of contention and intersect with economic, social and gender inequality. Around 0.4 per cent of the Brazilian population are Indigenous Peoples, representing 305 ethnic groups, according to data from the 2010 census. It is also the South American country with the greatest number of Indigenous Peoples living in isolation. The expansion of soybean and beef production and budget cuts to oversight agencies in the past years have contributed to an acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon and negatively impacted the welfare of Indigenous communities. Another cleavage is the relevance of religiosity in the country, especially the influence of evangelical beliefs in several political parties. This has an impact on the agenda setting and definition of issues in parties, which in turn can be decisive in government coalitions.
Inequality also intersects with race. White Brazilians, who make up less than half of the population, hold almost twice as much wealth as non-whites. Three-quarters of people living below the poverty line are non-whites. Although non-whites are more than half of the population, only one quarter of Congress members are Black or pardos (“mixed”). Brazil is one of the most violent countries on the continent, and police brutality is a growing problem. Violence against women is pervasive and the rates of femicide are high.
Looking ahead, it will be important to watch the development of Free Political Parties, Elected Government and Clean Elections, especially in light of the weakened political center, growing polarization between left and right-wing parties and the increasingly frequent attacks on the credibility of the electoral system. Moreover, it will be critical to observe how rising polarization impacts not only radicalization and violence, but also political engagement of underrepresented social groups.
April 2023 | Six new Indigenous territories are legally recognized
President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva announced the legal recognition of six new Indigenous territories. This recognition entails special protection of the peoples that inhabit the territories. It also aims to put an end to illegal mining and other resource exploitation activities that have contributed to the deteriorating health and well-being of certain Indigenous communities. This decision by President Da Silva reverses the policy of former President Bolsonaro, who considered that Indigenous communities had been granted too much land, and who had authorized and encouraged mining even in recognized territories.
February 2023 | Authorities expel illegal miners from Indigenous lands amidst health crisis
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s incoming government has launched an operation to expel illegal miners from land in the Amazon near the border with Venezuela, where the Yanomami people live. While illegal mining has taken place for decades in Indigenous territories, it intensified during former President Bolsonaro’s government, as he expressly backed the exploitation of mineral resources from these lands. Illegal mining has also impacted the health and food supply of the Yanomami people, while mercury derived from mining has polluted their water. Lula da Silva has announced his government’s commitment to address disease, hunger, and malnourishment among the community and declared a health emergency in late January, having visited the region and describing the situation as genocide. The Justice Ministry has ordered a federal investigation into possible crimes against the Yanomami people by Bolsonaro’s administration. Reports from different media and human rights organizations have highlighted the current health crisis that includes pervasive malnutrition and lack of access to medical treatment for diseases such as malaria. Some of such reports have revealed that in the past four years around 570 Yanomami children have died from hunger-related causes.
January 2023 | Bolsonaro supporters storm Congress and other government buildings
On 8 January, supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress and the seats of the executive branch and the judiciary. The government buildings were broken into and vandalized. Bolsonaro’s supporters alleged fraud in the October elections and demanded military intervention to oust President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, who had taken office a week earlier. The Supreme Court has decided to investigate whether or not former president Bolsonaro was involved in inciting this attack, as well as the possible complicity of members of security forces in allowing it to happen. The Court also issued arrest warrants against two top security officials for their apparent collusion. Over a thousand protesters were arrested, many of whom have been charged with crimes and are now awaiting trial.
November 2022 | Superior Electoral Court rejects Bolsonaro party’s appeal against the results of the presidential election
The Superior Electoral Court (Tribunal Supremo Electoral) rejected a legal challenge from Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, aimed at invalidating the votes registered by certain voting machines used in the presidential election. The Court characterised the complaint as made in bad faith and imposed the party a fine of 22.9 million reais. While president Bolsonaro did not expressly concede defeat in the presidential election, his administration has initiated the transition process with president elect Lula's team.