Silvana Harte is a PT (Brazilian Workers’ Party) activist who was based for a while in England.
Last year, Silvana helped us create a zoom meeting jointly with the Workers’ Party on the COVID situation in Brazil. In August 2022 Felicity Dowling, Left Unity Principal Speaker, spoke to Silvana about the run-up to the election in Brazil:
Can you tell me what’s worrying you most about what’s going on in Brazil?
I’m worrying about how Bolsonaro is conducting the election this year, because he doesn’t want to lose the election and it looks like he’s going to lose. He’s going to lose because Lula is winning the race – everybody is trying to support Lula now, because they are afraid that Bolsonaro will attempt a coup in Brazil – he knows that he’s going to lose.
Is it just a presidential election in October, or wider than that?
Yes, it is wider than that, it is for governors, mayors and presidents. So, that’s why the plan is to win in the first round; because there are so many candidates, at least five candidates, and if Lula and Bolsonaro don’t win in the first round, they’ve got to go to the second round, a month after. If Lula manages to make all the connections, all the talks before, and he can get enough supporters to help him win the election, that would be best because then we will not be worried about a coup.
Bolsonaro doesn’t want to go down easily. And they are already planning – if he doesn’t win, to give him a senator seat in Congress, in order for him to not go to jail. He wants to repeat the tactic of the President of Chile, Pinochet, when he lost the election – they managed to give him this post, so he didn’t go to jail. But when Pinochet travelled to England, he was stopped, and sent to Spain. Bolsonaro, now, he’s going to be tried by international jury, because he’s killing the indigenous people, he’s killing the black people. He was so irresponsible here – for COVID, he didn’t believe in the vaccines, he took long time to do what he was supposed to do in order to avoid the deaths. So he’s in trouble, he’s in big trouble. And he knows that his only chance is to continue to be the president. And he’s destroying everything that he put his hands on. He doesn’t concentrate on one thing. He tries to destroy everything that Brazilian democracy was built on. They are planning to do what Trump tried to do in America on Capitol Hill.
Tell me a little bit more about his attacks on the people of the Amazon.
We have an institution called Fundação National do Índio (FUNAI), National Indian Foundation, that would protect the land and the indigenous people. There are people who want to help the indigenous people and go there and talk to them in their language. But once Bolsonaro was elected he left everybody unprotected or dismissed some of them or if they didn’t want to resign, then forced them to resign. Bolsonaro, when he was younger and in the army, used to go to the Amazon and dig for gold. So, he thinks that the Amazon is not to be protected. He thinks that the indigenous people want to do this, they want to be rich – but for most of them it’s not true. They fight for the Amazon, for the people, for the plants, for their habitat – that’s where they live. But all the time the bad people go after them. Every week we have the indigenous people coming in and saying “listen, we need help, because we don’t have nothing to protect us. They are trying to kill us, they killed…” – I mean, it’s sad to see how many indigenous people he killed. Bolsonaro didn’t go there and kill them himself, of course not, but what he does is he takes the money out of the programmes, so there are not enough people, or money to go there and protect the Amazon.
Remember, I think it was last year, there was the fire – the animals they, were burned – and this doesn’t just affect Brazil, it affects the whole world. Did you see what happened to England two weeks ago – the heat? There were fires. Everywhere, we have these effects in the Amazon, and he [Bolsonaro] doesn’t care at all. It has been the same for years.
Another thing I think Bolsonaro tries to do, is not leave the office ever. He doesn’t want to leave the office, he wants to stay there forever. He’s a terrorist, a dictator. He doesn’t want to just do 4 more years – for him, he would stay until he dies. Also, he has sons – he wants to build up a dynasty, to be there forever, with his family and his supporters. Not all the army, but some of the army friends… Even under the dictatorship, we never had so many army (people) in power, but now so many of the ministers are from his side of the island – and they just care about money. They are well paid now, they have benefits… they don’t pay for anything any more, they can get money from the government.
So, what’s the nature of the repression that he uses? We have described the way he takes money away from organisations that are there to protect the environment and protect the indigenous people. We’re familiar with that tactic in Britain. But is there anything else that he does in terms of repression?
He talks to people, he says the majority have to bow to the minority, but it’s a lie. Or because we are the majority and they are the minority, but they have money and they have arms. And he has the power to [legislate that] you’re allowed to have three guns – we’ve never had so many guns in our history. So, he’s building up the militia in Brazil.
Last week, he called all the ambassadors for the other countries and he told them that he didn’t trust the way we process the elections, the votes, because everything’s electronic – he wants you to go back to paper. But in Brazil, it doesn’t work, because when it was done on paper, people would go there and say, “Listen, if you don’t vote for me, you’re not going to get this or that”, or “if you vote for me, I’ll give you milk or give him 30 Reais”. Because people are dying for food, they will sell their vote. Or, being intimidated, they will just give the vote, and they need to prove it – in a paper it is much easier to prove. With electronic votes, the bad people don’t have power to control people.
Are you saying that you find the paper vote less trustworthy than the electronic vote? You think the electronic vote is safer?
Yes, because they vote and it is sent right away – they cannot disrupt the server, it is very safe. It is not connected to the internet so hackers cannot go into the system. As a matter of fact, Bolsonaro, since he started in politics, has been elected through electronic vote. So, why is he contesting it now? Why is he saying it is not reliable since that’s how he was elected? Even in the last election! That’s how he was elected president – so what does that mean? Does that mean that his election is not valid?
We know what he did. He took money from businesses. Congress had changed the way you invest in elections, so you are not allowed to get money from businesses, only from people. But even then, in the last election, he got money from businesses and nothing happened to him. I mean, he’s so well protected. Because in Brazil, for the President to be judged, there is a person who needs to agree that there was an error or a crime committed by the President, and he’s the only one who can say “yes, he committed this crime”, and then it goes to the Supreme Court and they put it to the vote. But this guy, Aras, he was put in place to help the President, to protect him against any action that the opposition would do, or try to condemn him. So, he’s well protected…
Also, what he does is, we have a yearly budget, but he takes the money from education, public education and health, public health – and he gives this to the MPs that are his supporters. And they get given the money, we don’t know what they spend the money on, it’s secret. So, the people don’t really know where the money goes.
We have more than 150 cases of impeachment against Bolsonaro. But because he gives so much money to the MPs… the president of the lower house, he doesn’t even put it to the vote. For him, it’s not important to put those impeachments in place, because he’s making so much money.
So Bolsonaro has all this protection. He’s good at putting bad people around him, to protect him. He’s not as stupid as people think. I mean, he couldn’t be that stupid, because he’s the president, right? But he does bad. He doesn’t care about the people at all. He just cares about his family, and the corrupt people who help keep him in power.
That makes sense. Can I just ask you a question – were you saying that there’s someone in the law courts who particularly defends him? One of the judges – what was his name?
Aras, Augusto Aras is his name. He’s has been there for three years now – he is the Attorney General of the Republic. So, he protects the president. He’s the one who should protect us against bad presidents, against a dictator. But, he’s not going to do that. There have been so many cases where the opposition have tried to show him… We had this committee last year about COVID, and Bolsonaro was accused of a lot of crimes, and his helper said that Bolsonaro didn’t do anything wrong. So, they don’t find anything wrong with what he’s doing, you know?
It’s funny to how you can see the links in the different countries, can’t you? Boris Johnson did nothing wrong during COVID, so we are told.
Tell me a little bit more about the opposition – how is the Workers’ Party organising? How are the unions organising?
Yes, we are trying to get as many people on our side as possible. Lula is a good person, he is a good politician. So, he goes to different parties and tries to talk to them, tries to convince them that what is important now for these elections – now, it is not about who is going to win the election, but about protecting democracy. Our democracy right now is so endangered. Like, yesterday, the United States had to send someone to Brazil, to get together with the Minister of Defence and say, “listen, we are here to show you that we are not going to support any coup. We want the Brazilian elections to go as smoothly as possible, so that we can have the election and the new president.”
This really caught my attention, because I heard about this for many years, but I wasn’t paying attention. What is happening is, Bolsonaro doesn’t have a party. These people, they don’t believe in parties. They don’t believe in politics. They think that they can do it by themselves. Social movements are important, but turning ideas into law takes politics, it takes people talking. And when you talk, sometimes you don’t get everything that you want. Because there is always the other part, because you need to accommodate ideas, right? If you are not a dictator, you can’t just go there and say “I want this, this and this”. No, we talk, and we come to an agreement. So that’s what Lula does.
Bolsonaro, on the other hand… He took the emblems of Brazil, like the flag, the colours, even the football shirts. They don’t have a flag of their own, because they don’t believe in parties, right? So they mix stuff, they mix the football colours – football, the passion of Brazil! – and the colours of the Brazilian flag. They take these things, that are not really theirs. Because they don’t care about Brazil. They want to sell Brazil, they want to sell the Amazon, the petroleum. They wear the colours, but it doesn’t mean anything
Bolsonaro uses and co-opts nationalist symbols like the flag, like the national football colours to generate support for himself as a leader, and religious fanaticism, he wraps them round him like a yellow cloak to generate support for himself, not the party, but himself as a leader, like a cult.
So, on September 7th, the Independence Day of Brazil, they wore all these colours, and he wanted the people to show the world and the Brazilians that they are powerful and that they can take control of the government. Because he doesn’t want to leave. So, he thinks, now that he’s given guns to them and brainwashed them… It’s like a culture-coat.
And also, they’ve mixed it with religion. There is a video of young people, dancing like they are in the Nazi era, but in the name of God. They say things like they are praying, but they are marching like they are in the Hitler era, like Nazis. And they are getting armed by the government. So, we don’t really know what’s going to happen in Brazil in a few years, because they are mixing religion with the politics and guns.
Bolsonaro talks about God, and he shows the gun sign, like this. So, even the children are using the gun sign and talking about God. It’s getting crazy, you know? Church ministers – not the Catholic Church, but the Evangelicals – they are not like the English church, but the American way. They think of religion as a way to make money. So, they go to poor people, they start harassing them to get their money. If they don’t have money, they are like “oh, but you have a house, you have a car…” – so they start getting stuff from them. It’s horrible, what’s happening, because it’s everything so mixed. You don’t know where to start to talk about this. There is no way you can talk to them.
I think it is a serious problem, and it’s a serious problem in the United States as well, the way that religion is being manipulated. It’s a really difficult one.
So, we have two problems in Brazil right now. One is the military, the way they are educated, the way they see the world. They used to say, before, that the army and the military had two sides, the left and the right. But now seems like the military is more right wing. And they are thinking like Bolsonaro, you know. Before, there was a balance, because the left would protect the Amazon, at least. But these guys, they want to destroy everything.
The thing is, actually, Bolsonaro is such a terrorist (we are calling him terrorist now because people are killing – they are killing their opponents, they are killing the people that don’t think like them or don’t want what they want). The other day they killed Marcelo Arruda on his birthday just because he had Lula’s theme event on his birthday party. A guy went there and killed him. And then they killed the journalist for the The Guardian, and they killed the indigenous guy Bruno Pereira. So, before it was just words – but now words are becoming actions.
So, Elon Musk went to Brazil because Bolsonaro wanted to talk to him about the Amazon. Because the Tesla batteries need niobium, a metal, that is found in the Amazon. I think… Do you remember the coup that happened in Bolivia? I think he was involved in financing the coup there.
So, you know we never know what’s going to happen behind closed doors. Bolsonaro got the majority in the Lower House because he buys the MPs by giving them money, secret money, and we don’t know what they use it for. So, we don’t really know if they have a deal (with Musk) to go into the Amazon and get the metals they need. Because they don’t care (about the Amazon).
It’s a very scary situation.
It is very scary. We need to win this election.
We need to push, to press the Brazilian government to respect elections and accept the results. Because we are thinking that when they find out that Lula has won the election, they will do what Trump did when Biden won the elections.
Bannon, the fake news guy, is a friend of Eduardo Bolsonaro, Bolsonaro’s son. So, they are talking. They talk all the time. They know how to change the truth. They get the truth, and they mix it with fake news. And they contaminate the people.
It’s not only the military, but also the police are in favour of Bolsonaro. So, he’s eating the democracy from the inside out.
Also, he wants to give money to the people after four years in power, because now he’s thinking that he’s going to lose the election. So, he said, “Okay, I’m going to raise the minimum amount for benefits” – like that he gives it to the poor people, that’s 400 reals and he’s now saying he will make it 600. He’s saying he’s going to give $1,000 to the truck drivers… He is saying he will give a lot of money to different groups in Brazil in order to have more votes, but I don’t think it’s going to work.
Can the Left build support in the in the areas where the workers live?
Yes, we are trying to do the comites, the Comite Popular de Luta. We had comites for “Lula libre / free Lula”. So, we took the same idea. And we are going inside the cities, in small towns – wherever we can, even if it’s virtual, or is physical. We are trying to get in again, inside the communities. Because right now it’s just the religions that are there, brainwashing them. We want to get in but, there are bad people there. For example, the ministers of the religions, evangelicals, they go there. They are there already. So, we need to go back there. One time we were there.
What happened is the Catholic Church used to have this type of comites inside the communities to help them, but I think one of the Popes stopped them because they didn’t like the way they were doing it. Also, there is the right and the left in the Church, and the right wing said “okay, we don’t want this”, so they stopped. The PT was part of the comites, it was partly of the Catholic Church, partly the trade unions, Catholics, professors, the Academy. The people who fought the dictatorship, so they all got together.
And Lula, he believes in politics. So, we got all this support base, and we formed the party. But when Lula won the presidency, they focused on rebuilding the country, and they forgot, a little bit, that base. So now we are trying to go back to the base. But, we have these evangelicals there now. And also we have militias there now. Because Bolsonaro is part of the militia. The police don’t respect the law, and they become militias. They used to be police, but they were corrupt, and they went underground, and Bolsonaro is part of them. And when we, the committees, get there, they don’t want us there. Or, for instance, if you are the candidate or governor and you want to go to that place – you can’t go there. Or you are the mayor, and you want to go there and talk to the people – you can’t, because the militia won’t allow it. They will kill you.
Also, we have the drug dealers, and the police. The police go there to kill the drug dealers, or whoever they think are drug dealers. They go into the favelas and kill people. There is no law at this moment. Let’s say there’s a guy who is a candidate for governor, and he wants to show power, he wants to show the people that he is doing his job – so he sends the police in to kill people in the favela. And most people who live in the favela are black, so they are killing young black people.
Bolsonaro has influenced these types of people to harm indigenous people and young black people. They don’t want to send them to jail, they just want to send them to the graveyard. In Brazil we don’t have the death penalty – but they don’t want to put people in prison, they want them dead, so they go into the favelas and kill them. That’s how they do it.
You said it’s very difficult for socialists to organise there. Are there any links through the workplaces into there?
So, now we are building up those comites. They can be at school, they can be at work, they can be virtual on the internet. Like, I have one here, a Comite Popular de Luta in Florida. So, I try to talk to the community, I already did a garage sale. I did a Brazilian dish, but nobody showed up. It was just the normal people that normally come, so like, just the left came! And then I want to go to the street and talk to them, but the people that I know, they are scared. They’re scared of Bolsonaro’s followers because they are very aggressive. Eduardo Bolsonaro was here last week, (August 24th) last Sunday, talking to the Brazilian people and we rented trucks and we had all these slogans against Bolsonaro and they got very upset. I didn’t go, I helped pay for the truck. But I didn’t go, because they said “oh, you can go, but you cannot say anything”. I cannot go there and say nothing! You know, if I go to a place like this, I want to say to them “you are wrong”! The other day we went to this movement about abortion here, about how the supreme court stopped abortion. I went there, and they didn’t want me to wear Lula’s t-shirt. They didn’t want to wear my flags. I said, “Listen, nobody ever, ever can tell me what to do when I go to this movement. That’s not going to work for me!”, and then I went there the way I wanted. And I talked to people. And that was it.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today Silvana. I hope we will be able to have a further discussion with you after the election takes place.
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