Campaign against quarantine is the motto of Jair Bolsonaro's supporters. Photo: Shutterstock

Will Brazil escape the social upheavals in Latin America?

Experts say the biggest risk is the possibility of Brazilians not realizing the country's economy recovery

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If our internal challenges were not enough, such as our politics which are still extremely polarized and legal insecurity that drives away investment, beyond the ills of crime and unemployment, Brazil has been surrounded by social upheavals that ignite neighboring countries and can serve as a warning.

In 2013, from a protest that began unpretentiously against the increase in bus ticket prices in São Paulo, Brazilians took to the streets in droves. Demonstrations spread through the cities and soon the agenda became diffuse: they were all against everything. The movement only lost its strength after the acts became bad, with the violent action of the so-called black blocks.

Here the backdrop of the crowded streets was the economic crisis, marked by the resumption of faster-paced inflation and rising interest rates, and the erosion of a political project that had been perpetuating for four presidential terms. The months following that social outbreak led to the evolution of the Car Wash Operation, an anti-corruption operation that put politicians and big businessmen in jail, and the impeachment of then-president Dilma Rousseff.

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Now, six years later, Bolivia, Venezuela and Chile–just to name three examples–each with its own specific reality, are struggling with delicate moments in political-social-economic life. Although I would not like to equalize the scenarios, the movements keep similar traits, at least with regard to uncertainties and fears about what is to come.

Latin America seems to be in ebullition. For political scientist Márcio Coimbra, coordinator of the postgraduate course in Institutional and Government Relations at Faculdades Mackenzie in Brasilia, crises in the continent’s countries are not just a matter of political “narrative”. The situation, the professor adds, is concrete and should not be ignored.

“There are also sparks in Peru, Ecuador, and Nicaragua that can ignite at any time”, says Coimbra. In Colombia and even Argentina, however, he believes that the institutional framework is less likely to be destabilized: in the first country, the justification for this diagnosis lies in the “alternation of power within the same caste for years”; In the second, the tendency towards a “cordial transition” from liberal Mauricio Macri to Kirchnerist Alberto Fernández is seen as a sign of tranquility.

In Brazil, Coimbra believes that everything will depend on the economy’s performance during the rest of Jair Bolsonaro‘s government. “Lula [the Brazilian’s left leader, condemned for corruption and money laundering] has been released from jail and Bolsonaro is still betting on polarization. The economy will be the key. If the population does not realize the economic growth, perhaps what happened in 2013 could be repeated. And, just like that year, we will know how a movement of this magnitude begins, but not how it ends”, argues Coimbra.

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Political scientist Creomar de Souza, CEO of Dharma Political Risk, points out that it is necessary to differentiate turbulence from continuing processes, from an economic point of view. In his opinion, the scenario is complicated when the relationship between representatives and the ones being represented turns sour in such a way that it compromises political and institutional normality–which, I stress, almost necessarily occurs when the economy is not doing well.

In Bolivia, Souza exemplifies, Evo Morales’ persistence in remaining in power by any means meant that the population did not see the desired perceptions of commitment in their leadership. In Chile, the demonstrations began with university students complaining about the increase in the subway ticket price in the capital Santiago and ended up turning into acts– with millions of people on the streets–much wider, out of the clamor for an economic model considered fairer.

For now, Souza does not see any indication that the Latin American ebullition reaches Brazil in a concrete way. For him, however, the Brazilian government lacks to adopt a stance that makes this clear to the market and investors. “There is a problem: much of what is being analyzed about the region is flawed in terms of establishing the real differences. The moment requires a less polarized speech and a sharper dialogue with the market to show that Brazil is not in the same line of action”, he maintains.

We – government and society – lack the ability to analyze what happens next without the obligation of comparison with ideological bias and political passions tamed by rationality. The neighbor’s grass, greener or not than ours, is often the extension of our garden.