Damares Alves and the left’s hypocrisy

The last polemic in Brazilian politics was due to a testimony of Damares Alves, chosen by Jair Bolsonaro to be his minister of human rights. In a video that is available on YouTube, during a religious service, Damares tells how in her childhood, between 6 and 8 years of age, she was systematically sexually abused by someone close to her family (some sources I found say that the abuser was her uncle). To add to the sexual abuse, the criminal also exploited her psychologically: he told Damares that if she denounced him, he would kill her father. He also said, taking advantage of the religious beliefs of Damares, that she would not go to heaven because she was “impure.”

Damares tells that she unsuccessfully tried to ask for help from people in her family and her church. She would frequently climb a guava tree in her backyard to cry. When she was 10 years old, she climbed that same tree, having rat poison with her, in order to commit suicide. She tells that this is when she saw Jesus, coming to her. Jesus climbed the tree and hugged her. She felt accepted by Jesus, and she gave up the suicidal ideas.

Damares went on to become a lawyer. For many years she has been defending women who like her are victims of sexual abuse. Because of the violence she suffered as a child, she can’t bear children. However, she adopted an Indian child who would otherwise be murdered by her parents – some tribes in the Amazon believe that some children must be murdered at birth due to a series of reasons. Damares saved one of these children.
Someone cut from the video only the part where Damares says that she saw Jesus from the guava tree. The video went viral, and “crazy” is one of the milder insults directed at Damares on social networks.

In sum: the Brazilian left makes fun of a woman who was sexually abused as a child. Damares’ religious faith helped her cope with the pain. To be honest, I am usually skeptic about stories like the one she told. But what does it care? Somehow her faith in Jesus helped her to cope with one of the most horrendous things that can happen to a person. But it seems that Bolsonaro’s political adversaries have no sensitivity not only to a person’s religious beliefs but to the violence women and children suffer. When the violence does not fit their cultural and political agenda, they don’t care.

As I wrote here, Liana Friedenbach, 16 years old, was kidnaped, raped, and killed by a gang led by the criminal Champinha. Defending Liana, Bolsonaro wanted laws to be tougher on rapists. Maria do Rosário did not agree with Bolsonaro, and even called him a rapist. Bolsonaro offended her saying that “even if I was a rapist, I would not rape you.” The left in Brazil stood with Maria do Rosário and condemned Bolsonaro. The same left today mocks a woman who was sexually abused in her childhood, but who grew to help women in similar situations. Instead, they prefer to make jokes about Jesus climbing guava trees.

Jair Bolsonaro, Maria do Rosário, and the Champinha case

Over a decade ago, in November 2003, Liana Friedenbach, 16 years old (a minor in Brazil law), and Felipe Silva Caffé, 19 years old, were camping in an abandoned farm close to São Paulo.

While they were camping, the couple was found by a group led by Roberto Aparecido Alves Cardoso, aka “Champinha”. Initially, Champinha and his group wanted to steal from the couple. Realizing that they had little to no money, they changed their minds and decided to kidnap Liana and Felipe.

In the first day of captivity, one member of the gang raped Liana. Felipe was killed on the next day with a shot in the back of his head. Liana heard the shot, but the group lied to her saying that her boyfriend was set free. Liana was then raped by other members of the group led by Champinha.

The group never contacted the families asking for a ransom. On the third day, Liana’s family, worried about the lack of contact, called the police, which found the place where the couple was camping, with some of their belongings. Noticing that the police was closing in, Champinha killed Liana with knife strokes.

Champinha, the leader of the group who kidnapped, raped, and murdered Liana, was underage when the crimes happened, and because of that could not be sent to prison. Instead, he was interned in a correction institution.

The crime shocked Brazil. It was answering this crime that Jair Bolsonaro, at the time a congressman, was clamoring for a change in Brazilian law, allowing criminals like Champinha to be prosecuted. Maria do Rosário, a congresswoman from PT, the party of former president and today prisoner Lula da Silva, was opposing Bolsonaro. During their debate, Maria do Rosário called Bolsonaro a raper. Bolsonaro answered “I am a raper? Look, I would not rape you because you don’t deserve it”. Later Bolsonaro explained that he intended to insult Maria do Rosário by saying “even if I was a raper, as you say, I would not rape you because you are too abominable, even for that”.

So that’s it. I hope this helps non-Portuguese speakers who can read English to understand a polemic phrase attributed to Bolsonaro. And I also hope that Brazilian law is changed someday so that justice can be made and criminals like Champinha and his gang get the death penalty for their crimes.

The real threat to democracy in Brazil

Earlier this week, Ricardo Lewandowski, a judge in Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court, was in a commercial flight. The passenger sitting next to him turned to the judge and said: “I am ashamed of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court”. Lewandowski’s reaction was to threaten the passenger with jail. He turned to him and said, “tell me, do you want to go to jail?”  The passenger was indeed stopped by the police at the destination, but released right after. The video of the exchange is easily found on Youtube.

Lewandowski came to the Supreme Court appointed by former president Lula da Silva, today serving time in jail for corruption and still indicted for several crimes. He has been criticized several times for favoring Lula and his party.

I wonder if the press, that complains so much about Jair Bolsonaro being a threat to democracy in Brazil, will have the same treatment for Lewandowski. When you cannot criticize in public a public server or a public institution without being stopped by the police, democracy is no longer in place.

Since the 19th-century Brazilian judges and magistrates believe they are above the law. It is just a sad fact in Brazilian history. The challenge for Brazil is to show people like Lewandowski that they are just humans, open to criticism, like everybody else.

Answering questions about Bolsonaro (from the comments)

Answering some comments about Bolsonaro, as far as I can.

Can you deal more precisely with some well known claims about Bolsanoro: he has praised at least one military officer who was a notorious torturer under the last dictatorship.

The “notorious torturer” in question is Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra. Ustra himself wrote a book, A Verdade Sufocada, questioning this accusation. I am not defending Ustra (as Bolsonaro does), but in my ignorance, I lift any judgment.

he has praised the dictatorship.

There is no denying that. Actually, Bolsonaro refuses to admit Brazil went through a dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.

I’ve just checked your previous contributions on Brazilian politics and you seem to be in favour of the dictatorship as a agent of struggle against Marxism. I agree that marxism is a bad thing, but it’s not clear to me that means supporting rightist dictatorship.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Read again.

You say that Bolsanaro understands the need for ‘order’ in Brazilian society.

Actually, his name is Bolsonaro. Where did I write that?

Can you identify some restrictions on liberty in Brazil that Bolsanaro would remove?

No, I cannot. One thing is for sure: he is not a libertarian.

Don’t you think there is the slightest risk his attitude to ‘order’ might lead the police to act with more violence?

Well, all things are possible. But I don’t think that this is plausible.

Do you deny that the police sometimes act with excessive violence in Brazil?

No.

Do you have any expectation that Bolsanaro will do anything to resolve this or the evident failings of the judicial system?

Yes. Having Sergio Moro as Minister of Justice is a great move in the right direction.

Do you deny that Bolsanaro said he would prefer his son to be gay rather than die?

No.

Don’t you think this gives gays good reason to fear Bolsanaro?

Not at all. Bolsonaro was being very honest about his personal beliefs and how they apply to his personal life. Even then, this was a few years ago. I believe he is changing his mind on a number of issues, including this one. Anyway, he was talking about his private life, and not what he would do as president.

I have had a message from a gay American friend who says he is afraid of what will happen and may have to flee the country? Do you understand and care why he is afraid? Do you have any words I can pass onto my friend to reassure him? Preferably not angry words about Gramsci, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘gender theory’.

If I can’t talk about cultural Marxism, Gramsci and gender theory, I can’t help much. This is essential to explain what is going on in Brazil.

Could you actually explain what this ‘gender theory’ in schools is that it i so terrible and apparently justifies Bolsanaro’s crude language?

It would take very long, but the short answer I can give here is that it is terrible to teach people that their gender has nothing to do with biology. Apart from real medical conditions, people are born XX or XY, and gender and sex go together.

Do you deny that he said a congress woman was too ugly to rape?

No, I don’t. This woman, Maria do Rosário, called him a raper. How would you feel being called a raper? I know I wouldn’t like a bit. Besides, on that occasion, Bolsonaro was exactly defending harder punishment for rapers, following the Champinha case. Champinha and his gang raped and then murdered Liana Friedenbach and her boyfriend Felipe Caffé in one of the most barbarous crimes in recent Brazilian history.  Maria do Rosário was defending Champinha and his gang. See if you can find something about it in a language you can read. In sum, Bolsonaro answered an insult with another insult. I have no problem with that whatsoever.

Can you explain how someone can be fit to hold the highest office in Brazil who makes such a comment?

It would take very long. But the short answer is that I am really happy to have a president who, if he had his own way, would have the death penalty for criminals like Champinha and his gang.

It’s nice of course that Bolsanaro says now he is favour of free market economics, but isn’t he now back pedalling on this and promising to preserve PT ‘reforms’?

He is not a libertarian. Libertarians are sure to be disappointed.

Well, I will stop here.  Sadly, although I can’t “write at length” more than that.

I write at length, so does Jacques, so there is no reason why you should not.

Actually, there are many reasons. You just don’t know. I did what I can right now. All the best.

Nightcap

  1. Has there been a surge of anti-Semitism under and because of Trump? David Bernstein, Volokh Conspiracy
  2. Why do Brazilian evangelicals support Jair Bolsonaro? Eric Farnsworth, Providence
  3. Growing up in Yugoslavia (how I lost my past) Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  4. Christianity in China: breaking eggs against a rock Ian Johnson, ChinaFile

From the Comments: Bolsonaro is no libertarian (but is he a fascist?)

Barry Stocker outlines the sentiments of many libertarians when he put forth the following argument under Bruno’s “Brazil turns to the Right” post:

Bruno (responding to this and your previous linked post), I’m delighted to be assured that Bolsonaro is not a homophobe, misogynist, a racist or a fascist (an absurdly over used term anyway). However, you offer no evidence to counter the impression that Bolsanaro has leanings in these directions in the Anglophone media, and not just the left-wing media.

Can you deal more precisely with some well known claims about Bolsanoro: he has praised at least one military officer who was a notorious torturer under the last dictatorship, he has praised the dictatorship. I’ve just checked your previous contributions on Brazilian politics and you seem to be in favour of the dictatorship as a agent of struggle against Marxism. I agree that marxism is a bad thing, but it’s not clear to me that means supporting rightist dictatorship.

You say that Bolsanaro understands the need for ‘order’ in Brazilian society. I’m sure we can all agree that Brazil would benefit from more rule of law, but calling for ‘order’ has a rather unpleasant ring to it. The ‘party of order’ has rarely been good for liberty. Can you identify some restrictions on liberty in Brazil that Bolsanaro would remove? Don’t you think there is the slightest risk his attitude to ‘order’ might lead the police to act with more violence? Do you deny that the police sometimes act with excessive violence in Brazil? Do you have any expectation that Bolsanaro will do anything to resolve this or the evident failings of the judicial system?

Do you deny that Bolsanaro said he would prefer his son to be gay rather than die? Don’t you think this gives gays good reason to fear Bolsanaro? I have had a message from a gay American friend who says he is afraid of what will happen and may have to flee the country? Do you understand and care why he is afraid? Do you have any words I can pass onto my friend to reassure him? Preferably not angry words about Gramsci, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘gender theory’. Could you actually explain what this ‘gender theory’ in schools is that it i so terrible and apparently justifies Bolsanaro’s crude language? Do you deny that he said a congress woman was too ugly to rape? Can you explain how someone can be fit to hold the highest office in Brazil who makes such a comment?

It’s nice of course that Bolsanaro says now he is favour of free market economics, but isn’t he now back pedalling on this and promising to preserve PT ‘reforms’? Exactly what free market policies do you expect him to introduce and what do you think about the rowing back even before he is in office? Could you say more about which parties and personalities represent classical liberalism now in Congress? If Lula and other leftist politicians (who of course I don’t support at all) have used worse language than Bolsonaro, could you please give examples?

On more theoretical matters

‘Cultural marxism’ to my mind is not an excuse for Bolsanaro’s words and behaviour, or what I know about them. Your account of cultural Marxism anyway strikes me as fuzzy. I very much doubt that Gramsci would recognise himself amongst current ‘cultural Marxists’ and the topics that concern them. I can assure you that a lot of people labelled ‘cultural Marxists’ would not recognise themselves as Marxist or as followers of Marcuse or Gramsci.

The politics of Michel Foucault are a rather complicated and controversial matter but lumping him with some Marxist bloc is hopeless. This isn’t the place to say much about Foucault, but try reading say: *Fearless Speech*, *Society Must Be Defended*, or *Birth of Biopolitics* then see if you think that Foucault belongs with some Marxist or cultural Marxist bloc. The claim that relativism about truth is something to do with Marxism and the anti-liberal left is absurd, all kinds of people with all kinds of politics have had all kinds of views about the status of truth over history. Jürgen Habermas who is an Enlightenment universalist is an influence on the intellectual left, as is Noam Chomsky, a belief in innate knowledge in the form of the universal grammar of languages and associated logical capacity.

Conservatism has often resorted to relativism about the unique values of different countries. Do you think the ancient Sceptics and Sophists have something to do with cultural Marxism? You are referring to these phenomena in a series of familiar talking points from conservative pundits which do not make sense when applied to rather disparate people with different kinds of leftism, of course I have criticisms of them but different kinds of criticisms respecting differences between groups, in which I try to understand their arguments and recognise that sometimes they have arguments worth taking seriously, not a series of angry talking points.

I look forward to being educated by your reply. Please do give us detail and write at length. I write at length, so does Jacques, so there is no reason why you should not.

Again, Barry’s arguments are a good indication of how many in the libertarian movement, worldwide, view Bolsonaro (and others like him, such as Trump), but, while I eagerly await Bruno’s thoughts on Barry’s questions, I have my own to add:

Bolosonaro got 55% of the vote in Brazil. How long can leftists continue to keep calling him a “fascist” or on the “far-right” of the Brazilian political spectrum, especially given Brazil’s cultural and intellectual diversity? Leftists are, by and large, liars. They lie to themselves and to others, and maybe Bruno’s excitement over Bolsonaro’s popularity has more to do with the cultural rebuke of leftist politics in Brazil than to Bolsonaro himself; he’s well-aware, after all, that Brazil’s problems run deeper than socialism.

Bolsonaro’s vulgar, dangerous language might be entertaining, and Brazil’s rebuke of socialist politics is surely encouraging, but it can be easy to “take your eye off the ball,” as we say in the States. Brazil has a long way to go, especially if, like me, you think Brazilians have elected yet another father figure rather than a president tasked with running the executive branch of the federal government.

Brazil’s Turn to the Right

Last elections in Brazil are not yet over. Brazilians will go back to the polls before the end of this month to decide who will be the country’s next president. But few doubt that Brazil’s next president will be Jair Messias Bolsonaro.

No matter what you read in mainstream media, Bolsonaro is not homophobic. He is not racist. He is not misogynist. And certainly, he is not a fascist. If he is any of these things, he hides pretty well. His language can certainly be very crude, and he can be very direct in his speech. Maybe that is exactly why he is being elected. Brazilians are tired of politicians who don’t speak their minds. With Bolsonaro, what you see is what you get.

And what do you get? Bolsonaro is not strong on any ideology. He is a self-professed Christian (somewhere between a Roman Catholic and an Evangelical), a Patriot and a family man. Because of his patriotism, for many years he believed in protectionism and developmentalism, but it seems more and more that he left these things in the past. Bolsonaro is inclined to defend free-market policies.

Alongside Bolsonaro, a very right-wing congress has been elected. For the first time in many decades, Brazil has many representatives who are ideologically classical liberals or conservatives. This is even better than having Bolsonaro as president. Meanwhile, the leftist parties (especially the Workers Party of Lula da Silva) lost quite some terrain.

If Bolsonaro and this Congress make a mildly good govern, the left will be in serious trouble in Brazil. Brazil is still a very poor country where people, for the most part, don’t vote ideologically. They vote in those who can bring development to their lives. That’s how Lula da Silva got reelected and was able to elect a successor, even with major corruption scandals surrounding him and his party.

The wind of change in Brazil is better than anything I could expect.