Bolsonaro is an incompetent populist, not planning a military coup

The Financial Times says Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is a threat to his country's democracy. Not so fast. In this episode of The Red Pen — where we do our best to keep op-eds honest — Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Chris Garman and Filipe Carvalho poke holes in the FT's argument.


We're taking a look at Brazil and that nation's controversial president, by way of a recent editorial from the F.T. The Pinks, as they call them. It's titled, "Jair Bolsonaro sparks fears for Brazilian democracy." Now, Brazil has more than its share of troubles, and especially right now, as they are the epicenter of the global coronavirus epidemic. The shameful mishandling of coronavirus, I mean, truly, even worse than what we've seen in the United States, by the president, has led to an explosion of outbreak there. And Bolsonaro was actually even censored on social media. I don't mean just like, a fact check. I mean, absolutely shut down for promoting false information about the virus. And in general, he's been called the tropical Trump. He's lost two of his ministers of health within four weeks of each other because he's been promoting chloroquine as a miracle cure. He's involved in rallies and occasionally not wearing masks while he's with all sorts of mass public on the streets. I mean again, everything that's been driving people crazy in the United States, take that, multiply it by about 50, and you see what president Bolsonaro has been doing in Brazil.

But the premise of the F.T. editorial is not that Bolsonaro is incompetent or that he's doing a bad job. It's rather that he has the ultimate goal of dismantling Brazil's democracy. The democracy they've had since 1988 when a new constitution brought an end to military rule. And on that, I say not so fast.

First, the Financial Times argues the Bolsonaro is at war with the Supreme Court, with Congress and with the press, all in effort to undermine Brazil's democratic institutions. Now, actually, Bolsonaro is much weaker than any of this lets on. It's less that he's trying to destroy other parts of government and certainly not that he'd be successful. Rather, he's responding to pressure to shrink his already comparatively limited power.

Also, worth noting on that point, the F.T. cites the fact that Bolsonaro has attended rallies where protesters were calling for a shutdown of Congress and the Supreme Court, to return to military rule. But there happens to be record high disenchantment with Brazil's democratic institutions. So, it's no surprise that the president is fanning the flames for political gain. That makes him a populist. That's very different from a would-be dictator.

Which brings us to the military, F.T. writes "Mr. Bolsonaro's fondness for military rule goes beyond words and symbols; a former Army captain, he has packed his government with more than 100 serving and retired military officers, including several cabinet ministers and his vice president." That is meant to bolster the argument that the president of Brazil is looking for a military dictatorship. Now, to be clear, Bolsonaro has a military background. And he has stacked his cabinet with generals. That makes a lot of people queasy in a country that recently had military rule. But there is zero support in the military for actually breaking apart Brazil's democracy. The generals see the military as the protector and not the enemy of the Constitution.

Finally, the F.T. argues that Bolsonaro is trying to provoke a crisis of democracy to get reelected as his nation reels from the pandemic. Now has the third highest death toll in the world and a lot lower population than the United States. And his poll numbers continue to sink. The Red Pen is telling you that the drop in Bolsonaro's approval ratings has actually been pretty modest so far, and he isn't using polarizing language to justify military intervention, he's doing it because it mobilizes his base.

Does that sound like anybody we know? Absolutely. It's exactly what's happening with President Trump in the United States. And the effort of mobilizing the military in the US was, of course, massively constrained by Trump's own generals. The head of the Joint Chiefs writing a memo saying that the generals report to the Constitution. They are loyal to the Constitution, not the United States president. Hundreds of generals, former defense ministers, secretaries of defense and heads of Joint Chief, all saying they feel the president himself is acting in unconstitutional fashion. That doesn't mean the United States on the verge of becoming a dictatorship, but actually shows the United States has much stronger, independent, professionalized military than a lot of people previously believed.

In Brazil, that's the case, too. And so Bolsonaro may need to go. And if it happens, it's going to happen with a democratic election. It's not going to happen on the back of a failed coup attempt and the potential for the military to take over a thriving democracy in the world's largest economy in South America.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truck loads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

More Show less

Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

More Show less

Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

More Show less

ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

More Show less

149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal