Brazilians will vote Sunday, Oct. 28 for their next president and the two options could not be further apart from each other. This has been one of the most polarized presidential races in Latin America.
On one side is Jair Bolsonaro a far-right former Army captain, who praises past dictatorships and champions a neoliberal economic model for the country. On the other side is Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party (PT), a professor and former mayor of Sao Paulo and former minister of education during the government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who envisions a more just and equal Brazil.
In economic terms, Jair Bolsonaro's policies are rooted in a neoliberal agenda, following in the footsteps of what non-elected President Michel Temer has been implementing, and which has brought Brazil to an economic crisis, Juliano Cortinhas, an international relations professor from the National University of Brasilia (UNB), told teleSUR in an exclusive interview.
According to Cortinhas, this economic program would mean "tax exceptions for large companies, with the idea of supporting economic growth under the false theory that employers paying fewer taxes would make more investment, would hire more, would generate a decrease in unemployment." Such a model treats big corporations as the economic engine for Brazil, which has been proven on different occasions in history as not being the case.
"Socially speaking, Bolsonaro's proposals seem extremely aggressive," the professor warned. These social programs will be the complement of the economic incentives for big companies as he "has a set of proposals for decreasing social investment.
"For example in education benefits, there are proposals to increase distance education even from initial education, which for me is very worrying; there are proposals related to integrating the ministry of the environment with the ministry of agriculture with a privilege to agriculture, which can generate a wide deforestation in the Amazon; there are proposals related to reducing the budgets of the FUNAI (National Foundation of the Indian), then reduce the number of indigenous reserves."
On the other hand, Fernando Haddad's policy proposal are those of the PT, which has already proven its capacity to generate large rates of economic growth intimately connected with wealth distribution, resulting in the rapid decrease of poverty — during the 13 years of PT governments, Brazil lifted 50 million people out of poverty.
Cortinhas went on to explain that the proposal by Haddad and his party "is a project that is more concerned with the need for social investment. For a country like Brazil, it seems to me as a more interesting pattern, due to the high level of inequality that exists in the country. Brazil is one of the countries with the greatest inequality in the world. Five percent of the Brazilian population has the same income level as the other 95 percent."
The PT "is a party that is being sold as communist, in the Brazilian public opinion (mainly by the Bolsonaro supporters and by the mass media), but that is far from being so. It is a left party which is concerned with making social investments and bases the growth of the economy on these investments. It is something that was already achieved during the Lula government."
During the 13 years of government, led by Lula first and then by Dilma Rousseff, "they reached a quota system in universities, an increase in the participation of indigenous populations in Brazilian society, a drastic reduction of inequality and poverty in the country."
The achievements of these governments are being attacked by the government of unelected President Michel Temer, who got into power after an unconstitutional parliamentary coup against President Rousseff. However, "what a government of Bolsonaro means is a greater setback. A great setback in the sense that the country has achieved good results, mainly in the years of Lula's government, but also in the first term of Dilma's government."
"It seems to me that there will be a setback in the sense that various social rights attained by the most deprived populations of the country, by the minorities will be lost," added Juliano Cortinhas on his interview.
Talking about the representation of what Bolsonaro would mean for the region, Cortinhas said that he "is part of this right-wing wave that Latin America is living today" adding that the far-right candidate is part of a back and forth in politics in the world, "when there is a great process of approaching to the left, a much more egalitarian discourse, then we have setbacks in the sequence."
A Bolsonaro win will mean a big reversal of progress for the continent in terms of wealth redistribution and poverty reduction. The region is witnessing "a process in which the elites are trying to retake their space in the societies of our countries. I think Brazil will be a step further, and a big one due to its importance," Professor Cortinhas concluded.