Separatist Me: Brazil’s 2019 presidential inauguration
An account of the day after Brazil’s 2019 presidential inauguration, and widespread hypocrisy.
This New Year’s Eve felt like it happened in reverse. It’s astonishing how entering 2019 could feel so un-futuristic. The viral meme wishing everyone a happy 1964 (the year Brazil entered a 20 year military dictatorship financed by the USA) was probably the funniest joke to not make anyone laugh since Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful”. The 1st of January military parade of inauguration had the blinding glare of the Queen’s jewels and that golden piano. How impressively antiquated, and out of touch with basic human decency.
The first display of political tension I witnessed this year happened the day after the inauguration, and about one hour after I ventured out of the house for the first time after NYE. It was January 2nd, around 7pm, and I met with a friend to drink wine on steps that lead to a church in the historic center of Salvador. We weren’t alone. Kids were playing soccer; half a dozen hippie-ish hispanic jugglers were smoking; a couple was making out; some street cats and dogs were roaming around aimlessly; and my friend and I, grumpy looking witches wearing all black and tattooed all over, were complaining about the world while sipping on what resembled blood.
Our dark aura was justified… The only positive things we had to say were about the fact that the church will remain almost always closed, and that the walls around the stairs were routinely painted white but wouldn’t last a full day without recovering its graffiti; like body-hair on a woman obsessed with shaving. Some tourist walked by and took a photo of a tag that said “pigs govern”, and I said “I wish” (sincerely), which made my friend let out an evil laugh.
That was until a passerby’s dog had an unfriendly encounter with one of the jugglers’ dog. The juggler kicked his own dog to stop the fighting, which provoked a fight between the two dog owners. Instantly, the dogs and the men were violently barking at each other. The passerby was pissed about witnessing animal cruelty (and so was I); moreover, he was worried about how this cruelty could affect the wellbeing of his own dog. The juggler didn’t have much to say other than macho cliches like: “It’s My dog. You don’t know me. What’s your problem? What’s your problem?”… with a Spanish accent. He was from Chile. So, eventually the other guy said:
“You are in My Homeland, little faggot.”
My friend and I immediately stood up in shock and prepared to start a physical fight, but it wasn’t easy to defend someone like this juggler from homophobic and xenophobic remarks.
The guy left with his dog, and I turned to the juggler saying: “Don’t fucking hit your dog, man. And watch out for these Bolsominions, they will find any excuse to come after you. Don’t be that guy who offers the gun to the asshole who wants to kill you”. His response was: “I don’t care about politics. You don’t know me, and you don't know how I treat my dog. You are the xenophobic one”.
We all left as soon as we saw the guy from before coming back with friends, watching us while holding their phones, and a cop car driving by. (In this article I will skip the blatant issue of homophobia and sexism to focus on capitalism and white supremacy, but it should be clear that all these problems are connected and equally relevant.)
Bolsominions’ xenophobic views, against Hispanics in particular, comes from a rejection of Venezuela’s “communist” tendencies (alongside every other mixed economy initiative erroneously deemed “communist”). There is also a white supremacist need to disassociate Brazilians from Hispanics. This becomes visible when we bend over backwards to try and communicate with Europeans and USAmericans in English, but complain when Hispanics speak Portuguese with a Spanish accent. Anti-“communism” and white supremacy goes hand in hand because the belief in the meritocracy “ensured” by the capitalist system justifies these people’s racist views and idolatry of Northern/Western values.
One widespread view these capitalists hold is that Indigenous communities are a threat to Brazilian sovereignty, because there are a lot of foreign academics and humanitarian institutions involved with them. My father always tells stories of how he encountered tribes while riding his motorcycle around the country, where the natives spoke no Brazilian Portuguese; only their own language and English. Worse yet, they would charge him money, or a simple box of chocolates, to drive through their land. As if Indigenous peoples were the ones who invented tolling. And as if they have a mere chance to preserve their native languages without the support of foreign universities.
Patriotism that rejects Natives for their relationship with foreign NGO’s, and defends buying billions worth of military equipment from Europe and the United States, is particularly moronic. During the first round of elections in October of last year, an obscenely large military ship was anchored at the Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro. It was bought from the U.K. by then-president Temer for almost half a billion Reais, and it’s the capital ship in our navy. What’s its purpose? “Projection of power over land,” soon at the disposal of our new president-elect.
According to the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, “it is often during armed conflicts that human rights are infringed upon the most.” While we make big investments in our ability to wage war, Brazil's new human rights minister, Damares Alves, has unapologetically waged war on Indigenous peoples. She has helped found the NGO Atini, the organization responsible for the making of a dishonest documentary about Natives practicing infanticide, called “Hakani". She is no longer a member of the organization, but was at the time of the making of the film. Atini has been sued, and her name was dragged into it (media-wise), although she was not implicated in the legal process. This 2016 process sought justice for the Indigenous communities that suffered severe discrimination because of the lies spread by the film; lies that had the purpose of not only inciting hate, but also of influencing government policies, and promoting christian missionary work.
In this political landscape, I really wished for things to be easily divided between those for and those against what this president represents. But of course this won’t be the case. There will be hard choices, but most importantly, we will need to choose our comrades very carefully. Security doesn’t only mean using Signal, or holding every leftist’s hand literally and figuratively. This whole idea of strength in numbers gets really complicated when you realize you don’t want to share the responsibility of your own safety with anyone who claims “NotHim”.
Call me a separatist: I will point out the hypocrisy of those who preach about anti-capitalism and “the power of positive energy”, but kick their dogs and come at bros with their chests ballooned out. Because even when they are victims of hate speech, they refuse to talk about the political conjuncture.
Can movements be diverse? Yes, of course. Resistance movements don’t have to be homogenous, but they have to ensure the wellbeing of its members. For instance, a woman shouldn’t have to sacrifice her feminist beliefs so she can join a group with sexist Antifa dudes. If the Antifa group wants diversity, then they need to know what this entails beyond mere tokenism.
Is separatism classist? Not necessarily. It is possible for members to demand respect without making a group financially or “intellectually” (as in “intellectualism”) exclusive. It is classist if an organisation or movement exists in an environment that is hostile to people who have fewer resources (from physical accessibility to academic jargon). It isn’t classist to simply expect not to be harassed by anyone, not even someone who is poorer than you.
We live in a world where a reality show star can announce a Federal state of emergency over a useless wall. A human rights minister can create fake propaganda about indigenous people practicing infanticide in order to influence government policy. Black-face is still fun, and the (dis)appearing bodies in the Mediterranean Sea are barren. What are we doing? Drinking beer, rolling our eyes, and talking about where to get steel straws? Checking ingredients in the supermarket, writing long facebook posts, and crying in front of the T.V.? How terribly lonely, I know.
Tolerating smaller acts of violence inside bigger movements isn’t the solution to this loneliness. In the long run, all the small things that were overlooked will come back bigger and stronger. Perhaps we don’t need a lot of people to do something that matters. A small, trustworthy group can go a long way. Wherever you are, and whatever resources are available to you, there is fulfilling work to be done that doesn’t need to be done institutionally or single-handedly. Once we have that going, then we can start collaborating with others, and re-think the scope.
Editor and writer based in Brazil.