Beginning last year, Brazil has seen itself submersed in political turmoil, economic recession and at the center of a health epidemic. Impeachment, inflation and Zika are some words that Brazilians have been dealing with for some time now.
With the Olympic Games, these domestic problems have gained international attention. Thousands of athletes, journalists and tourists are now heading to Brazil, but what they will find could be far from what once was one of the most joyful countries in the world. The country once known for throwing carnival, the world’s biggest party, is now facing a wave of conservatism, open racism, homophobia and religious intolerance, among other hardships.
Brazilians find themselves in the midst of a structural crisis. The process that ousted democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff casts a shadow over Brazil’s future and has been revealing a yet unknown facet of Brazilians.
One can argue that the world is seeing a wave of conservatism precipitated by phenomena such as immigration, economic recession and the rise of religious intolerance. The rise of conservative candidates such as Donald Trump in the United States and xenophobic extremist parties in Europe are seen as a sign of this pendulous moment in world history that throws back societies into a past that was believed to be long gone. But is history doomed to repeat itself like some historians say?
Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world but the Church is currently losing ground to evangelism, a religion that first cropped up in lower-class neighborhoods and favelas, then gained economic power by buying big communication corporations and then rising to via evangelical pastors being elected to office. That is no random fact or isolated phenomenon. The rise of conservatism is changing the face of Brazil.
Brazilians might just be fed up with ongoing corruption, liberalism and a lack of change in living conditions. The Labor Party (PT) failed to fulfill its promise to eradicate corruption for good, instead it took part in it. That stripped Brazilians of one of the human most important assets: hope. So, they are looking elsewere for absolution.
But are they willing to give up one of the country’s most prized cultural heritages to “moralize” the country? Brazilians were proud of what they called jeitinho brasileiro, a way to get by laws by talking their way out them, by bending the rules or just by being flexible. That flexibility to talk your way out a traffic ticket or evade taxes, for instance, was long seen as a cultural trait. Now, Brazilians are having to relinquish those old habits if they want to ban malpractices. That could mean that higher classes should relinquish privileges so the lower classes can have their rights. That means corrupt politicians, from all walks of life, must face jail time for their crimes. That means being a law-abiding country. Sounds logical, right?
Well, not quite. Not yet. For centuries, anthropologists have pointed out that Brazilians see shared spaces, such as the street, as free spaces to vandalize since they belong to the government and the government is the enemy. They see taxes as an abuse imposed by the government to pay for its luxuries. Can we blame them? With an unreliable education and health system, problematic roads and other public services failing to satisfy citizens, and one of the world’s highest tax burdens, Brazilians find no hope in the administration.
And conservatism preys on those unsatisfied needs. Instead of blaming the lenient judicial system (that serves only the rich and powerful) and an uncommitted political class, Brazilians are now turning on themselves, on the minorities, on gays and relying on those who can claim they will “straighten out” the country. They elect congressmen like Jair Bolsonaro, an openly anti-gay legislator who openly preaches the military solution as a valid government and praises dictatorship-era torturers and has gone as far as saying to a female colleague she deserved to be “raped.”
Brazil might be facing a moral crisis. For quite some time Brazilians laughed at the fact that the country was not a “serious one.” The malandro character, a “tramp” that used whatever means necessary to get by, was praised in songs, books and national folklore. With athletes hitting the Olympic village just to find they are “unlivable,” that concept is not funny business anymore after all. The money stolen from the Olympics might curb the Brazilian party. Brazilians might not get away with it this time.
As the world waits for its caipirinha, samba and beach party, the “not-so-serious” Brazilians have their minds elsewhere. They are faced with a possible moral crisis aggravated by a deep recession and political turmoil that is not a random situation but a living reflection of the canyons dividing the Brazilian soul as we speak. It is hard to throw a party and soul search at the same time. But again, Brazilians are extremely resilient and might surprise us all.