Examining Brazil's Radical Shift to the Right with Laura Carvalho and Celso Rocha de Barros

Sept. 30, 2019

On Thursday, September 19, the Brazil LAB hosted two outstanding Brazilian public intellectuals, economist Laura Carvalho, Professor of Economics at the University of São Paulo (USP) and columnist for Folha de São Paulo, and political commentator Celso Rocha de Barros, sociologist and analyst at the Brazilian Central Bank and fellow Folha columnist. 

Carvalho's presentation and research explored the economic motives behind popular support for Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. She found that the greatest shift in voter distribution from the PT, the Workers’ Party, to Bolsonaro came from middle-class voters, who have seen their incomes rise and fall sharply in the past few decades. "Whatever the story is, it's the story of the people in the middle," she said. As to the future, research indicates that many voters who decided to support Bolsonaro late in his campaign are now withdrawing their support. “Voters are leaving the boat and, even from Bolsonaro's perspective, this is a problem," the author of the best-selling book Valsa Brasileiracontended. “The question is, what kind of agenda will they go for in the future? Is something worse possible?”

Barros looked at Bolsonaro’s "New Authoritarianism" in Brazil, calling him "the most radical leader of any democratic nation in the world right now." Inheriting a country already in political turmoil following the controversial impeachment of President Rouseff and years of the Car Wash corruption investigations, Bolsonaro “didn't need to slowly corrode a democratic system, he found it in a catastrophic situation,” said the political analyst. Barros described Bolsonaro’s persistent campaign to replace judges in the supreme court, and his successful weakening of the Brazilian media, yet also pointed out where institutions in Brazil have pushed back – including the Brazilian Congress and, to an extent, the military. His view of the future of Brazilian politics was “bleak” as he explained how internal struggles among the Left and the Democratic Right have made the creation of a pro-democracy coalition very difficult.

This event was co-sponsored by the Program in Latin American Studies, the Department of Anthropology, and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.