Many of Brazil’s youth are turning towards conservatism amid multiple corruption scandals and economic decline under leftist rule, a BBC report detailed on Monday.
The report was published before a pivotal Supreme Court decision all but eliminated the socialist candidate for the presidency Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the campaign for the October election. The court affirmed that Lula could be arrested after being twice convicted of corruption and money laundering.
The BBC highlights the case of the high-profile feminist activist Sara Winter, who used to protest by chaining herself to fences over what she perceived to be Brazil’s misogynistic culture and high levels of sexual violence.
Six years after having an abortion, Winter went through a political transformation in which she refound the Catholic Church and gained new perspectives on the sanctity of life.
“I was so happy because I felt that God was giving me a second chance to be a mum,” she told the outlet. “I decided to come back to the Church and I think I can help women much more with conservative politics than feminism.”
“[I spent] five years being the most popular feminist in Brazil and I did nothing for women,” she continued. “I just spent this time talking about abortion and legalizing drugs and communism and I called that empowering myself.”
Winter is now one of many people supporting the right-wing populist candidate Jair Bolsonaro in the country’s upcoming presidential elections.
Among many positions, Bolsonaro has proposed reversing the country’s ruling on same-sex marriage, banning abortion, reintroducing the death penalty, loosening gun laws, and chemically castrating those convicted of rape. Bolsonaro has also proposed an increased military presence on Brazil’s streets in response to soaring crime, although this has also created fear of nostalgia towards the country’s former military dictatorship.
He has courted controversy, being branded as “homophobic” and “racist” by some in the media, for several outspoken declarations, including claims his children would not date a black woman because “they were brought up in an educated environment.” He also told a fellow congresswoman that he would never rape her because she “isn’t worth it.”
“I know it sounds really awkward, but really, if any woman could see Bolsonaro’s policies, she would be in love, like me,” said Winter.
Bolsonaro currently sits second in the polls at 12.3 percent, behind former socialist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will now have to serve 12-year prison sentence for his involvement in a government-wide corruption scheme known as “Operation Car Wash.”
Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016 for allegedly manipulating government budgets to fraudulently attract foreign investors. Rousseff presided over a major economic crisis that saw millions of people take to the streets in protest.
Bolsonaro has branded himself the “Brazilian Trump” and, among other similarities, has a large and active social media following. He has 5.2 followers on his Facebook page, while other groups such as the Free Brazil Movement (MBL) are also attracting massive audiences.
Talking to El Mundo in January, 17-year-old Bolsonaro supporter Gabriel, who identifies as gay, denied that his candidate is homophobic, claiming that “journalists always exaggerate his words” and that he is the only person who “will put the country in order.”
“What’s happening is that us gays can’t be complaining about everything, always asking preferential treatment, that is what annoys Bolsonaro and myself included,” he said.
Another young activist, identified as 21-year-old Fernando Holiday, has also made inroads into conservative politics. Also gay and from a working-class background, he was recently elected as a city councilor in São Paolo for the right-wing Democrats party, he says young people have long been disengaged in Brazilian politics.
“The right became synonymous with more conservative politics, irrelevant for minorities,” he told the BBC. “It also became associated with authoritarian, even nostalgic feelings about the dictatorship, like Bolsonaro.”
“But I think we bring a wider vision of what the right is,” he continued. “Not everything fits into a standard box and is determined by rigid rules.”
“There exists a feeling among an ever-smaller minority in Brazil that I’m that man who could be a dictator, even though I say that in Brazil there wasn’t a dictatorship,” Bolsonaro was quoted as saying last year, in reference to the country’s troubled military past. “Thirty percent of young people are with me, and I tell them to talk to their grandparents about how that period was and how it is today.”