Brazil Protests Highlight Growing Rebellion Against Latin America’s … – The Epoch Times
It’s been called the “new pink tide” in Latin America—a widespread rise to power of leftist leaders that has swept the region since 2018.
Like conservative dominoes falling in quick succession, it began with Mexico, and then Argentina followed suit. As did Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil.
But now a right-wing fire of rebellion is spreading.
The explosive protests and takeover of key government offices in Brazil’s capital on Jan. 8 by supporters of former President Jair Bolonaro put the world on edge.
Security forces arrest supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro after retaking control of Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia on Jan. 8, 2023. ( Ton Molina/AFP via Getty Images)
Hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Supreme Court, Congress, and the presidential palace as local police scrambled to intervene.
The protest was highly organized, including transportation from across the country, and was planned in advance through chat groups on social media Telegram.
Bolsonaro supporters—many of whom wore the nation’s flag as a cape during the Jan. 8 event—collectively refuse to accept the narrow election loss to leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known locally as “Lula.”
The occupation of the country’s landmark government offices happened within days of Lula’s Jan. 1 inauguration.
However, Brazil’s unprecedented demonstrations on Jan. 8 are a link in a much larger chain of recent anti-government demonstrations in South America.
A month earlier, across Brazil’s western border, Peru’s Congress ousted former socialist President Pedro Castillo on Dec. 7 after he attempted to dissolve parliament and enforce a national curfew to curb protests against his regime.
In neighboring Bolivia, opposition forces in Santa Cruz kicked off a five-week protest in October against leftist president Luis Arce over a contested national census date. It brought the nation to an economic standstill and cost the ruling regime more than $1 billion dollars.
Subsequently, police arrested the governor of Santa Cruz department and key opposition leader—Luis Fernando Camacho—on Dec. 28.
Camacho was put in “preventative detention” in a maximum security prison on charges of terrorism. The historic arrest sparked a new wave of protests and roadblocks against Arce’s administration, which are ongoing.
In Argentina, demonstrations against the Peronist regime of Alberto Angel Fernandez turned violent last September when a gunman attempted to assassinate the country’s vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, amidst crippling high inflation and economic turmoil.
And the common thread that connects all these events? Some say it’s questionable voting systems, unfair taxation, and “welfare” laws that punish the region’s working middle class.
Just The Beginning?
“There’s a general feeling among the population of these countries that their nations’ voting systems are not reliable. That vote-rigging is widespread,” regional analyst and author Dr. Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat told The Epoch Times.
Certain political parties and groups monopolize institutions, especially at the local and provincial levels, making election interference a concern for many. Boronat says Cuba is the benchmark for “single party” elections, a concept regional residents fear could happen within their own borders.
“So, they see protests as the only genuine expression of democracy,” he said, adding, “Latin American citizens have seen how leftist dictatorships on the continent have been almost impossible to dismantle, even after decades.”
When it comes to election outcomes, Bolsonaro’s supporters in Brazil have escalated the game. For better or worse, they’ve set a precedent for those who challenge the official results in their own countries.
Moreover, some insiders believe it’s just the beginning of the resistance against Lula’s administration.
“I don’t think this will be the end of it with Bolsonaro’s supporters,” Renata Castro told The Epoch Times.
Castro is an immigration attorney and the founder of Castro Legal Group in Florida. As a Rio de Janeiro native who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years, she has a keen understanding of Brazil’s political theater.
“The current government isn’t prepared to handle any organized [protest] action in Brazil … The country has the resources, but I don’t think they’re prepared for what could happen,” she said.
When asked if she thought Bolsonaro’s supporters truly suspected election fraud, or just didn’t want Lula in office, Castro thinks it’s probably both.
A survey from October 2022 outside a polling station in Rio de Janeiro showed that, even after decades of electronic ballots, not everyone in Brazil trusts the voting process.
Castro said, “The consequences of what’s going on will go far beyond just these protests.”
In Brazil, local reports of a stun gun, ammunition, and other security equipment stolen during the Jan. 8 protests marked a distinct departure from peaceful demonstrations against the government.
“It shows just how fragile it all is,” she asserted.
Mobilized Middle Class
Nowhere in the Americas has the over-taxation of the working middle class backfired harder than in Argentina.
The country went through four high-level cabinet members in less than 30 days last year while massive protests pressured Fernandez’s administration to counter soaring inflation.
Black markets for the U.S. dollar were on every street corner in Buenos Aires as officials scrambled to stem an economic hemorrhage and a free-falling currency.
The national poverty levels in Argentina are at 40 percent, and only 43 percent of adults are employed.
In a last-ditch maneuver, the government attempted to raise taxes on the working class yet again in 2022. It was met with explosive backlash and an attempt on Kirchner’s life.
Boronat says this is like a calling card of socialist regimes in the region. High taxes are imposed on businesses and the people who work.
“Another reason for recent protests is the middle class in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina, and self-employed Cubans, believe that leftist governments consistently enact laws against their interests,” he said.
Aerial view of members of social and trade union organizations protesting on July 20, 2022, in Buenos Aires. (Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images)
“To either keep their wealth in check or to maintain massive welfare systems that trap unemployed and poorer citizens in patron–client relationships.”
In the meantime, Bolivia’s emerging middle class is fighting tooth and nail against unfair taxation.
Protesters in Santa Cruz are pushing back with an acute awareness of the link between financial independence and freedom from the state.
A small business owner who preferred to be identified as “Juan” for fear of reprisals, told The Epoch Times protesting is more than an act of political defiance. It’s an act of preservation.
“What would you do if you had 200 years of systematic assaults and politics abusing an entire region?” he asked rhetorically.
Juan says the tradition of rich, colonial-era families from La Paz exploiting Santa Cruz’s vast resources is the same approach used by Arce and his Movement for Socialism party today.
More than 70 percent of Bolivia’s food and mineral resources come from Santa Cruz, but the department receives a disproportionately small return from tax revenue.
“Santa Cruz carries the [economic] force of the rest of the country,” Juan said.
However, he identified a key difference between the colonial-era rulers and Arce’s administration.
Juan maintains, “There’s definitely a lot of directive being made from Cuba and Venezuela … our leaders are pawns, not kings or queens.”
Boronat supports this claim, saying, “There’s enough evidence of Cuba’s presence and participation in destabilizing activities and taking on adviser roles to leftist leaders.”
Washington officials have also made their position clear on Cuba and Venezuela’s regimes, which have endured a strained relationship with the United States for decades.
During the June 2022 Summit of the Americas conference, the leaders of Cuba and Venezuela were not invited.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called the governments of both nations “dictators and despots” during a statement targeting the request of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to include Cuba and Venezuela in the conference.
Though Obrador’s defense of Cuba and Venezuela aside, the two nations serve as a cautionary tale throughout the region. The aforementioned regimes are the subject of a common fear that echoes across borders, in every language: No one wants to end up like Cuba or Venezuela. Politically or economically.
Yet friendly relations between Caracas, Havana, and the region’s ambitious leftist governments—particularly in Colombia, Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia—have prompted locals to keep a wary eye on their elected leaders.
In Brazil, Lula’s new administration hopes to restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela, which Bolsonaro suspended in 2020.
Back in Bolivia, Juan says the people in Santa Cruz will do whatever it takes to ensure the right to peace and prosperity. It’s something the department prides itself on: the opportunity for anyone to prosper, regardless of nationality, race, or political affiliation.
And they’re just getting started, according to Juan.
“We’re less afraid than they think,” he said.
Autumn is a South America-based reporter covering primarily Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.