The Bolsonaro effect

14 October 2018

The virtual victory of Jair Bolsonaro in the Brazilian presidential elections on 7 October has sent shockwaves around the world, including Peru.

Bolsonaro, who is sometimes seen as a sort of cross between US President Donald Trump and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, is a self-confessed anti-Communist, mysogenist, anti-gay, pro-torture, pro-gun authoritarian who has frequently expressed nostalgia for the days of military dictatorship in Brazil.

The 46% that Bolsonaro achieved in the first round reflects a profound malaise about citizen insecurity and corruption in Brazil. People voted for him in droves because of his ‘law-and-order’ message and because of his challenge to the political establishment. This victory for right-wing populism (some would say neo-fascism) has sent shock waves through Brazil’s neighbours in Latin America.

How much relevance is there here for Peru? Problems of corruption abound in Peru, as readers of the PSG Newsletter will be aware. Insecurity in its various forms looms large in people’s perceptions of the problems that afflict them on a daily basis. Peru is a country where faith in political parties has long been at a low ebb, and where feelings of antipathy towards the political class rides high.

Although this looks fertile terrain for the sort of Bolsonaro-style movements to gain sway, there are various reasons why, for the moment at least, this does not appear to be an immediate threat.

One reason for this is that Peru has already experienced its Bolsonaro moment with the election of Alberto Fujimori in 1990. At the time of Fujimori’s election, Peru was undergoing the sort of crisis of confidence that has recently taken root in Brazil. Fujimori’s style of anti-establishment authoritarianism was wildly popular in the 1990s, and his 1992 auto-golpe was received positively among large swathes of the population.

Fujimori appealed to the same sort of conservative ideas as Bolsonaro, not least to evangelical Christians. He also appealed to the military, entering into a pact with the most reactionary sectors of the army in opposition to the upholding of human rights. He claimed to be the outsider who would sweep away the corruption in public life made manifest during the government of his predecessor, Alan García.

But in Peru, Fujimori ended up appearing worse than the disease he professed to be addressing. Driven from office in 2000, he was jailed in 2008 for corruption and crimes against humanity. When people think Bolsonaro in Peru, they think Alberto Fujimori, whose pardon last year was reversed a week ago by the Supreme Court.

The roles of Fujimori’s successors, his daughter Keiko and son Kenji, have done little to de-toxify the Fujimori brand. Keiko’s support has dwindled in recent months, in large part because of the manoeuvres of her party, Fuerza Popular (FP) to avoid being accused formally of corruption. Her arrest last week may confirm Keiko’s guilt. Partly as a result of these troubles, President Martín Vizcarra has seen his standing increase notably in seeking to implement political and judicial reforms designed to tackle the sort of corrupt behaviour often associated with FP.

It is also noteworthy that Daniel Urresti, the retired army general only recently absolved of assassinating a journalist in Ayacucho in 1988, failed to win the mayoralty of Lima in the 7 October municipal elections. Urresti had adopted the same sort of law-and-order discourse now fashionable in Brazil, believing it to be his passport to running Lima. He was briefly interior minister in the Humala government, where he gained notoriety for his authoritarian posture.

Of course nothing can be ruled out in Peruvian politics. But for the time being at least, the appearance of a Peruvian Bolsonaro sweeping all before him seems an improbable scenario.

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  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

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