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BIPR | SAIS Europe Faculty Panel - Brazil in Turmoil: The Attack on Congress and the Return of Lula
SAIS Europe Faculty Panel - Brazil in Turmoil: The Attack on Congress and the Return of Lula

February 2, 2023 - 11:30

Jacqueline Mazza - Alessandro Merli - Gianfranco Pasquino

Event Recap

Alessandro Merli, an Associate Fellow at SAIS Europe, introduces his distinguished co-panelists, namely Jacqueline Mazza, a professor at SAIS U.S. and a specialist in Latin America and social policy, and Gianfranco Pasquino, a professor at SAIS Europe and University of Bologna with expertise in Italian and Latin American politics. The panelists unravel the political history and current political state of Brazil, less than a month after the January 8th attack on Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court, and presidential palace by Jair Bolsonaro's supporters protesting the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. This historical unpacking elucidates how Lula's current mandate will compare to his previous ones as well as to Bolsonaro's. In returning to the military's role in Brazil's political history the panelists also provide a deeper understanding of the military's response to the January 8th riot and Lula's response to them.

Pasquino begins in the 1930s, describing how Brazil's military would cyclically implement coups to topple corrupt or inefficient presidents. The military broke this cycle in its 1964 coup, maintaining a regime until 1985 when a new president unaffiliated with the military was elected. The military withdrew from politics and has not interfered with a coup since. Mazza suggests the fact that the military permitted illegal and massive encampments of Bolsonaro supporters outside military installations leading up to January 8th reveals their lukewarm acceptance of Lula. She postulates that they prefer the contained governmental benefits Bolsonaro granted them during his mandate more than total power, explaining the delicate balance Lula is striking with them to maintain the peace.

In this way, the panelists describe how Lula has spent the beginning of his presidency responding to Bolsonaro's, as Pasquino labels it, "disreputable" policies, from being anti-vax, anti-gay marriage, a facilitator of deforestation in the Amazon, and co-opting Lula's "Bolsa Familia" financial assistance program for poor Brazilians. In January, Lula rebranded the program back to its original state. Mazza explains that Lula has promised to tackle deforestation and generally reenter the international arena and multilateral talks. Mazza mentions that a main constraint Lula will exert on international cooperation concerns support for Ukraine, on which he will remain neutral, since Russia has Brazil's largest source of fertilizer, and China its largest trading partner.

Merli concludes by delineating the economic challenges Lula will face that were not present in his previous mandates. In the 2000s Lula benefited from a commodities boom, the emergence of China in the world economy which benefited Brazil's exports, and abundant international liquidity. Now, Commodities are retreating after the price hike caused by the war in Ukraine, China is just returning from its isolationist policy in response to the pandemic, and Brazil's GDP is trending downward while its debt to GDP ratio is high. Lula has suggested more spending, a different approach from his orthodox economic policy of the 2000s. Investors are wary of Lula's economic policy in part because his economic team consists of members of his party over those more qualified for the job. With this, the panel opened to questions from the audience.

Full Audio:

SAIS Europe Faculty Panel - Brazil in Turmoil: The Attack on Congress and the Return of Lula
Latin American Studies Series
Jacqueline Mazza
Johns Hopkins University SAIS, US
Alessandro Merli
Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe
Gianfranco Pasquino
University of Bologna; Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe
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