In closely watched election, Lula defeats Bolsonaro to win Brazil presidency
Defeat for far right in Brazil increases challenges for U.S. imperialism in the Americas
On October 30, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, defeated Jair Bolsonaro, the far right-wing incumbent president of Brazil, to win Brazil’s presidency. The election was a runoff after no candidate won 50% of the votes in the first round of the election earlier in October.
The runoff election was very close, reflecting the increasing polarization that exists in most capitalist countries in this period. Lula won 50.9% of the vote versus Bolsonaro’s 49.1%. While the percentage was close, the vote totals were convincing as Lula won by more than 2 million votes.
Throngs of people jubilantly poured into the streets of Brazil’s cities to celebrate the defeat of the hated Bolsonaro after four years of right wing rule and a tense, polarized campaign. Statements of congratulations and solidarity with Lula poured in from socialist, anti-imperialist and progressive leaders around the world, including the presidents of Cuba, China, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Colombia and more.
Lula is the candidate of the Workers Party (PT), a social democratic party, in coalition with many other parties including the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) and social movement organizations including the Landless Workers Movement (MST), the Brazil Workers’ Central (CTB) and many other unions and popular movements. Lula also made alliances with sectors of capital; for example, his vice president-elect is Geraldo Alckmin, who ran against Lula in 2006 and is a pro-business centrist.
Lula started out as a metal worker and a union leader in the 1980s organizing against Brazil’s right-wing military dictatorship. He was a founder of the Workers Party in that period, and ran several times unsuccessfully for president, before winning twice, serving as Brazil’s president from 2003-2010.
Lula’s successor from the Workers Party, Dilma Rousseff, served a term and a half as president after him, before being impeached and removed from office in 2016 on trumped-up corruption charges, in what many labeled a soft coup. She was replaced by Michel Temer, a Washington-friendly neo-liberal. In the 2018 elections, Bolsonaro emerged as an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate in the context of corruption charges involving people from the biggest political parties, even though his right-wing policies and rhetoric strengthened the ruling class establishment rather than challenging it. Lula was prohibited from running against Bolsonaro in 2018 because of bogus legal charges that were trumped up against him at the time. He was jailed for more than a year, until he was freed after the election.
During Bolsonaro’s four years in power, he was cozy with Donald Trump and is often compared to him politically. He publicly longed for the return of Brazil’s military dictatorship and carried out extreme pro-capitalist policies that were detrimental to workers’ rights and went on the attack against the democratic rights of many sectors of the people, as well as opening up the Amazon rainforest — vital to the planet’s environment — to destruction. His callous approach to the COVID pandemic resulted in more deaths than any other country except the U.S.
Lula’s defeat of Bolsonaro is being celebrated by progressive and left forces in Brazil. But the most significant impact of Lula’s victory may be in the realm of international politics, where he’s likely to have more room for maneuver than in domestic politics.
Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America and one of the ten largest economies in the world. It’s the largest country by population and size in Latin America, so what happens there has a significant weight in the Americas and in the world.
U.S. imperialism is in decline and is desperately working to stay the world’s dominant power, twisting arms and provoking wars around the world.
Lula’s victory in Brazil takes away the biggest right-wing ally to U.S. imperialism that was still remaining in Latin America. It’s a stunning reversal from just a few years ago when right-wing forces defeated several progressive governments in the Americas, including Brazil. In that context, the U.S. imperialists attempted to go for the jugular and take down the three left-led governments that still remained — Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Those three all staved off serious imperialist-backed attempts at “regime change” and remain strong.
With the recent electoral defeat of right-wing parties in Colombia, Peru, Honduras and now Brazil, it’s very likely that the project of increased political and economic integration in Latin America and the Caribbean — independent of the U.S. rather than subservient to it — could advance quickly.
When he was in power before, Lula put an emphasis on increasing cooperation with progressive and socialist governments and promoting “south-south” cooperation independent of U.S. imperialism, so this seems likely.
One form this will take that could have a big impact on global politics will be the revitalization and likely expansion of the BRICS alliance — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — as a growing power center independent of U.S. imperialism. Lula was one of the initiators of BRICS when he was in power before, so we’re likely to see BRICS strengthened with Lula back in power. Before the election he spoke about wanting to expand BRICS to bring in other countries like Argentina. Strengthening and expanding the unity of several of the largest economies and largest countries in the world poses a serious challenge to the dominance that the U.S. imperialists want to maintain.