Late Breaking: "Nunca Mais?": Reflections on the 2018 Brazilian Presidential Election

AHA Session
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Adams Room (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Barbara Weinstein, New York University
Wendi Michelle Muse, New York University
Paul Katz, Columbia University
Gabriel de Avilez Rocha, Drexel University
Douglas McRae, Georgetown University
Barbara Weinstein, New York University

Session Abstract

On October 28, 2018, Brazilians went to the polls for their second round of voting and elected Jair Bolsonaro as the nation’s 38th president. Seen as a “savior” by some and a “fascist” by others, Bolsonaro has become well known for his praise of the military dictatorship, his direct threats to marginalized communities and leftists, and his encouragement of followers who have turned the streets of countless Brazilian cities into literal battlegrounds for the citizens they have beaten, harassed, and even murdered. This election has left many within and beyond Brazil wondering not only how the nation arrived at this point but what lessons from the past could inform the future that awaits. The Late-Breaking Session “‘Nunca Mais?’: Reflections on the 2018 Brazilian Presidential Election” brings together five Brazilianist scholars to consider contemporary reverberations of Brazil's history of authoritarian rule and the new struggles that lie ahead for those who seek to challenge it.

Reflecting a wide range of historical fields, “Nunca Mais” analyzes the impact of Bolsonaro’s alarming rhetoric and what his proposed policies will mean for the environment, social movements, and the disenfranchised, in addition to the millions of Brazilians who voted for him. Our panel explores the multifaceted historical landscape that undergirds support for and opposition to Bolsonaro, with Brazil’s military dictatorship, which spanned two decades from 1964 to 1985, as its centerpiece. How could a nation whose activists declared they would “never again” let Brazil return to authoritarian rule elect someone as president who held one of the nation’s darkest periods of the twentieth century in high esteem? How can we as historians contextualize Bolsonaro’s rise to power and support for far-right politics in Brazil and around the world? Finally, at the center of our panel discussion, is perhaps a much more fundamental question: What role do we have, as those who study the past, in struggles against articulations of fascism in the present?

“Nunca Mais” addresses these and several other concerns through our mixed format session that combines short presentations, commentary, and a roundtable discussion about what each of us recognizes as a dialogue between Brazil’s past and present. In hopes of better contextualizing the contours of the election of Bolsonaro, who seeks to eradicate access to historical knowledge in Brazil, and informing an audience beyond Brazilianists of the nation's connection to larger global moves toward the right, we engage several aspects of our respective research. More specifically, we consider the role of torture and violence during the dictatorship and its reemergence in Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and policy, the continuum of resistance by marginalized groups between the nominal end of the dictatorship and the present, the long-term social impact of right-wing water use policy and the intensification of environmental destruction under a Bolsonaro presidency, and the significance of political education among Brazilians living abroad that builds upon longterm activist methodologies.

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