BRASILIA, Brazil—Bolsonarismo, a right-wing movement, was thought to be over with Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva taking office and former president, Jair Bolsonaro, fleeing the country. But the right-wing ideology’s battle for power is far from over.
On January 8, Brazil experienced an attack on its government institutions, similar in appearance to the Capitol building riot that took place just over two years ago in the United States. Thousands of people dressed in yellow-and-green soccer shirts stormed government institutions in Brasilia, destroying everything in their path. Yellow and green are the colors of the Brazilian flag.
Among the rioters were many evangelists, who, with rosaries in their hands, prayed for Bolsonaro’s return to power. While a large group arrived on organized buses from all over the country, others had been camping in the capital for months. They demanded military intervention and the recognition of Bolsonaro as president.
With hardly any resistance from police, the crowd took control of the Planalto Presidential Palace, the National Congress and the Supreme Court in Three Powers Square. The powers, in this case, refer to Brazil’s executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
While security forces were on high alert over a possible attack on Lula’s life or disruptions during the presidential inauguration on January 1, Brasilia was unprotected on the day of the attack. Former Minister of Justice and Public Security Anderson Torres—an ally of Bolsonaro—had traveled to the United States, leaving the unit without command.
After a couple of hours of chaos, police forces were able to retake control of state buildings through the use of tear gas and stun grenades. By the end of the day, almost 2,000 people had been arrested.
Since then, many officials have been dismissed, others arrested, and security efforts have intensified.
Antonio Cascio captured the following photos in Brasilia on January 8.
Natalia Torres Garzón graduated with an M.Sc. in Globalization and Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, United Kingdom. She is a freelance journalist who focuses on social and political issues in Latin America, especially in connection to Indigenous communities, women, and the environment. Her work has been published in Earth Island, New Internationalist, Toward Freedom, the section of Planeta Futuro-El País, El Salto, Esglobal and others.
Antonio Cascio is an Italian photojournalist focused on social movements, environmental justice and discriminated groups. He has been working as a freelancer from Europe and Latin America. He has also collaborated with news agencies like Reuters, Sopa Images and Abacapress, and his pictures have been published in the New York Times, CNN, BBC, the Guardian, DW, Mongabay, El País, Revista 5W, Liberation, Infobae, Folha de S.Paulo, Amnesty International and others.
“The Prison Within” (2021) is a provocative and intriguing documentary produced by Katherin Hervey, a former public defender and prison instructor. Provocative, because we are presented with adult male inmates in San Quentin Prison in northern California struggling with unidentified and untreated multi-generational trauma. Intriguing because the documentary presents a compelling argument for restorative justice, yet it stops short of sparking a larger conversation about what to do about prisons in a truly civilized society.
The documentary focuses on the Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG) program conducted by the Insight Prison Project (IPP) at San Quentin Prison. The IPP describes the VOEG program on their website as
“…an intensive 18-month group program for incarcerated people who wish to understand themselves better, how their life experiences and decisions led them to prison and how their crimes have impacted their victim(s). The purpose of the training is to help incarcerated people understand and take responsibility for the impact of the crime(s) they have committed. The class culminates with participants meeting with victims for a healing dialogue.”
Though this is not highlighted in the documentary quite as clearly as the purpose of the program, it does give some insight into why the documentary deals with restorative justice within the prison system, as opposed to a society-wide imperative.
The documentary provides quite an extensive discussion into how unaddressed and unresolved trauma helps affect the way victims see the world around them, and how they see and feel about themselves and others. It presents this idea largely through the stories of several men who are in the VOEG program, as they recount the paths that led them to prison.
We are presented with the real-life cause-and-effects of neglect, abuse and generational trauma, and how they all can turn inward into self-doubt, self-hate and fear, eventually compelling anti-social behavior that inflicts trauma onto others. Unresolved anger at the person or persons who inflicted the trauma was a common theme.
A promising discussion was raised by one man about how he served time in the military, which led him to more violence. But this time, it was state-sanctioned violence. However, the discussion did not expand into how the military reinforces violence as a solution to problems, while also exposing millions of traumatized people to more violence, which produces even more trauma in the form of disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That is then not treated by the very military that trains people to commit barbarous acts against other human beings. This documentary on justice feels like a lost opportunity to connect militarism with the devaluation of human life and U.S. imperialism.
However, one imprisoned man seems to conflate the systemic racism with the inward and outward expressions of unresolved trauma that his father and even he experienced because of racism. I think that is where the documentary misplaces forgiveness as a response to systemic racism. Racism is based on irrational, illogical fears and emotions based on stereotypes, lies, and propaganda against a group of people that is used to deny them human rights. Trauma is the result of real and tangible abuses, emotions, and fears. Yes, trauma can result because of racism, but can it be said that racism happens because racists are traumatized, as it seems the documentary is attempting to suggest? I think this is the danger in relating to racism, and especially racist violence, as another expression of unresolved trauma.
The documentary presents a difficult-to-sit-with conversation about the ways race and ethnicity shield some people from scrutiny and prosecution while they commit crimes, while others face the brunt of the state. This discussion is difficult because it shows how messy it is to try to put people into “good/bad” categories. Is someone who is the victim of sexual abuse and other traumas a “bad” person if they act violently toward others? If we believe that “hurt people hurt people,” why do we not believe this for people in prison, who are mostly poor and predominantly people of color? And if we do not, why do we condemn and throw away one, but not the other? For many people, confronting these questions can be difficult, and the documentary does a good job of helping viewers think about class and race biases in these matters.
Another very important issue raised in the documentary is fathers not expressing love and acceptance with their boys. The lack of affection and protection from their fathers—even if they were present—while receiving hostility or outright abuse is a recurring theme in many of the stories imprisoned men told. Society so easily falls back on the trope that so many men—especially Black men—turn to crime because they had no fathers or father figures in their early lives. Yet, we hear from these men that emotionally distant or abusive fathers—who often acted that way because they were acting out the trauma they experienced in their youth—that exposed these imprisoned men to their first and lasting traumas.
Yet another issue discussed is male children who are artistic or creative not being accepted because they are not expressing their “maleness” in traditional ways or in ways that are acceptable to the older men in the family. This drives them to seek acceptance by acting in destructive and risky ways that may also be outside of their nature. Further, the documentary explores how rejection teaches young boys to suppress their natural, normal emotions, and conditions them to view others who express those emotions as weak, too.
A very interesting twist on the “hurt people hurt people” idea is presented when the widow of a murdered cop comes to terms with her role in advocating for the death sentence for her husband’s murderer. This aspect of the documentary provides insight into one person’s journey toward peace, but should it be an instructive for how millions in this society view the death penalty as a just form of punishment? Are they all “hurt people” who support the death penalty and even may relish in it in some regards out of unresolved pain and trauma? The documentary does touch on how people in the United States are convinced—basically indoctrinated—to believe the death penalty is not only reasonable, but necessary. Perhaps focusing on an individual journey of healing as a reflection of or as a potential remedy for systemic human-rights violations via the death penalty is a deeply flawed and potentially dangerous premise. Especially considering the work the widow in question is revealed as pursuing or, more precisely, who she serves in her work, as we learn at the documentary’s end.
The film lays out in clear, concise and emotionally compelling ways both the cycle of unaddressed and untreated trauma that leads people to prison—an environment that thrives off and perpetuates more trauma—is unaddressed in prison, and that communities have no tools to address the issue with released prisoners.
But an opportunity to discuss prison’s utility in the just and supportive society we claim to be fighting for—as well as with what to replace prisons—is not present in this documentary.
Surely, abolition cannot be achieved without an agreed-upon alternative to prisons. But if the goal is to not just reform prisons to make them “better,” but to create a society in which prisons are obsolete, the following must be discussed: 1) Methods of accountability and restoration for individuals who commit acts that break the social contract and 2) the state’s responsibility in its part of the social contract to ensure every person’s human rights are respected in the provision of housing, education, jobs that pay a living wage, comprehensive healthcare, etc., so traumas are not systematically inflicted on people as an inherent aspect of the system, but also so individual traumas are addressed as an inherent aspect of the system.
Prison reform is certainly needed to immediately stop the cycle of trauma the prison-industrial complex and the penchant for retribution indoctrinated into the American psyche creates. But any effort at prison reform that doesn’t involve dismantling capitalism, white supremacy and classism will only uphold the system. Although “The Prison Within” makes a few fleeting mentions of expanding treatment and mitigation programs to keep traumatized people from going to prison in the first place, restorative justice is presented inside the narrow construct of reforming prisons to make them “better.” That all makes sense when the discussion is not intended to be about replacing prisons with humane and truly restorative systems.
Editor’s Note: This podcast was originally published by MintPress News.
The MintPress podcast “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby, and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.
On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman fatally shot 22 people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Police reportedly refused to confront the killer, locked him in a room full of children, physically prevented parents from getting involved, and even allegedly rescued their own children first.
The massacre has once again brought the United States’ unique obsession with firearms to the fore, with renewed calls to ban assault rifles. But even among gun-control advocates, few realize the connections between the Second Amendment and white supremacy.
Today’s guest is Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Originally from Oklahoma, Dunbar-Ortiz is a writer, historian and activist, possibly best known for her 2014 classic book, “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.” She argues that the context behind the Second Amendment is that the newly-independent United States needed “well-regulated militias” of white men to “kill Indians and take their land,” or to form slave patrols that would hunt down Black people fleeing their captivity. It was out of these slave patrols that the first police departments were formed.
Ultimately, she argues, the need for such armed militias arose from the fact that the white colonists were on recently stolen land, surrounded by hostile groups who were trying to get their land back. As she notes, it was a crime to give or sell a gun to a Native American.
An activist for over 50 years, Dunbar-Ortiz has argued that for any progress to be made, Americans must stop worshiping a 234-year-old document written by slaveholders. Today with Lowkey, she also discussed how it was that the National Rifle Association was taken over by reactionary political actors and how it came to be that the United States is a country with 4% of the world’s population but half of the world’s guns.
“The Constitution is so embedded in white supremacy that there is no way to amend it to change that. It is everywhere…This is so obvious if you just face what U.S. history is and not leave so much out,” she told Lowkey.
A revolutionary and a feminist, Dunbar-Ortiz’s life’s work has taken her across the world, including to Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua, where she documented the U.S.-sponsored Contra War against indigenous groups. She is Professor Emerita of Ethnic Studies at California State University, East Bay. Among her other notable books include, “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment”; “The Great Sioux Nation: Sitting in Judgment on America”; and “Not ‘a Nation of Immigrants’: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion.”
Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.
SÃO PAOLO, Brazil—Brazilians head to the polls October 2 to vote in the first round of what is considered the most consequential presidential election since the end of almost 20 years of U.S.-backed military dictatorships.
“The fundamental choice,” stated an open letter by several Latin American figures, including ousted Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, “isn’t between [the two presidential hopefuls, President] Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, but between fascism and democracy.”
With Brazil being the fifth-largest country by area, along with having the seventh-largest population and economy, the outcome of this election could not only significantly alter the lives of Brazilians, but impact regional politics that have recently swung left as well as the health of the planet.
And it’s not just the outcome that matters.
“Bolsonaro [trailing in the polls] has questioned democracy and camouflaged himself as the great victim of the lack of democracy,” said Danny Shaw, Latin American and Caribbean Studies Professor at the City University of New York, explained to Toward Freedom. “He has preemptively attacked the integrity of the entire voting process.”
Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he would only accept election results if they were “clean,” but that he doubted they would be. Through livestreams, he has spoken to followers about resisting a loss and helping stage a coup. A poll showed high support for a coup among members of the Brazilian Navy and the Air Force, while enthusiasm remained low in the larger army. “But, it doesn’t seem like he has institutional support from within the military to make these things into a reality,” according to Shaw.
“It’s kind of unimaginable,” said Socialist and Liberty Party (PSOL) São Paulo state deputy candidate Ediane Maria, “to see Bolsonaro passing the [presidential] sash to Lula.”
This reporter reached out to Lula’s Workers’ Party and Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party for comment, but they did not reply by publication time.
Brazil’s recent history includes a 2016 procedural coup against Rousseff in favor of her business-friendly vice president, Michel Temer. Lula himself was incarcerated in 2018, which a court has since found to have been unlawful, as well as a separate ruling that banned him from competing in the 2018 election that Bolsonaro won.
In this period, Brazil ranked as one of the 10 largest democratic backslides, according to the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
If the necessary conditions for fascism are nativism, belief in a social hierarchy, subordination of individual interests for the perceived good of the nation, and anti-democratism, Shaw said Bolsonaro meets the criteria of a fascist. Bolsonaro’s government has the “underpinnings and trappings of fascist rule,” Shaw explained. “The unofficial religion of Bolsonarismo is anti-socialism and anti-communism.”
Bolsonaro pressured the electoral commission to allow the military to also count votes, and that has succeeded, according to newspaper Folha de São Paulo.
The PSOL and Folha de São Paulo assert Bolsonaro created a parallel $1 billion budget to buy support in Congress to prevent an impeachment and to fund his campaign.
Bolsonaro has glorified Brazil’s brutal military dictatorships and has conveyed himself to be like Benito Mussolini, including with black-clad motorcycle rallies.
He demanded leftists be “eradicated from public life” hours after a Bolsonaro-supporting farmer murdered his Lula-favoring colleague with an ax. He also called for Workers’ Party supporters to be “machine-gunned.”
This month, an assailant reportedly announced “I am Bolsonaro” while pointing a gun at Maria and her fellow PSOL candidate for the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, Guilherme Boulos.
“It was an attack on our democracy, on our freedom of expression,” Maria told Toward Freedom. “You see horror scenes of people who are killed at work, or in the streets just for defending what they believe in. This year, people sense the violence, the fights. We have a president who says, ‘shoot them in the head,’ that encourages and defends mass gun ownership. Thank God it’s coming to an end… this moment of horror that we lived through, this process of violence against our bodies.”
Filipe Campante, professor at Johns Hopkins University, raised it is unclear whose responsibility it would be to evict Bolsonaro from the presidential palace if he opted to stay. No one is certain how such a scenario would play out, and in the disorder, the perceived legitimacy of the handover of power could be damaged. Even if Bolsonaro does give way to Lula, Campante and others have raised important questions about the strength and preparedness of Brazil’s democratic institutions. All key parties have met regularly with the military, which has played its cards close to its chest. As Campante said, this culture of keeping the military close is a sign of a “democracy that’s not healthy.”
A poll last week found 40 percent of Brazilians expect a high chance of violence on Election Day, and 9 percent might avoid voting (at risk of penalties) because of fear.
“If Brazilian [progressives] can [win] given the political climate they’re facing,” explained U.S.-based human-rights and labor-rights lawyer Dan Kovalik to Toward Freedom, “then everyone should be able to do it.” He added it would be an inspiring victory for movements as far away as Europe.
The Global Implications of a Lula Victory
So far, the Brazilian left has been relatively united in helping Lula win. Maria’s left-wing PSOL, for instance, hasn’t presented a presidential candidate. The Latin American leaders’ letter mentioned earlier was addressed to Ciro Gomes, a centrist candidate polling around 7 percent. The letter asked him to pull out to avoid a Bolsonaro win.
“The Pink Tide seems to be back,” Kovalik said about the recent wave of progressive victories across Latin America. “But I think Brazil needs to be a part of that because other countries—Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua—are under great attack, especially economically, by the United States. To have Brazil’s support again would be huge, both their political and economic support. It’d definitely leaven the movement.”
A red Brazil is likely to not rely on special relationships with strongmen, as Bolsonaro did with former Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A Lula victory, added Kovalik, “would help bring about the multipolar world that we need.”
However, as foreign policy did not form a large part of the electoral campaign, and the global dynamics are different compared to when Lula was last in power in 2010, it is difficult to predict the exact foreign implications of a Lula victory. Lula invited Palestine to the 2010 BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital. (BRICS is an acronym that stands for an alliance between the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.) But he also sent Brazilian troops for UN peacekeeping in Haiti, where they abused their power and stayed for years after being asked to leave.
“I think we can expect a more anti-imperialist Lula,” Shaw posited. “Even a neutral Lula would neutralize imperialism” by building a stronger relationship with Caracas and other anti-imperialist governments.
Challenges a Third Lula Term Would Face
However, a commodities boom had buoyed the original Pink Tide that had started in the 1990s and ended in the 2000s. Moreover, Bolsonaro, as Kovalik has said, has “dismantled social programs.” This raises questions about the surmountability of the challenges faced by a new government.
Lula’s last government “broke the cycles,” as Maria put it, “to break barriers, to put the bricklayer’s son and the housecleaner’s daughter into university.”
But Bruno Clima, an architect in the housing-justice group Central Homeless Movement (MSTC) in São Paulo, is worried about current challenges. “Even with the victory of a capable president, lifting the country up will not be easy or quick.”
For now, Maria sees the upcoming election as a battle between democracy and fascism.
“Our country is hoping that love can win over hate and that we are going to elect Lula in the first round, and elect him well,” Maria said. “We will fight for democracy in Brazil, which has never in my lifetime been as threatened as it is now.”
Richard Matoušek is a journalist who covers sociopolitical issues in southern Europe and Latin America. He can be followed on Twitter at @RichMatousek and on Instagram at @richmatico.