Brazil’s national elections are a major showdown—pitting current far-rightwing President Jair Bolsonaro against the leftist, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lula is expected to re-take the presidency: he was even projected to win the election in the first round this past Oct. 2. A survey conducted by the polling institute Datafolha had him leading Bolsonaro by a margin of 14 points. But in the final tally, Lula won the first election round with 48.4% of all votes cast and did not win the 50% of the vote he was required to have to be declared the outright winner. Bolsonaro took 43.2% of the votes, so Lula and Bolsonaro are set to have a runoff election on Oct. 30.
If Lula can regain the presidency of Brazil, it would be a win for the nation’s Black community.
Datafolha determined in a poll they conducted between Sept. 1 and 9, that Lula is the candidate of choice among Afro Brazilians. Brazil’s Blacks had gained so much under Lula and most of those advances were swept away under Bolsonaro.
When Lula, representing the Partido dos Trabalhadores/Workers Party (PT), served as Brazil’s 35th president from 2003 to 2010 he instituted progressive social programs that benefitted a large swath of the nation’s poor—a large majority of whom are of African and Indigenous descent.
A noted labor leader, Lula passed laws that led to yearly increases in the minimum salary; set aside federal funding for educational scholarships designated for Afro Brazilian, Indigenous, and poor students; established labor rights for domestic workers; and created income transfer programs and resources for the poor and working-class in the North and Northeast regions. Lula is also noted for promoting the foreign debt forgiveness of several African countries, in order to promote South-South cooperation.
Bolsonaro threw all of these policies out, some of the most notable being his sanctioning of the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest, placing new restrictions on poor people’s access to education, and allowing COVID-19 to run wild in the country—with no federal health care policy the pandemic has killed more than 680,000 Brazilians.
Lula and labor groups had been working alongside the nation’s Movimento Negro Unificado or Unified Black Movement (MNU) for years to put progressive programs in place. “[M]any MNU activists have shared a history of cooperation and exchange with the PT from the beginning,” Emanuelle Oliveira-Monte and Isis Costa McElroy wrote in an article for the journal Afro-Hispanic Review. “In November 1978, during a MNU National Assembly in Salvador, activists presented a manifesto declaring November 20th ‘Black Awareness Day’ (O Dia Nacional da Consciência Negra). One of Lula’s very first measures in January 2003, on his 10th day as president, was to approve a new law establishing that date as an ‘observed national holiday,’ on which workers may be given the day off. November 20th has paramount importance for Afro Brazilians since it marks the death of Zumbi—a seventh-century Black hero, leader of the famous Quilombo of Palmares, the largest maroon society in Brazil. Zumbi led the last major war of resistance against the Portuguese colonizers. The mentioned law (number 10.639) also mandated all public and private schools to include in their curricula the history of Africa and its people, as well as the history of Africans in Brazil.”
In 2018, Lula was imprisoned after having been accused of participating in money laundering by the rightwing led Operation Car Wash task force. Brazil’s Supreme Court later determined that Lula’s imprisonment was part of a scheme to keep his Worker’s Party from winning the 2018 national elections: he was released on Nov. 8, 2019, after serving 580 days in prison. The Car Wash taskforce was officially disbanded on Feb. 1, 2021.
So, a victory for Lula on Oct. 30 is expected to again push the agenda of Brazil’s Black movement.
Rio de Janeiro-based lawyer Humberto Adami, who is the former president of the National Truth Commission on Black Slavery/Comissão da Verdade da Escravidão Negra, told the AmNews that many in the Black movement want reparations for slavery on the agenda for any new government. “This is very heavy. It’s not an agenda that a lot of people are going to get elected with—this is an agenda that causes a lot of controversy within Brazil,” he said.
Adami, who was a candidate for Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, says, “I just got a report here today that so many Black candidates were elected in right-wing parties. I was also very interested in the discussion about the electoral fund. It is a fund that, in Brazil, mandates that the parties distribute funds among their candidates obligatorily. There are many complaints that many parties didn’t welcome women completely. And you see many candidates who self-declared as Black and brown fraudulently, right? They are not Black and brown, even though they may feel that way—with that sense of belonging, they may say it’s ‘my father, my grandmother, my great-great-grandmother.’ But they are not the people that the affirmative action public policies envisioned helping, the people that are visibly Black and brown people.”
If Lula retakes the presidency in Brazil, the Black movement wants to confront racism in the nation by taking on the problems the majority Black community suffers from. As Black Coalition for Rights leaders have said, writes Maria Abramo Caldeira Brant of the non-profit Peregum Black Reference Institute in a recent essay: “It is not an agenda for Brazil’s Blacks, but an agenda of the Black movement for everyone. In addition to giving priority to policies to combat racism and historical reparation, the movement has proposals and a history of struggle in all sectors of state activity. Because the Black population has been the most affected by the situation of obscene inequality in our country—in health, education, public security and even in our regressive tax regime—guaranteeing the rights of this group means affecting the rights of the population as a whole.”