THREE’S A CROWD: XI, DON & JAIR IN THE BATTLE FOR BRAZIL

Threesomes of any kind are awkward arrangements. Diplomatic ones tend to be even more so. And whether it’s a strategic alliance between Russia, China & the US or the underlying tensions between the European Union’s Big Three, there always seems to be one party who feels like they are missing out on the action.

One such trio includes the the back-and-forth between Brazil, China and the US. While perhaps more of a tug-of-war than your standard ménage a trois, there are several interesting takeaways that can be made by comparing them together.

The most important?  While the US have failed to show up for several key dates, China has emerged as an incredibly persistent suitor. 

This isn’t an impression immediately deductible from the Twitter-sphere. Indeed, the attempt by the Bolsonaro family to rope their largest trading partner into a coronavirus culture war has led many commentators to ponder whether it would engender permanent damage to Sino-Brazilian relations. China, much like science or diversity quotas, is another one of Bolsonaro’s boogiemen

Via Globo G1

Such a diagnosis seems hasty. Instead, it’s a reminder that the mud-slinging that occupies the front page is rarely the real story.

Ever since Bolsonaro’s inauguration in 2019, Xi Jinping has proven himself to be a reliable and committed trading partner. 

When the Brazilian government realised that interest was lacking for their state oil auction in November, they immediately turned to China for help. Xi promptly responded by sending two state-owned Chinese firms to attend. As fate would have it, they were the only two foreign bidders to participate. 

And then there is the Brazil-China fund, initiated under the auspices of former President Michel Temer but currently in operation today. 75% of the $20 billion dollar project is funded by China, and sits primed and ready to realise infrastructure projects in Brazil. 

Once approved, they will join the massive investments already taking place in the state of Maranhão under China’s Belt & Road initiative. Their objective is simple. To secure Chinese access to food and mineral supplies while upgrading much of the region’s basic infrastructure. 

That all of these projects look set to take place in Amazonian states is a blow to anyone who thought that a green new deal was a foregone conclusion post-lockdown. 

Now contrast this with the unrequited love between Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. While both leaders are fond of paraphrasing the other, it appears to be a classic case of actions speaking louder than words. 

Both of Bolsonaro’s trips to the US have been short but sweet, followed by a domino of concessions on the Brazilian side. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s request to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is still pending, with many assuming he will be left in the lurch. 

Then there is the mysterious disappearance of 600 ventilators that were on their way to the North East of Brazil via Miami, assumed by many to have been confiscated by the Trump government. While not entirely surprising, the Lord of the Flies-esque behaviour is a reminder of what failure to prepare for a pandemic can do to international relations.

In trying to deduce who will be the outright winner for Brazilian affection, it’s helpful to consider each nation’s underlying intention. While China is looking to lay down deep socio-economic roots, America’s vision is half-hearted and mainly geopolitical, characterised by the desire to secure easy access to Venezuela should another opportunity for regime change re-emerge.  

The usurping of vague US promises by determined Chinese investment is a trend that can be observed across the globe. However, it’s a political U-turn that might prove challenging for Jair Bolsonaro. After spending months peddling Wuhan conspiracy theories, one wonders how his base will react to the idea of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects snaking into the heart of the Amazon. 

The episode provides yet more evidence of Bolsonaro’s tenuous position as Head of State in a government with clear, enduring ambition. Jostling at the helm is Vice President Hamilton Mourão, an ultra-conservative General, whose schmoozing of Chinese delegates is well documented

As the coronavirus continues to reveal the cracks in the populist facade, one can’t help but wonder whether the days of sycophantic bromance between Bolsonaro and Trump are numbered. Next in line would be a steely union between Xi Jinping, Mike Pence and General Mourão. For supporters of democracy, gay rights and the environment, the follow-up tryst might prove more troubling than the original.

TEARS OF A CLOWN: BOLSONARO & COVID-19

Brazil has a history of electing clowns. In 2010, Francisco Oliveira Silva, a television comedian and children’s entertainer, was elected as one of the federal deputies for Sao Paulo, garnering more than 1.3 million votes. His slogan? It can’t get any worse than it already is. Seven years later, Jair Bolsonaro crash-landed onto the political centre-stage — a reminder, if ever there was one, not to tempt fate.

Since then, Bolsonaro has gone above and beyond the role of jester, eroding away any respectability of office with his lewd jokes and unabashed racism. An increasingly erratic presence, his attempts at governance have provoked laughs from across the political spectrum. And while we are all entitled to a sense of humour, what happens when the punchline is democracy itself? 

His supporters would have you believe it sensationalism. To them, he is like a drunk uncle at a family barbecue — bumbling but harmless. For the rest of the population, he is a dictator-in-waiting, flanked by generals who have grown tired of chomping at the democratic bit.

Indeed, Bolsonaro’s frustration with his own government and the democratic process has become particularly pronounced over the last month. On the 15th March, he could be found greeting throngs of supporters, following a call-to-arms to “defend the President” against the scrutiny of Congress.

That swathes of people turned out despite strict warnings from the Ministry of Health about the risk of COVID-19 contagion is testament to the fervor he inspires amongst his base. 

Image captured by Roberto Sungi for Futura Press of the pro-President protests on 15/03/20 — engineered in part by former General Augusto Heleno.

Things reached a crescendo last Tuesday during an address to the nation in which Bolsonaro abandoned the government line on how best to mitigate the outbreak of coronavirus. 

Bolsonaro’s polemic address to the nation on 24/03/20

Over the course of five minutes, he skidded from one scapegoat to the next, attacking everyone from state governors to the media at large for instilling a climate of “hysteria” over COVID-19. The virus, he touts, is nothing more than a light flu, which would have no impact on a “former athlete” such as himself (such a claim is false on both counts). He concluded by urging Brazilians to return to schools and work, in effect sabotaging the nation-wide attempt at social distancing. 

This weekend, speakers could be heard blaring out in the capital of Minas Gerais encouraging residents to leave their homes for a pro-President parade in the park. 

In a rare act of unity, 26 of Brazil’s 27 state governors met to move against him, advocating the need for continued social distancing within their respective regions. Former allies such as Ronaldo Caiado (state governor of Goias) severed ties with the President all together, describing his behaviour as “appalling”.

A tearful Bolsonaro has since responded by looking to his military cronies for backing — among them General Walter Braga Neto, newly appointed Chief of Staff. In a truly ingratiating move, Neto took it upon himself yesterday to undermine the Minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, mid-press conference, while dropping veiled hints of his potential dismissal.

Such fraying relations between a Head of State and congress are not uncommon in the Trumpian era. However, they do have sobering overtones in a nation whose last military dictatorship is within living memory. 

It’s a legacy that’s already been aggressively revised under the current President. This time last year, Bolsonaro sent a letter to the UN denying that a coup d’etat ever took place on the 31st March 1964. Instead, he claimed, the military takeover was a “necessary move to fight the growing threat of communism in Brazil”. 

Compare this unnecessary action in 2019 with the lack of action in 2020, and we have an insight into the hollowness of his far-right ideology. Like his ally in the White House, it’s clear that Jair Bolsonaro is only good at responding to imagined threats, rather than real, impending ones.

Climate change, pandemics, and rising global debt cannot be reduced to moral crusades and as such tend to infuriate men like Bolsonaro. In response, he lights all the political bonfires possible to avoid having to deal with them. 

However, with the economy sputtering and unemployment on the rise, this particular bonfire has the potential to blaze even larger than the Amazonian fires that engulfed much of north-west Brazil last August.

In positioning himself against the national quarantine, Bolsonaro flinches away from assuming any responsibility, preparing for a possible “I told you so moment” when the inevitable post-corona recession hits. 

At such a time, he will no doubt point to the governors and institutions of state who, in acting to save lives, allowed the economy to stumble.

How the wider population will view this is the great unknown. Jair Bolsonaro might be politically illiterate, but he has proven himself perfectly adept at inciting extreme emotions in the electorate. With the backing of his uniformed pals guaranteed, could Jair have the last laugh when it comes to Brazilian democracy? That remains to be seen.

WHY MYOPIA IS DEADLIER THAN COVID-19

Infectious diseases are the only types of illnesses that affect us collectively. As such they tend to bring into focus the fragility of the resources we share. This particular outbreak has reminded developed countries that safe air and stable food supplies are privileges, not guarantees. It’s also underscored that we are more interdependent and connected than contemporary politics would have us believe. So while it’s easy to get lost in the panic, it’s perhaps worth reflecting that the most virulent sickness plaguing mankind is not COVID-19, but the myopic way in which we respond to such events.

Coronavirus doesn’t exist in isolation. Instead, it is the result of several problematic practices, for which we have all received ample warning. Whether it’s the wet-markets in China or the 5,000,000,000,000 animals being reared in close confinement, our current agricultural system is creating billions of hosts for dangerous pathogens. 

Couple this with the fact that Big Pharma hasn’t produced a new antibiotic in the last 35 years (apparently, it’s just not that financially interesting) and we are fabricating the conditions for our own demise. 

But just as stress creates the conditions for evolution in the microbial world, so it can in our societies. 

If we are brave enough, governments will use this calamity as an opportunity to reframe public health infrastructure across the modern world.

Needless to say, it will require a lot more creativity than billions of pounds worth of low-interest business loans, as announced by the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer this week. 

But just as stress creates the conditions for evolution in the microbial world, so it can in our societies.” 

The first step in such a microbial war would be an ambitious vaccination programme that seeks to treat the HA stem of all influenza viruses. Just as we invested $23 billion dollars into the Manhattan Project, we would need to invest $7 billion1 to fund such a scheme, the results of which could save rather than kill more lives than ever believed possible.

As the AIDS vaccination programme has revealed, we are more powerful when we pool our resources — be those intelligence, money or time. Open source technology could play a key role in opening up such an investigation to scientists across the globe. 

The second might be more challenging. We will need to be rigorous in our opposition to all practices which exacerbate our contact with harmful pathogens. This includes factory-farming and deforestation (the latter of which provoked the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa). 

This will require loosening the chokehold that agricultural lobbyists hold over elected officials. Alternatively, it will require consumers to vote with their forks, opting for ethically sourced animal products as opposed to mass-produced ones. 

Organic food sales (while the fast-growing sector of the UK food-market) only account for 1.3% of total market share.”

Soil Association, Organic Market Report 2020

The third is to realise that such audacious action is possible. After all, we’ve done it before. Individual welfare states and the World Health Organization were all created in the post-War period, the vestiges of which are the only institutions offering any protection against the current Coronavirus. 

Our world is capable of healing, and fast. We’ve seen it in the clearing of Venice’s canal water and the improvement in air pollution across China in recent months. But is our politics? 

If we go back to business as usual, the 2020s will be the decade of collective crises. From climate change to mass immigration to antibiotic resistance, our current model is short-changing the human race. And piecemeal policies will no longer be able to save us. 

1 Estimated figure provided by Michael Osterholm, American public-health scientist and biosecurity and infectious-disease expert, in his book Deadliest Enemy: The War Against Germs billion1

Header Image illustration by the incredibly talented Aykut Aydoğdu (https://www.aykworks.com/)

5 CHANGE-MAKERS TO TAKE NOTE OF THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

Where do we go looking for the women that society erased? The 16th century poets or contemporary Middle Eastern composers who leave this world with their music still imprisoned inside them? In Alice Walker’s moving essay, In Search Of Our Mothers Gardens, she suggests that we must look to the female leaders of today, each of whom are the fruits of their ancestors’ stifled creativity. 

And so this International Women’s Day, we’d like to draw attention to 5 international change-makers. A mix of creatives, founders and activists, they are the women our grandmothers always dreamed of becoming. And while many hail from different countries, they are all united in finding ways to reshape the world so it can be examined anew in the brilliant light of the female perspective.

ALICE CARVALHO

Photo via @carvalhoalice

Who is she? A Brazilian actress, screenwriter and all-round word wizard, Carvalho has transformed the editorial landscape with her fearless poetry that demands equality as the only truth worth having.

Currently working on… Series two of her award-winning web series “Septo” that reclaims lesbian stories from the over-sexualised male gaze.

Where can I find her? On Instagram at @carvalhoalice.

check warner

Who is she? One of the co-founders of ADA Ventures, a venture capital company that seeks to invest in minority founders and markets.

Currently working on… supporting a variety of up-and-coming FemTech’s, one of which hopes to increase fertility prospects through study of the vaginal microbiome.

Where can I find her? On Medium at @checkwarner where she breaks down the esoteric world of investment-raising into easy-to-read blogs.

Tarana burke

Who is she? The original founder of the #MeToo movement and founder of the Just Be Inc, a non-profit organisation that seeks to provide support for victims of sexual assault.

Currently working on… a memoir that should be available by the end of 2020.

Where can I find her? On Twitter and Instagram at @TaranaBurke and @TaranaJaneen respectively.

PETRA COSTA

Via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Who is she? An Oscar-nominated Brazilian filmmaker who’s riveting documentary Edge of Democracy tracks the corruptions and contradictions of politics in the world’s fifth-largest democracy.

Currently working on… reconnecting with the nuance of the written word while touring the US to discuss the ongoing impact of her latest documentary.

Where can you find her? Costa is most active on Twitter, where she goes by the handle @petracostal.

THE SLUMFLOWER AKA CHIDERA EGGERUE

Who is she? An author and influencer whose work on self-love and dating represents an exciting new wave of contemporary feminism.

Currently working on… promoting her latest book “How To Get Over A Boy”.

Where can I find her? On Instagram at @theslumflower where she regularly hosts Instagram lives.

bjarke ingels meets jair bolsonaro – A B.I.G Opportunity?

It’s often been said that you can glean an insight into the aspirations of a society by looking at its buildings. And yet architecture can be misleading — particularly in a country as contradictory as Brazil.

Brazilian architecture first made its mark in the 1930s with the blistering debut of Oscar Niemeyer. His Brutalist buildings shot up like curvy concrete dreams —as bold in their sinuosity as they were in their hopes of bringing about a socialist utopia. While the latter was never realised, Niemeyer did establish concrete as the material du jour of Brazilian modernism. A symbol of power and permanence, it took on an almost reverent significance — the only material capable of taming Brazil’s Atlantic forests.

The years that followed were neither so glamorous nor as audacious. Concrete continued to eat its way through the jungle, connecting the prosperous south with the ancient forests of the North.  

Several major infrastructure projects began only to be forgotten. Sewn into each of the contracts — be it the Trans Amazonian railway or the Angra III Nuclear Plant — were ample opportunities for sticky fingered plundering by the Brazilian elite.

In 2019, Elaine Brum tapped into popular sentiment when she described Brazil as a “constructor of ruins” — a claim now poignantly underscored by the festering Rio Olympic park.

Rio Aquatic Centre
Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

So it might take readers by surprise to learn of a new architectural masterplan in Brazil’s North East.

In late January, Bjarke Ingels, of the all-star architecture firm, BIG, joined Jair Bolsonaro and a couple of cabinet cronies for a two-week tour of Brazil. Accompanied by investors from the Mexican group, Be-Nômade, they were here on a fact-finding mission to discuss the future of tourism in the country’s idyllic North East.

“”We have travelled Brazil’s northeast region with our collaborators from Nômade Group and met with local governors and mayors, as well as the relevant ministries of economy, culture and tourism and finally the president’s office to gauge the possibility of devising a holistic masterplan for the northeastern coastal states of Brazil to create ecologically and economically sustainable development,” Ingels affirmed .

News of the pairing initially took the media off guard, with portions of the design community immediately denouncing Ingels for fraternizing with a fascist.

Dezeen Comment Thread 17/01/2020

While the allegation may ring true, in his impassioned defence, Ingels stumbles upon two important questions.

How we do deal with despots when it comes to international development? And is it ever possible to separate the project from the regime?

How better to impact the future of the region and the country than to plant the ideas we believe in at the highest level of government? Neither the president nor the ministers are our clients, but we are happy to share our ideas and ideals with a government that is willing to listen. As much as I would enjoy working in a bubble where everybody agrees with me, the places that can really benefit from our involvement are the places that are further from the ideals that we already hold. I love Brazil as a country, and I really want to see Brazil succeed.

Bjarke Ingels

In this particular instance it helps to get a little bit of context on the area that Bozo and his cabinet cronies are looking to develop.

This is not a down-town region of San Fran, destined to morph into a slick Apple Campus, but rather an area larger than France, Spain and Greece combined.


North East – Highlighted in Orange
Via Revista Galileu – Globo

Comprising nine giant states, 8 thousand kilometres of pristine beaches and the lowest human development index in the country, it is a beautiful yet complex region.   

Critics most ardent claim is that such a grandiose plan would legitimise the government, opening the floodgates for investors to do business with the belligerent Jair Bolsonaro.

However, the essence of this project — described as a bare-foot tourism endeavour — seem to be entirely at odds with the slash and burn conservatism of the Bolsonaro government.

If it came into fruition it could be the start of a new era of architecture in Brazil — a chance to turn the page from some the Brutalist tenets that have proved so ecologically damaging.

And if Brazil is to wean itself off its dangerous dependency on commodities (and the corresponding ecocide that comes with them) it will need other service-based sectors.

Sustainable tourism – however oxymoronic that might sound – represents a viable alternative. Not only does it employ citizens of all education levels but its profits, for the most part, can be relied upon to remain local.

Another question that must be asked is if not Ingels, then who? This is a government who has committed itself to development at all costs, accused of inciting violence against whoever gets in their way.

The knee-jerk reaction to any figure as repugnant as Bolsonaro is isolation. And yet in sitting back and letting things fester, we surrender the possibility of a better future.

The proposed masterplan offers a vision that Brazil’s maligned north-east deserves, one rooted in community, renewables and a celebration of its culture.

At a time in which clowns and xenophobes occupy public office, perhaps its only right that we must rely on architects to build diplomatic bridges. But build we must. Because if public opinion is anything to go by, Bolsonaro is not going anywhere. And we let him trample over Brazil at our peril.

The Life Cycle Of you

I

In the beginning, when mountains first clenched on the horizons and the seas still shook with fish, there was Gaia. You would have many other names for her in the epochs that followed. Shining One, Ishtar, Mother Earth, but in the first age, she was known simply as Gaia. A soft wind spun through the cave where she slept across a shallow pool, half woman, half tree. Gaia was ripe with an ancient wetness from which all breathing things are formed. Her splintered skin was hewn from bark and she had jutting fir cones for cheekbones. Clods of scraggy moss stitched the space where a mouth should have been.

She was the first God you ever worshipped. When you stumbled into her cave one shrill morning, the shadows of the clan behind you, all of the hairs lifted from your body. With each suck of your lungs you felt cleaner. Every part of Gaia fed into the earth and you saw that she would not have been able to wrench herself from it if she tried; ligament from bone, mother from child. The orange buds at her fingertips fired life back to the trunk and you were sure her braided legs kept the ground from falling.

Gaia lifted the clan out of themselves. Gave meaning beyond your porous skins. You decided that the sacrifices she required could not be of blood or bone but something infinitely more precious. And so you sat in silence, necks bent to her ebb and flow.

II

In the second age, you discovered your own power to create. Buried in riverbanks and outcrops of rock were shining metals, winking fragments of stars. You took it as proof that the heavens and the earth had once been connected and that you were divined to rule between them. You returned to the tribe and planted the metals shamelessly among them, a cuckoo in a stranger’s nest.

        This strange new trinket bewitched the tribe. They took to carrying it around with them at all times, as close to the heart as possible, warming its sleek surface with their skin. When the time came to convert to a Heaven with a more recognisable heart they chose sagely, carving their own faces on one side of the metal and an animal on the other.

       It’s two faces helped you to see your potential, what you could become if you could just get enough of it. You made space inside your chest and let it grow up inside of you. There was no light inside your body, but you gave the metal all the nourishment it needed. You thought about it constantly. It wasn’t long before the metals started talking back, clinking sweetly into your dreams. It began to shape shift, into jewels, furs and towers. Its power was unimaginable, and it began to write a scripture of its own beneath your skin.

       You watched viciously over the years as your neighbours built sickles and baskets, far grander than your own. How had they done it? How much of the metal did they have secreted inside of them?

The hunger wore away at you and your heart became furled, a tight bud that no amount of sunlight could open. You were not alone in your envy. Like most weeds it sprouted uncontrollably, wherever there is a crevice waiting to be filled, its spiny leaves wrapping themselves around the bars of their ribs. Holding them tight. 

You learned to hate with teeth. As the moon waxed one hoary evening you crunched over to your neighbours’ house, placing your stiff knife against their warm throats. You slashed their necks red, turned their insides out, and escaped with as much of the metals as your arms could bear.

Years ran away, each swifter than the last, and the tribe grew distant from one another. People stopped watching the stars and quietly misplaced their names. In this long winter of forgetfulness, money became the centre of the universe.

III

In the third age, money painted the world white. It got everything it could, except the night sky. Under the moon’s milky auspice, dreams would not come. You took your starved subconscious out on the women plucking cotton in the fields. Driving them harder and faster and goddammit I said quicker. The one with the child strapped to her chest was a sloppy worker; tangled fingers dropping her basket as she paused to tug her skirt. She moved with a deliberate carelessness, if you were kinder, you might have called it grace.

She has a back you long to lash. Curved and dusty like the dirt track you ride to Church on Sundays. You want to break her open and see what lives inside. Why she carries herself in that way. As if she belonged to the world in a way that your whiteness never could.

You took her as you did the land. Carving her up with efficient thrusts that captured much but gave nothing. You roared and spat on the ripped skin of her back, the sound of slapping flesh splitting the night like iced thunder. You spun her over. Read surrender in her cracked whimpers and chewed up lips. Saw in her eyes that she was an empty temple and learned then and there to pray that she never became holy.  

As you swaggered back to the Big House, coated in your crimson power, you realised there was no part of this Earth you could not have. You tucked your shirt back into your pants and your hands brushed against your still-hard cock, crowing in the dawn.

IV

       It is midnight in the fourth age and the woman on the other end of the red phone is telling you something you don’t want to hear. The Earth is incapable of healing. No. You have fattened this idea of a redeemable Earth into a sacrificial lamb. Brought it with you to conferences, traded it for carbon bonds, the last husks of the Amazon. It is a succulent fallacy, one you have no intention of actually surrendering. Not then and certainly not now. Besides, your hands are tied — no longer your own, bought by snakes that wish, like vampires, to suck the earth dry. 

       The snakes are the new Gods. They have gone beyond money. Eaten whole governments. Punctured the Earth with their meticulous fangs over and over again. Let her black blood spew into oceans like melted liquorice, a tacky veneer for the plastics and the missiles that were just for practise. You see slithers of the snakes everywhere. In the papers, on the TV, bottlenecked in the mouths of politicians. And yet they only have ancient answers: blood, famine, and plagues of locusts to last a thousand years.  

The people are tired; think themselves too soft and small, the Earth too large and old. They are losing their sense of smell. Everything worth having now can be consumed with the eyes. But it is exhausting to be so overfed. The cities rise higher and the lights burn brighter. The people do not detect the rancid odour of guilt that oozes from your pores, thicker and tarter than smog.

As you wrestle in your bed with no sheep to count, you wonder whether the snakes will hang on to their stronghold forever. Probably not. It’s more likely that forever is not a concept that translates, perhaps in snake years only the time it takes to shed one skin and leave it crisp and extinct on the floor.

V

The Earth, like any neglected body, grew more violent with itself in age. In the fifth era Gaia became sick of choking on silence. Started coughing up hurricanes in the place of screams. Set fire to her own skin in order to have you gone.

There were no MET warnings, no Richter scale for her rage. Gaia was a frenzied horse lashing back at you who had thought she could be broken in.

Those rich enough fled down the warrens they had dug out for such a time. It was very dark in the bunkers, closed in by the nothing.

Meanwhile, Gaia made light work of your cities, rolling tsunamis off the crest of her back with a half-hearted shrug. Your monuments bobbing like flotsam on a concrete beach. She did what you had always feared. She erased you, the particularly strange strain of life who had always felt the need to write itself into everything.   

Satellites broadcasted the first half of your funeral, the spoilt mess that the invisible hand was supposed to clear up. Bleached reefs curled around charred landmasses, Yin and Yang, balanced at last in death. As the years spun slowly, each unnoticed or unhampered by the last, the satellites stuttered then failed; a scratchy line of static for any other alien life that thought that they, too, could live forever.

Joseph Goebbels Resurfaces In Brazilian Politics

Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that the aim of totalitarian education is not to instil convictions, but to destroy a population’s capacity to form any. As one of the most prominent intellectuals in Nazi Germany, she had reason to fear its advance. So too, it would appear, do Brazilian creatives, following the announcement of Roberto Alvim, Brazil’s Minister for Culture, on Thursday evening.

“Culture will be national and heroic,” he snarled “or else it will be nothing”.

The announcement was accompanied by the allocation of 20 million reais for cultural projects that emphasise “the motherland, the family, the courage of its people and their profound connection with God.”

It wasn’t long before the Twitter Police began to investigate Alvim’s statement. In announcing the new cultural agenda, Alvim had swapped his usual brand of Old Testament tough talk for the chilling words of Hitler’s Minister of Propoganda, Joseph Goebbels.

An outpouring of public pressure ensued, in which Alvim was removed from his post and government strategists clamoured to distance themselves from the video. 

And yet the notion that this is even slightly off-message for the Bolsonaro government requires stern examination.

The personification of white, male power, Bolsonaro has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight. A ‘political outsider’ despite his 27 years of parliamentary experience, he cannot be seen to be governing. Instead, he relies upon more-qualified minions, the Ricardo Salles’ and Roberto Alvims of the world, to deliver the reforms that will pave the way for his binary vision of Brazil.  

And so it was that just hours before the video’s release, Alvim could be found side by side with the President in his weekly address, receiving compliments and back-slaps for his “bold new vision of national art”.

For older Brazilians, this will all sound eerily familiar. From the critical underfunding of cultural institutions to the slow degradation of artistic subjects in universities, Bolsonaro is following a tried-and-tested agenda to return Brazil to the cultural winter of his 21-year dictatorship.

The slow creep of censorship comes at a the height of interest in Brazilian art, with nominations at this year’s Oscars (Democracia em Vertigem / The Edge of Democracy) and prestigious titles secured at the Cannes Film Festival (Bacarau — Juri Prize).

So unnerved were the Bolsonaro government by the new documentary that a boycott ban was issued via the pro-Bolsonaro Whatsapp groups that proliferate fake news and debate among loyal supporters — an instant form of communication of which Goebbels could only dream.

Like any fascist, Bolsonaro naturally fears arts ability to subvert the status quo, creating futures and ideas that soar above the fickle constraints of politics. And so he’ll continue to use whatever leverage he can to stamp out that which he deems degenerate — the right to imagine new realities, to empathise with others and to ask inconvenient questions.

That Brazilian artists will go on creating goes without saying. Whether they’ll be able to continue to do so without repercussions is another. This month, we invite you to indulge in one of the many Brazilian series on Netflix, from Petra Costa’s Oscar-nominated documentary (Edge of Democracy) to the dystopian world of ‘3%’. In doing so, we save ourselves from a future in which expression is only permissible insofar as it serves the instruments of power.