Brazil: a nation divided | FT Film
Latin America’s largest nation is facing its most important election in decades as Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva square off amid deep political and cultural polarisation. FT Brazil bureau chief Bryan Harris travels the nation to look at the enormous economic and social challenges facing the next president. He meets wealthy farmers, truckers, evangelicals and those facing food insecurity
Directed by Ben Marino; produced by Carolina Ingizza; cinematography by Jamie Kennerley; edited by Alex Langworthy; graphics by Russell Birkett; mix and grade by Coda; commissioning editor Veronica Kan-Dapaah
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Populist governments have eroded the credibility of democratic institutions. What's at stake is democracy.
We have a president that is constantly telling his supporters that they should shoot the opposition.
We have 33mn people in hunger state in Brazil in a country that feeds 1bn people in the world.
Life just seems to get worse and worse.
If we look back to all the presidential candidates that we've had in the past the only two that created movements around their personas were Lula and Bolsonaro. That is why we have Lulismo and that is why we have Bolsonarismo.
Brazil is as divided as it is vast. Latin America's largest nation is about to face the most consequential election in decades, with the country torn between two charismatic, but controversial personalities. On one side is incumbent right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. On the other, veteran Social Democrat and former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
We are going to take you on a journey to meet farmers, evangelicals, the poverty-stricken, and the elite to see how Brazil, its economy, and culture are evolving, and see where the country could go under a new leader. The winner will navigate enormous economic and social challenges while facing a polarised nation.
He will govern not just one Brazil, but the multiple Brazils that inhabit the region's most populous country. Despite strong growth forecasts for this year, the quality of life for many Brazilians has declined. Inflation this year soared above 10 per cent. And battered by two recessions the economy grew just 0.15 per cent on average annually between 2012 and last year.
But in some parts of the nation the picture is a lot brighter. Our journey starts in the booming agricultural state of Goiás. We've come to meet Fernando Rossi.
The 32-year-old farmer trained as a lawyer at one of the country's elite universities. When his father died he moved back to run the family business. He now owns a 5,000-acre farm with 7,000 cattle and vast vegetable plots. Out here this is a medium sized farm.
For centuries Brazil was a coastal nation. The cities and states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo dominated, while its vast, dusty interior was disregarded, even derided. That is changing. The states in the country's heartland are now booming. This is the Brazil of agriculture which feeds a growing chunk of the world's population.
After the Russian-Ukraine conflict erupted that we noticed how important Brazil became as a food producer for the world, perhaps the most important food producer in the world.
In the last decade, agribusiness has grown to now represent as much as 27 per cent of GDP. What once was scrubland has now been transformed. Known as the Cerrado, the vast, tropical savanna region is rich in biodiversity and a crucial carbon sink for the world. But it's been radically changed in the past 50 years. Acidic soils have been turned into some of the most productive in the world, yet the rise in clearances for crops and livestock have alarmed ecologists.
For outsiders, the Brazilian president is often viewed as vulgar and authoritarian. But here in Brazil's breadbasket, Bolsonaro is an icon. Federal lawmakers representing agricultural regions are among the president's closest allies.
The difference between Bolsonaro and the other candidates is that he not only tapped into that audience and that group of voters in a political way, bringing the caucus to his political alliance. He tapped it in a cultural way, in a traditional way, in a social way, in a behavioural way.
Over a hearty meal of barbecued meats, Fernando explains the importance and development of the local culture.
Sertanejo is Brazil's version of country music. Think check shirts, cowboy boots, and songs about heartache and suffering. This is the essence of the farming community. Bolsonaro is often seen at events celebrating the local cowboy culture. The economic and cultural revival of Brazil's agri states has also spurred a construction boom.
The state capital, Goiania, a sprawling city of 1.5mn, has doubled in size in the past 40 years. We're here to meet Delegado Waldir, a former police chief, now running for the Senate. Once a key ally of Bolsonaro, he's distanced himself from the gaffe-prone president but says the government is doing some things right.
States like Goiás are one of the reasons why Brazil remains an attractive investment destination. Foreign direct investment rose to almost $40bn in the first five months of this year, the largest inflow in this period since 2011. Delegado Waldir believes productivity is the answer.
But support for Bolsonaro is not limited to the agribusiness bubble. Many Brazilians share his conservative values and echoes his faith in God and family. Some share his outspoken views on gay rights. This is the Brazil of evangelical Christianity, a religion exploding in popularity and in political influence.
The data is clear. Evangelicals are set to overtake Catholics by the end of this decade. While Bolsonaro is officially a Catholic, he regularly makes overtures to the evangelical churches.
In 2016, he was baptised by an evangelical pastor. His wife is a well-known evangelical. Winning this community's vote has been a key play for Bolsonaro.
We can't deny that Brazil has a conservative way of seeing life. We are a country for instance where more than half of the population is against abortion, more than half of the population is against legalising drugs. We have a growing population of evangelicals in the country. 10, 15 years ago, this was at around 18, 20 per cent. Today, it's around 30, 32 per cent.
And we never had a conservative politician being able to organise this arena of thought. Bolsonaro did.
We've come to an evangelical church in a smart new neighbourhood in Goiania.
Inside, a mostly young, white congregation is transfixed by the service. On the stage, is Rinaldo Silva, the 28-year-old leader of the church known as 'Impactados,' the Impacted. They call him the Bishop.
Tonight's guest of honour is Delegado Waldir. He's seeking re-election, and the pastor's endorsement could make a difference. The at times close relationship between religion and politics has helped propel all kinds of politicians to power. The fear of what a Lula administration may bring is echoed by the nation's powerful truckers. It's not an easy job being a truck driver in Brazil, says Wagner Fialho at a stop on the outskirts of Goiania.
Lula served two terms as president between 2003 and 2010 but was later embroiled in the Lava Jato, or car wash corruption scandal, and served time in prison. His convictions were later annulled by the Supreme Court, while separate criminal cases were either shelved or expired due to time limits.
Legal history aside, Lula has managed to connect with millions of voters as they seek a change from the chaotic Bolsonaro years. The left-wing former labour organiser has a strong following in the country's poorest regions and in many of its large coastal cities. Despite unemployment falling to 9 per cent in recent months, many Brazilians rely on the government to help make ends meet. Fabiana da Silva is a Lula supporter living in one of Sao Paulo's poorest neighbourhoods. She lives in what is called an occupation, a type of shantytown more precarious than the more well-known favelas.
For Fabiana and millions like her, the pandemic and rising inflation have only exacerbated the hardship.
The price of some foodstuffs has risen in double digits. Food insecurity has increased and millions have been plunged into hunger. 30 per cent of the population are now living on less than $95 per month. 10mn more Brazilians have fallen into poverty since the pandemic.
Orlando Silva is an influential lawmaker and close ally of Lula. We speak with him at a campaign event in a recycling yard in a working-class neighbourhood of Sao Paulo.
The racial divide in Brazil is real, and you don't need data to confirm that. All you need is to walk around the big cities, to take a look in Congress, to take a look at big companies, to take a look in wealthier areas of the city and poorer areas of the city, to look at the numbers of incarcerated population for instance. And this is a problem of also representativity.
We don't have in Brazil, when you look at the Brazilian Congress, at the elected officials, we're not even close to a presence of what you would expect looking at the demographics of the country, of the black population, of women. But I think that this is something that the country has to address one way or the other.
Some things are slowly changing. Tabata Amaral is one of the country's most prominent centre-left politicians. Raised in a favela in Sao Paulo's South Zone, her savvy use of social media and progressive agenda have prompted some to dub her Brazil's answer to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She thinks the country is facing a critical moment.
I would say this is probably the hardest moment my country has faced since democratisation, so for the last 30, 40 years. The first thing that comes to my mind is hunger. Right now, the last number we had access to shows us that 30mn Brazilians are not having their meals. This means that 15 per cent of our population is not getting the basic, is not getting what they need.
With Bolsonaro and the pandemic, I saw people very close to me not having anything to eat. And I'm talking about an aunt. I'm talking about the mother of a friend. And I saw many people being put off their homes. I saw many people become unemployed. And we are in this moment that life just seems to get worse and worse.
She thinks that Bolsonaro's aggressive and misogynistic rhetoric is inflaming things. Already the election has been marred by sporadic violence, and she fears for her personal safety.
We have a president that is constantly telling his supporters that they should shoot the opposition, and that's a very strong message. And that's especially scary to me because in those four years I had to learn with my team how to deal with threats that I received at home, that I received through email and the social media. And when I was organising things for the campaign of this year, talking about our personal security was always a main issue.
Fears about security have dominated headlines, with Bolsonaro regularly casting doubt on the electoral process. This uncertainty has rattled many, even the country's elite. Felipe d'Avila is one. A scion of a political family who married the daughter of one of the nation's richest men, d'Avila is now running for the presidency and polling in low single digits. He says years of populist governments under both Lula and Bolsonaro have left Brazil in a precarious position.
We are living in one of the most dire moments of Brazil right now. I think it's the greatest challenge we do have in our democracy since 1985. And this is due to many years of populist governments.
Populist governments have eroded the credibility of democratic institutions. They have eroded the ability of Brazil to grow in a sustainable way. Populism has destroyed the credibility of democracy, has widened the gap of income in Brazil. And for the first time we are already a country back with hunger. And this is extraordinary.
We have 33mn people in hunger state in Brazil in a country that feeds 1bn people in the world due to its good agriculture. This is tragic, and the economy doesn't grow. So we have not been able to achieve a consensus in society to approve major structural reforms to create equality of opportunity in Brazil, specifically in education, in health, in sanitation, and of course, economic growth.
So I think this election, since we have two populist leaders leading the campaign at this moment, this could put a tremendous burden in democracy in Brazil in the next four or five years. And that's very sad.
Brazil is in for a bumpy ride. Political polarisation has morphed into cultural polarisation. The coast and the interior are increasingly divided. Exacerbating this is the widening economic chasm. While the interior talks of progress and development, the coast must deal with poverty and deep inequality.
Although agribusiness entrepreneurs such as Fernando continue to prosper, there are still millions of Brazilians in situations similar to Fabiana's. For them, not even the basic necessities of life are a given. Whoever wins the polls will have to navigate many competing, often conflicting interests. The next president will have to captain not just one, but multiple Brazils.