I am publishing a new version of my poem Visiting the War Memorial on the WSI website as a protest against the re-emergence of a new form of populist fascism led by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who is often referred to as the “Trump of Brazil.”
I had written the initial version of poem back in 1972 as protest against Brazil’s repressive military dictatorship then backed by Washington—at the time when Bolsonaro was about to enter a Brazilian military prep school.
During World War II, Brazil, under American pressure, was the only Latin American country to send troops to fight against Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. The Monumento Nacional Aos Mortos Na II Guerra Mundial (National Monument to those who died in the Second World War) in Rio de Janeiro was completed in 1960 and dedicated to those Brazilian soldiers who died at sea fighting National Socialism and who died in Italy in the struggle against Italian fascism. In Italy, the "Smoking Cobras" of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Força Expedicionária Brasileira) wore an arm patch showing a green cobra with a pipe in its mouth.
After World War II, however, things turned full circle: The U.S. began to support new forms of fascism in many Latin American countries under American hegemony—under the guise of fighting communism even if the U.S. used force to overturn democratically-elected leaderships in a number of countries1.
In 1964 Brazil’s military staged a fascist coup (Golpe de estado) in the name of so-called Brazilian Miracle and ruled the country until 1985. Now Brazil is once again veering toward fascism under Bolsonaro’s erratic, instable, racist and repressive leadership—and once again largely with U.S. backing—initially from Trump. And initially, Brazilian corporations and finance helped to elect him in 2018, but now they are beginning to regret their support for his campaign.
The rapid rise of double-digit inflation impacting food and energy prices, accompanied by high interest rates, as well as high un- and under-employment, accompanied by a major drought that has impacted hydroelectric plants causing water shortages, has resulted in significant social protest. The country is furthermore suffering tremendously from Bolsonaro’s extremely poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bolsonaro’s leadership has additionally been accused committing “ecocide” given his refusal to engage in tough efforts against criminal groups—often secretly backed by logging, mining and agricultural interests—who are actively destroying the vital Amazon rain forest. During Bolsonaro’s brief tenure in office, the Amazon has lost an area almost the size of New Jersey due to the impact of deforestation.
By signing the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Brazil had initially committed itself to eliminating all illegal deforestation—which accounts for 90 percent of all deforestation—in the Amazon by 2030. Yet this promise is not even close to being achieved as criminal groups believe they can act with impunity in burning the Amazon rain forest under Bolsonaro’s rule.2
In September 2021, a month before the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, 107 of the biggest corporations in Brazil called for the Bolsonaro government to strengthen Brazil’s commitments to the environment. Likewise, thirty financial institutions backing the Sustainable Forests investment initiative warned Bolsonaro of the dangerous financial consequences of the deforestation of the Amazon on supply chains, Brazil’s sovereign bonds, socio-economic development and indigenous peoples.
If Bolsonaro does not now listen to Brazil’s major corporations and global financial firms, some of which may have supported his election to the Presidency, who will he listen to?
Much like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has been threatening to overturn Brazil’s system of checks and balances by opposing the powers of the Supreme Court and the Parliament and by seeking to augment the powers of the presidency in order to repress domestic opposition to his corrupt leadership. The majority of Brazilians now oppose Bolsonaro, with former president Luiz Inacio Lulada Silva (Lula) expected to defeat him in the October 2022 elections in the assumption that the two rivals decide to run for the presidency.
The fact, however, that Bolosnaro has claimed that only “god” could remove him from office has raised the question as to whether he might attempt a coup d’état in following the path set by Trump and his supporters in raiding the U.S. Capitol in January 2021—but in Brazilian circumstances.
In early September 2021, over 150 political leaders from Latin American and the world signed an Open Letter warning against Bolsonaro’s attempts to overturn democratic structures of government. Yet not as many people took to the streets in Bolsonaro’s support during his September 7 Independence Day “mobilization” against the Brazilian Supreme Court and Congress as he had expected. Bolsonaro had hoped that at least 2 million people would turn out in the streets in Sao Paulo; yet state security officials estimated the crowd at 125,000. Protests in other cities also had lower popular turnouts than Bolsonaro had hoped.
As was also the case with Trump’s relationship to the U.S. military, it appears dubious that enough of the Brazilian military will support him if does try to stage a coup. Moreover, he appears to have lost both American and international support from other nationalist leaderships since Trump lost the U.S presidential election. Nevertheless, a coup attempt cannot be ruled out given Bolsonaro’s fear of being impeached or else losing the October 2022 election. Much like Trump, Bolsonaro will have tremendous difficulty accepting defeat.
Bolsonaro was one of Trump’s favorite world leaders. In pushing for Brazil to become a member of NATO, which would further tarnish NATO’s image of supporting “democracy,” the Trump administration instead made Bolsonaro’s Brazil a Major Non-NATO ally—thereby making it easier for Brazil to purchase advanced U.S. weapons and defence equipment—yet also tarnishing the American image as a proclaimed supporter of democracies—at least as Biden has hoped to portray the United States. Trump, of course, could not care less.
As the President of the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court (TSE) and minister of the Supreme Federal Court (STF), Luís Roberto Barroso warned in September 2021: “We are witnessing a radical right-wing extremism. This has nothing to do with conservatism. It's okay to be conservative. The problem of extremism is intolerance, non-acceptance of the other, an attempt to suppress the rights of the other, that's where fascism resides. As if all the demons had been released and homophobic, racist, anti-indigenous people take to the streets.”
In the aftermath of his poorly attended September 7, 2021 independence day “mobilization,” coupled with a number of strong Open Letters opposing his policies signed by economists, corporations, financial institutions, civil society groups, and celebrities, Bolsonaro has at least tried to put on a new face in his speech at the UN General Assembly in late September—in order to gain a new lease on his political life. Much like Trump, he will change tune when necessary and grovel in the puke of his own lies in order to remain in power…
After requesting at least $1 billion in U.S and international investment for help to reduce deforestation by 40%, Bolsonaro promised the UN General Assembly that he would now press for climate neutrality for Brazil by the year 2050, that Brazil had (questionably) begun to slow deforestation in August 2021, and that he would commit Brazil to engaging in “renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, low-emission industry, basic sanitation, waste treatment and tourism.” The problem, however, is that a fact check indicates that like Trump’s lies, Bolsonaro’s UN General Assembly speech continues to stretch the truth….
Not only do Bolsonaro’s policies threaten Brazil’s natural beauty, economy and finances, and its social health and political liberties, but his refusal to take effective measures to stop the deforestation of the Amazon represents a significant existential threat to wildlife, indigenous peoples, and the global environment—in that the Amazon is the lungs of the planet.
The Biden administration should not advance any significant funding for environmental supports to the Bolsonaro regime without effective conditions—so that Bolsonaro fully commits to working directly, inclusively and transparently, with indigneous peoples, civil society groups, NGOs, corporations, financiers, Brazilian local and state governments, as well as International Organizations and UN agencies, who have proposed practical projects for the sustainable development of the Amazon River basin.
A protest poem…
Visiting the War Memorial
(Monumento Nacional Aos Mortos Na II Guerra Mundial - National Monument to those who died in the Second World War)
Com flores não se ganha a guerra. Se você fala de armamento.
Se você quer paz, se prepare para a guerra.
(With flowers you don’t win war. When you talk about weaponry,
whoever wants peace, let him prepare for war.
(Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, September 1, 2021)
Look as they march up and down the parapet,
bearing sparkling kitchen-clean bayonets.
At strictest attention in space-man helmets,
marionettes strapped in the tightest armored belts,
stop... turn... salute the War Memorial once more
as if goose stomping to the imitation of a Wagnerian score.
Don’t you feel the hushed and lugubrious stillness…
Names of the dead rising on the monoliths, endless... endless...
Regard the finely polished and speckled granite:
A monument as austere as the sleekest rocket.
Its twin thin towers peak to the vapid sky
and connect awesomely at the summit by
a voluminous black metallic wing
that hovers contemptuously in mid-air it seems.
The shadows it casts are stealthily creeping... creeping...
and you know well that marionettes no longer on watch
do not just cast flowers at all those who are protesting...
With their green cobra arm patches camouflaged,
their venomous fangs instead strike forces of peaceful opposition
in surreptitious Amazon espionage expeditions…
"Isn't the sidewalk too long to this little spot?
Well, yes, yet it’s still an impressive place to stop."
"Gee! What a stupendous monument.
Let’s stop for lunch; it’s the perfect moment!"
"Yeah, sure… let's find a site, grab a bite to eat;
It’s so so hot—I'm so sweaty and beat!"
Look as your cousins, these tourists, come and go…
praising this venal funereal memorial show…
Cameras click at blue sky's blueness,
at undulating seas, at cotton candy cloudiness…
Look as they look over cacti and bureaus far…
Look as they look gleefully through the iron railing bars…
Look how they transmute this crisis of nature and humanity
into celluloid rolls of purely fabricated fantasies…
For there— spread out before these frantic
World Souvenir Freaks
the favela's shanty tin and coffee crates reek
as if buried beneath the sewage grill of the pavement
and trampled upon by the boots of marionettes
and by the heels of tourists’ insentient amusement.