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Interview with Isolde Dantas, a member of Brazil

Tuesday, 22 January 2019
Rosa M Tristan


"We must create a strong popular resistance against Bolsonaro"


Isolda Dantas is a deputy in the State of Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil), one of the nine states of the northeast where social and economic development is more unequal. He is also a member of the state leadership of the Workers' Party and a former councillor in Mossoró. He lives in Natal, a top tourist town. But while the coast and the paradisiacbeaches of its state, in northeastern Brazil, are already the Mecca of tourism, a dry and poor interior make it the mirror of inequality that reigns in the country. Today, Dantas, like so many people in Brazil, is still in a state of 'shock' following the election of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro as president. Indeed, their first political measures have already put the world on alert. The interview with Dantas took place during the 'Woman and Power' meeting organized by Alliance for Solidarity late last year.

This is a difficult time for Brazil with a new far-right government. What is the feeling of people in general to Bolsonaro?

It is said that it was the majority of the population that decided Jair Bolsonaro, and therefore that is what Brazilians want, but it is not. Most did not choose him because he was voted by 47 million people, but many others voted for other parties or went to vote or voted blank. In the end, 88 million people don't want Bolsonaro. In fact, in the entire electoral process, he did not submit a program or go to any debate. It was based on a speech of hatred and violence. Right now there is a lot of perplexity among millions of people who stand up for democracy in this government. And every day we have a scare. He even went so long as to say that he would close the Ministry of Labour, with 85 years of existence. He hasn't, but it's very serious. And for women it's going to be nefarious. It will also reform Social Security, which for peasants is very important. Today they are special retirees: they receive a pension when they reach retirement age, because without it they are left with nothing. We're very worried about Bolsonaro.

One of its measures is the merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment. What does this change entail?

It is to place the fox to care for the henhouse, obviously, because agricultural interests are incompatible with the conservation of the Amazon. In northern Brazil, where Dilma won in the past, Bolsonaro now did. The reality is that there is an increase in the number of large foreign companies with properties in the Amazon. Indigenous reserves are on the way to suspension because the Brazilian Constitution is very fragile. Uniting Environment and Agriculture is a provocation to say that you don't care aboutIsolda5environment. For the Indians, it's a drama. With international pressure it is possible to save something, but we alone have no strength. Look at the Petrobras case. Brazil discovered that it has oil in deep ocean waters and Petrobras knows how to drill, but it was approved that foreign companies can explore these resources. It's a national heritage bankrupt.

Its virulence against feminism is also surprising

It is another of its objectives: to end any feminist leadership that speaks of abortion rights, equal pay, women's work. In her speech, she tells us that we must return to work at home and leave jobs to young people, arguing that if women return home and care for children, adolescents are better prevented from entering the world of violence and organized crime. As if that were the reason! In general, I see that there is a process of naturalization of violence against women and political violence and in the feminist movement we are very frightened.

And what can be done to mitigate the damage?Isolda3

We are planning to organize a conference in early 2019 that brings together this feminist movement, the Landless, the Homeless and the unions to make a resistance front: the Fearless People's Front. It's about bringing everyone we don't want to bolsonaro. There is also resistance in universities, but it has been tried to silence. Although police are prohibited from entering campuses, it has already done so during the election campaign to remove banners against the far-right candidate. Now, our challenge is to maintain the resistance, although we are still in 'shock' because there has been a very big change and in a very short time. We couldn't imagine that Brazil would change so much...

It is the same path of the United States and other European countries, where right-wing populisms triumph. Why have these messages been delivered, even among women, despite their misogynistic speeches?

Indeed, there is a process of retreat around the world, including in Spain. In the case of Brazil, the coup against Dilma Roussef was fully organized. Since Lula's arrival in government in 2002, the Brazilian right has been completely unmembered. During three general elections, he was unable to get a leader. In fact, if Lula were free, Bolsonaro wouldn't have won. Polls showed that the former president would have come first. But when Lula was ruled out, Bolsonaro appeared as the champion against violence. And he had a great help from social networks like WhatsApp. Messages came to the mobile phones of all citizens because they bought millions of data and used Bots capable of mass shipments. In just one week, Bolsonaro's growing growth was spectacular. The support he had from the Pentecostal Church, which in Brazil has many followers, was also important.

Will this future resistance be enough to stop the coming involution?

Lol This resistance must be made, but we must also use the grandstands of parliament to denounce what is most reactionary and, at the same time, to expand the popular organization. I am a social activist who has grown up from that popular organization. You have to access the neighborhoods, the peasant communities... We need to broaden people's critical awareness, and this requires basic work with women, with young people, with workers... In this is important the action of NGOs like Action Aid, which are in the favelas and can make people see what Bolsonaro's policies mean to them. I believe that these are the necessary articulations, from which to move on to the regional and international. Also in the Brazilian Parliament, although we know that every time we go out into the rostrum we will be pressured and persecuted. That is why there must be a safety net for political leaders, whether they are meps or activists. A network of women's advocates that now does not exist and is effective. It has to be built. It is important that organizations like Alliance for Solidarity and others join us because that gives us protection. And not only is it something that happens in Brazil, but it also happens in the United States, Guatemala, even in Spain. It happens globally and we must protect ourselves. The same night Bolsonaro was elected we said, "No one lets go of anyone's hand."

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