Dispatch on Brazil: Interview with Hugo Souza

We present an interview with Brazlian anarchist militant Hugo Souza with his opinions on the current situation and advice for leftists in the US. As Brazil is rocked by economic recession, parliamentary coups and scandals, into the void has stepped far right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Winning the first found of voting earlier this month Bolsonaro is headed to the second round on October 28 where he will face off against the Workers Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad. Often compared to Trump, Bolsonaro is actually far more dangerous with a much more coherent and reactionary ideology and in praise for torture and Brazil’s previous military dictatorship.

 We also recommend the statement by Brazilian anarchists “The Claws of Empire, the Rise of Fascism: Brazilian Anarchist Statement on Bolsonaro.” For those in New York City, Black Rose/Rosa Negra – NYC will be hosting an event with speakers from Brazil on Saturday, October 20, details here

This interview was conducted by Amelia Davenport and has been republished from the online publication Cosmonaut.  To clarify language and references that may be unfamiliar to a US audience we have added reference notes at the end.

Amelia Davenport: So to start, can you introduce yourself?

Hugo Souza: My name is Hugo Souza, I’m a leftist from Brazil who belonged to an anarchist collective for a couple years and self-identified as a Marxist-Leninist for a decade before that.

AD: What anarchist collective were you involved with?

HS: Coletivo Mineiro Popular Anarquista, Compa, a branch of CAB (Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira – Brazilian Anarchist Coordination) which organizes in the especifista/platformist group Anarkismo.

AD: So what sort of organizing work did you do with them?

HS: I was a member of 3 movements. The first was MPL, or Movimento Passe Livre, which was an organization that sought to fight mercantilization of public transport and promotes a self-managed, horizontal, cooperatively run model of public transportation. It was federated itself nationally and the Sao Paulo branch started the June 2013 protests.

I was also a member of MOB, Movimento de Organização de Base, which is a community organizing group also nationally federated that promotes community organizing. They mostly deal with illegal settlements, which are the initial stages of slums but not exclusively.

Last, I was a member of the Committee for Solidarity with the Popular Kurdish Resistance, which sought to bring awareness to the Kurdish cause.

In these three movements I took organizing roles, such as helping set up meetings, protests and such, took media roles, such as creating websites, facebook pages and publicity pieces in general, helped shape, reshape, found and design multiple organizations and also had a diplomatic role inside CAB and with regard to other organizations in Brazil as well.

AD: You also helped organize a publication is that correct?

HS: You mean elcoyote.org? I came up with the concept and set it up, I even translated some texts, but even though the website is technically mine I only do maintenance work nowadays.

Political Situation in Brazil

AD: Shifting gears a bit, what do you make of the general state of politics in Brazil?

HS: Worrisome. We are going to have a fascist elected in a couple weeks.

AD: Brazil had previously been considered a part of the ‘Pink Tide’. What do you think changed to shift the electorate so far to the right?

HS: A combination of multiple factors. I believe the main one is a perception of an economic and moral crisis that was hammered by the media and the judicial caste, which portrayed the Worker’s Party (PT) as responsible for everything wrong in people’s lives. The media bombarded the public with negative information about the Worker’s Party. This fostered a sentiment known as ‘anti-petismo’ here. [1] Neoliberal authors claim PT mismanaged the economy and public companies like the oil giant Petrobras. Petrobras is a matter of pride in Brazil since a nationalist campaign in mid 20th century called ‘the oil is ours’ made the issue crystalized in the public’s’ mind. PT was accused of robbing the government, trying to ‘Mexicanize’ (institute a PRI like dominance) Brazilian politics and hire their cronies to positions within the state. [2]

People, in general, are afraid of Brazil becoming a new Venezuela, even though that is decidedly not the Worker’s Party intent, and there are also conspiracy theories about a sort of tropical Soviet Union known as ‘URSAL’ which are widespread.

The scenario shifted gradually from pro-PT views to anti-PT, with the help of groups trained and funded by Steve Bannon and the Koch Brothers, decidedly through Whatsapp fake news posting. They created a sense of impending doom and presented a messiah to solve all the country’s issues: Jair Messias Bolsonaro. There is a history of messianic beliefs in Brazil dating back to the Portuguese Empire when a Portuguese king disappeared fighting the Moors and Portugal ended up being ruled by Spain. In the resulting power struggle, the Portuguese establishment tried to fight it by creating a “king in the mountain” lore. It is a phenomenon culturally relevant to the entire Lusophone world, known as Sebastianism. Sebastianism had a clear manifestation in a monarchist insurgency of poorer people in the 19th century against the newly established republic. In the 19th Century, they thought the lost king would return to save Brazil. The first choice for vice president for Bolsonaro was the ‘heir Prince of the Brazilian monarchy’, but he declined. Brazilians have a weird combination of an anti-authoritarian outlook in life with an acceptance of an authoritarian delegation of a carte blanche for politicians to do as they please as long as there are results.

AD: So you’re saying that a big factor here is a political belief in a Messiah figure. Did Lula play a similar role in the past?

HS: Yeah. The judicial caste sought to punish the Worker’s Party disproportionately, even arresting Lula without non-circumstantial evidence, and tarnished Lula’s image gradually. Lula still has such an image in the northeast of the country, but I believe in most of the country he is more rejected than supported, which does not mean he has little support nationally.

Role of the Workers Party (PT)

AD: What sort of response is PT mounting to Bolsonaro?

HS: Ciro Gomes was polling ahead of Bolsonaro. The PT response was to delay their candidacy as much as possible to 1 month before the election by making a bogus ballot with Lula as president, considering there is a constitutional amendment saying people with convictions are ineligible for 8 years I think, passed by PT itself, and spreading the word people should vote on whomever Lula decided.

Best case scenario they were relying on vote transfers to happen fast and there would be no time for a counter campaign, worst case scenario and my actual opinion is that they knew they could not win and were only competing with the Ciro Gomes campaign for a spot in the second bout of elections so they could lead the opposition and not lose hegemony as their right-winged rival PSDB did.

They sabotaged Ciro Gomes campaign by alienating parties from his campaign and fighting internal PT members who considered the thought of allying with him in the elections. We estimate PT controlled unions will become more radicalized again once they have to fight for their lives, but only to a certain point. PT has a good number of congressmen overall, enough to be a nuisance to a Bolsonaro presidency.

AD: If PT does not have an interest in socialism, either of the Bolivarian model or the old Soviet one, why are the Brazilian media and political establishment so hell-bent on their destruction?

HS: PT is currently dominated by Lula’s current which is similar to British New Labour in outlook, but there are more radical elements with no expression within the Worker’s Party. They also have a history of radical rhetoric so the establishment can frame it that way. And the Brazilian establishment does not wish to cede an inch of privilege. They are literally bothered by poor people on airplanes.

AD: So the issue is not preserving capitalism but rather the position of established old money?

HS: No. PT has support from some of the oldest money there is. Agrarian elite, banks, international manufacturers…the Brazilian middle class does not wish to share places with people who were poorer before. Brazil before Lula had the worst GINI coefficient in the world, Lula changed it with very little effort, they invested more in photocopies than in social programmes and people thought they were bankrupting the country with welfare programmes. People were bothered with the ascension of the dirt poor to a less poor status. … Literally bothered they were able to go to university and buy airline tickets.

Rise of Reaction 

AD: So it’s a reaction of the middle classes then? Would that be small and medium business owners or professionals in Brazil?

HS: Liberal professionals, medium business owners, a varied class. But small businesses are mostly proletarianized.

AD: Why do you think that the Haute Bourgeoisie [upper class] backs PT despite their anti-elite rhetoric, and the liberal professionals back Bolsonaro despite his rhetoric against the “establishment” they seem to make up?

HS: The haute is divided. Some of it made more money than ever during PT, and is resilient about Bolsonaro, other parts of it embraced full-blown fascism because they can make more money. The middle classes think this crisis is PT’s fault. This section thinks it can make more.

AD: Interesting. What sort of response has the left given so far?

HS: They are making meetings all over the country, broad left meetings, to discuss strategy and support the Haddad campaign in neighborhoods. But I believe it will not be enough. The Brazilian left abandoned a long time ago base work, and Pentecostals started doing it. The main Pentecostal leader in Brazil supports Bolsonaro and has put the weight of his church behind him

AD: Oftentimes the rise of fascism is accompanied by street violence. Has that happened much in Brazil?

HS: Yes.

AD: Is it organized or mostly “lone wolf attacks”

HS: There are hundreds of reported cases of LGBTQ+, women, black people and merely people with the #elenão hashtag on their bodies being attacked by Bolsonaro supporters. 3 Bolsonaro supporters carved a swastika on a woman with an #elenão bottom’s belly and the police claimed it was a Buddhist symbol. A woman was spray painting the hashtag #elenão near her place and got arrested, the police immobilized her violently took her to the station cuffed her from behind stripped her naked and told she’d only get out if she apologized and said ‘Ele Sim’ (slogan of Bolsonaro campaign). So there are lone wolf attacks, far right groups doing it and sometimes the police do it or cover it up, like in the Marielle case of which we suspect a police hit squad did it for 50k USD.

Master Moa do Katende, capoeira master, was stabbed 12 times in a bar after declaring he was not going to vote for Bolsonaro.

AD: So the police are firmly in Bolsonaro’s camp. What about the Gendarmes?

HS: We refer to the gendarmes as police here. The entire police military establishment is in Bolsonaro’s camp and he has connections to cop mafias in Rio known as milicias (militias).

AD: Does the left have any armed street presence?

HS: None. Gun control is really restrictive here.

AD: What about unarmed street defense?

HS: Leftist Brazilians are mostly hippies. Unions and some social movements have security though.

AD: There are some groups that have talked about base building on the Brazilian left like the Brigadas Populares. Have they been successful? If not, why so in your view?

HS: They have been successful with their proposal that was dealing with illegal settlements, but this right winged wave swore to sweep settlements down.

AD: Illegal Settlements?

HS: Yes. Proto-slums. Bunch of people invade a property and build houses. We call them occupations

AD: How did the Brigades relate to them?

HS: They mostly do the judicial aspect of their defense, but some Brigadas members in my city have criminal lawsuits on them accusing them of planning such settlements.

AD: So you’ve said the Brazilian left has mostly focused on the Haddad election campaign but that this won’t be enough. What do you think needs to be done?

HS: First I think the Worker’s Party and specifically Lula’s current needs to go. I will never forgive them for trying to blackmail the country into voting and supporting them with the threat of fascism. Second, the left needs to get back to doing base work and organize itself in perhaps a new formation without the vices of the old one. Brazilians will suffer a lot in the coming years, but maybe hard times can make harder people.

AD: Will it be possible to do the necessary work under fascism?

HS: It was possible in the dictatorship and it is possible now, the left just needs to get smarter, more organized and set their eyes on community organizing.

AD: Which groups would you identify with having the best chance of returning to community organizing? Or do you think entirely new formations are needed?

HS: Some groups like Brigadas, PCR, and CAB already do it, they could expand or a new formation could arise. I don’t know.

AD: As an American, Brazilian politics seem remote, is there anything you think left formations here could do to support the movement there?

HS: Funnelling money to organizations you choose and perhaps helping out refugees, although I’m not sure if that is possible under Trump. The Brazilian left desperately needs training in diverse skills too, such as digital marketing.

Advice for US Leftists

AD: Okay last question, do you have any advice for American communists and radicals dealing with conditions under Trump?

HS: The biggest lesson in both Trump and Bolsonaro is that people do not necessarily prefer centrist candidates over right or left ones. Moderation does not please more people. The right is not afraid to radicalize. Do not fear that either. Radicalize.

AD: Well put. Thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

HS: Yes. Bolsonaro is projecting himself as a new Pinochet. Neoliberals are siding with him over that. His minister of the economy will be a famous neoliberal economist and have free reign. There is a small chance the Worker’s Party wins. A recent poll was a technical tie of 52-48%. 3 million voters mostly in the Northeast which is a PT stronghold had their voting card nullified because they didn’t register their biometric information, and those 3 million were the difference for PT in the last election, so PT would have to turn even more the tide. Assuming PT wins, there is a risk of a full-blown military coup, already announced by many partisans of Bolsonaro including his vice president who is a retired military general.

To read more on the political situation in Brazil we recommend “Interview on the Assassination of Marielle Franco” and a statement by the CAB “Marielle Franco, Presente! – Political Murder and State Terrorism in Brazil.”


1. “Petismo” is the phonetic pronunciation of “PT,” acronym for Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers Party, combined with “-ismo” or “ism.” The PT is the social democratic party that came to power in Brazil with the election of former union leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as “Lula,” to the presidency in 2002.

2. The PRI, Partido Revolucionario Institucional or Institutional Revolutionary Party, was founded after the Mexican Revolution and held uninterrupted power in the country for most of the 20th century until 2000. While Mexico remains ostensibly a republic with democratic elections, the PRI was known for maintaining a semi-authoritarian rule through clientelism, domination of all aspects of the state and corruption.