"God is Brazilian,” goes a saying that became the title of a popular film. Brazil’s beauty, natural wealth and music often make it seem uniquely blessed. But these days Brazilians must wonder whether, like the deity in the film, God has gone on holiday. The economy is a disaster, the public finances are under strain and politics are thoroughly rotten. Street crime is rising, too. Seven Brazilian cities feature in the world’s 20 most violent.
The national elections next month give Brazil the chance to start afresh. Yet if, as seems all too possible, victory goes to Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, they risk making everything worse. Mr Bolsonaro, whose middle name is Messias, or “Messiah”, promises salvation; in fact, he is a menace to Brazil and to Latin America.
Mr Bolsonaro is the latest in a parade of populists—from Donald Trump in America, to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and a left-right coalition featuring Matteo Salvini in Italy. In Latin America, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-wing firebrand, will take office in Mexico in December. Mr Bolsonaro would be a particularly nasty addition to the club. Were he to win, it might put the very survival of democracy in Latin America’s largest country at risk.
Populists draw on similar grievances. A failing economy is one—and in Brazil the failure has been catastrophic. In the worst recession in its history, GDP per person shrank by 10% in 2014-16 and has yet to recover. The unemployment rate is 12%. The whiff of elite self-dealing and corruption is another grievance—and in Brazil it is a stench. The interlocking investigations known as Lava Jato (Car Wash) have discredited the entire political class. Scores of politicians are under investigation. Michel Temer, who became Brazil’s president in 2016 after his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached on unrelated charges, has avoided trial by the supreme court only because congress voted to spare him. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, another former president, was jailed for corruption and disqualified from running in the election. Brazilians tell pollsters that the words which best sum up their country are “corruption”, “shame” and “disappointment”.