Two Brazilian activist-lawyers spoke about the new president Jair Bolsonaro and the dangers of his fascism, to some 50 people at an event in Ottawa four days after his election.

The event, entitled “Brazil: A Return to Fascism?”, featured Maria Lusia Mendonca and Max Garcez, hosted by Inter Pares along with the Blue Planet Project of the Council of Canadians.

Mendonca is a human rights lawyer in Brazil and executive director of Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos (Network for Social Justice and Human Rights). Garcez is a labour lawyer with Advocacia Garcez, and is currently living in Ottawa.

Their message was urgent – that international support is needed now and to come.


Maria Luisa Mendonca – 6 minute interview – November 02, 2018 with Greg Macdougall. (mp3)

Max Garcez – 9 minute talk – November 01, 2018. (mp3)

Maria Luisa Mendonca – 11 minute of responses to audience questions – November 01, 2018. (mp3)



Bolonaro’s campaigning and previous extreme/fascist positions are evidence of the danger that many in Brazil now face – The Intercept’s “Read His Extremist, Far-Right Positions in His Own Words” has some highlights – and Mendonca expressed that Bolsonaro is likely to influence neighbouring countries as well, while Garcez also highlighted the global climate change risk that his approach to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest poses.

Since the election there have already been attacks on workers, Indigenous, women, and LGBT people, said Mendonca. She mentioned that the Landless Workers Movement (MST) had one of their camps set on fire in the days after the election, and that one of Bolsonaro’s first actions had been to establish a military taskforce to classify opposition to the new regime as terrorists.

Garcez noted that the judge who sentenced former president Lula to jail, has now been chosen as Bolsonaro’s minister of justice. Lula had been expected to win the presidency before he was imprisoned, and Bolsonaro was provided a huge advantage as Fernando Haddad, the Worker’s Party (PT) replacement presidential candidate, only had one month to campaign before the first vote.

Mendonca described Lula’s jailing as illegal and political, saying there wasn’t evidence to convict him, and further pointing out that the order that kept him from communicating with the media while in jail was illegal and different treatment than for regular prisoners.

Garcez emphasized how bad the situation is, although it’s unclear what is to come; he also explained that many had previously thought Bolsonaro would be unelectable based on what he represents. Garcez said that it’s wrong to think of Bolsonaro in the same terms as Doug Ford or Donald Trump, noting that far-right European leaders like France’s Le Pen have distanced themselves from Bolsonaro’s positions.

He did acknowledge that there were problems with the previous progressive government, led by Dilma Roussef until 2016: Garcez described his legal firm working half the day attempting to defend the Rousseff government from the impeachment/parliamentary coup, and the other half to fight against her government’s privatization policies.

Mendonca said that Rousseff had been impeached despite no evidence she was involved in corruption. When Bolsonaro voted for the impeachment, he declared to the parliament that he was dedicating his vote to the military colonel who’d been in command of the Doi-Codi torture unit that had imprisoned and tortured Rousseff and others in the 1970s.

A number of attendees at the Ottawa event were Brazilians living in Ottawa; some had family members who’d voted for Bolsonaro.

One noted the importance of international validation for the work and ideas of Brazilian activists and academics, as many Brazilians are dismissive of them. Mendonca added to this how important the role of the international media was during the election in confirming that Bolsonaro is fascist, something not necessarily conveyed by the domestic Brazilian media.

One of Mendonca’s suggestions was that Canadians can research and pressure Canadian companies that have business in Brazil (her visit to Ottawa was scheduled with the Food Secure Canada conference in Montreal two days later, where she co-presented on the case of farmland grabs involving Canadian pension funds).

She also emphasized that there will be a continuing need for connections and communication between activists in Canada and elsewhere with the Brazilian social movements and alternative media.

The idea to start a solidarity network will be taken up by some of those who were at the event – anyone else interested in learning more or becoming involved is welcome to email the initial/interim contact, Kevin Skerrett: kevin.skerrett at gmail dot com