Elections in Brazil: what is the relationship between philanthropy and democracy?


Graciela Hopstein


We are just days away from the second round of elections in Brazil (on 30 October) that will choose a new president for the next four years. In the view of several analysts, these are perhaps the most challenging in recent times, or maybe in the Brazilian history. It is important to highlight that voting is mandatory, therefore, Brazilians will go to the polls to choose between the re-election of a far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, and a former president, candidate of the Workers’ Party (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ruled the country for two consecutive terms, between the years 2003 and 2010. 

The electoral campaign in October (second round) was marked by large government investments in social benefits through financial distribution programs (contradicting the laws and exceeding the limits of the public budget), acts of violence, threats, electoral harassment of employees in companies for part of Bolsonaro’s followers. Brazil is still a world laboratory in the production of disinformation and fake news. The data are impressive: there was a 1,671 per cent increase in the volume of disinformation complaints sent to digital platforms compared to 2020; episodes of political violence via social media also grew, which increased by over 400 times compared to 2018. Everything indicates that disinformation has become an epidemic and the predominant way of managing politics by the extreme right in Brazil.

In addition to the balances on the results of Lula’s and Bolsonaro’s administrations and the proposals of both candidates, in the current scenario, what is at stake in Brazil is the choice between the defense of democracy (in the broad sense) and a regime extremely conservative, based on the defense of the ‘traditional family and moral behaviours’, on the arming of the civilian population, on the promotion of hatred and extermination of political minorities, and on the systematic destruction of the environment through the massive and illegal exploitation of natural resources.

Fighting for democracy in Brazil

Since 2019, Brazil has been facing major challenges linked to an increasingly adverse and regressive political scenario specifically related to the recognition of rights conquered in previous decades. The closing of civic and participatory spaces, the permanent threats to civil society and democracy, and disinformation (through the systematic dissemination of fake news) are some of the political actions carried out by the government in progress. This, not to mention the dramatic management of the pandemic in the context of Bolsonaro administration, which left a balance of almost 700,000 deaths. The scenario marked by necropolitics, negationism, the questioning of science and agendas related to the field of rights, evidently put at risk and under threat the institutions that were conquered and strengthened since the democratization process (1988).

The conservative wave that we are experiencing in Brazil and around the world is certainly a reaction of power in the face of the advancement of socio-environmental, racial, gender and ethnic justice, LGBTIQ+AP agendas that have evidently strengthened and diversified the field of access and recognition of rights, that must be understood as a conquest of the struggles carried by the movements. According to Foucault, if there is a relationship of power, there is the possibility of resistance. For the author, resistance comes before the power that is installed from the processes of capturing the potency of movements and transformation.

At the same time, it is important to emphasize that democracy is not reduced to the act of voting but is mainly linked to the recognition of rights – ‘to have rights to rights’ – of free expression, association and living in dignified way (buen vivir). Strengthening democracy implies at the same time fighting racism, homophobia, sexism, misogyny, among many other forms of discrimination.

A space for philanthropy’s influence

It is in the field of rights where philanthropy and democracy are connected: from the support with financial and non-financial resources to groups, organizations, and civil society movements in the construction of agendas in the field of defense of human rights, justice socio-environmental and community development. Supporting community-based initiatives is a fundamental strategy to strengthen actors in the struggle for the recognition of rights and, therefore, the strengthening of democracy. 

In the current political scenario, it is urgent to act in order to transform the field of philanthropy, democratizing access to resources, capillarizing their distribution (another point at which philanthropy and democracy are related), connecting it with social demands and in dialogue permanently with civil society. For that, we need to install a process of deconstruction, thinking about how to overcome and leave the colonial logics – based on white, masculine, and heteronormative Eurocentrism – and binary – centered on socially constructed opposites – questioning power relations, the imposition of agendas and actions, avoiding reproducing relations of oppression and subordination. It is also essential to make changes in philanthropic organizations based on the progressive inclusion of professionals belonging to diverse and minority political groups. 

We need to think politically philanthropy field because, in fact, life, our existences are political. Including this dimension is key to understand its connection to the real world, and even to reflecting on the role played by philanthropy in the processes of transformation in the social field (in the broad sense). Because transforming implies breaking preexisting pacts based on patrimonialism, racism, sexism, etc. (ShiftthePower) 

In recent years, Brazilian philanthropy has undergone significant changes. Brazil counts on a developed philanthropic ecosystem (even when compared to countries in the LA region) with a great capacity to mobilize resources. In the context of the pandemic, the ability to mobilize resources of corporate and family philanthropy to face the crisis and emergency was visible. However, these resources do not reach civil society in a significant way, considering that most of the local philanthropic organizations are not predominantly donors. And although these trends are slowly changing, we can still see that the main donors to this sector are beyond independent funds, international philanthropy organizations.

In the current scenario, social and community justice philanthropy occupies a strategic place specifically in the defense of rights, in the recognition of differences, diversity and intersections, operating through rhizomatic networks, recognizing the power of connections in continuous changing processes. It is a trust-based philanthropy that recognizes civil society and communities as key actors in the transformation and strengthening of democracy.

Certainly, the organizations that work in this field, specifically the independent funds (thematic and community) members of the Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice – now Rede Comuá – were and continue to be strategic because they are donating  resources to society on an ongoing basis, recognizing its leading role in the territories in the struggles for access and defense of human rights and social justice. In fact, we can say that, in the current political scenario, are these philanthropic organizations that contribute to supporting the struggles, resistance and strengthening of democracy in Brazil.

Graciela Hopstein is the executive coordinator of the Brazilian Philanthropy Network for Social Justice.

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