The Similar And (Scary) New Presidents Of Brazil And Mexico

President-elects Jair Bolsonaro and Andrés Manuel López Obrador may not have the same ideology, but their respective radical declarations are prompting concerns over the rule of law and treatment of minorities.

Brazil's new president-elect Jair Bolsonaro
Brazil's new president-elect Jair Bolsonaro
Armando Montenegro


BOGOTA In spite of obvious differences in their messages and political journeys, Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro and Mexico's president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (nicknamed "AMLO") show a remarkable symmetry in their political discourses. Both are also fueling fears over the future of democracy and human rights in their respective countries.

Both have won power on the back of similar problems: the enormous corruption of recent years, insecurity and very high levels of crime and violence that have demoralized citizens. Both received the massive support of major social groups including lower and middle-income wage earners, evangelical Christians and people with a notably wide range of political orientations.

In Mexico, the longstanding corruption of the outgoing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) topped all records under the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. It affected the presidency itself and infected state and municipal government and various corners of the political apparatus. For its part, the impotence of police and law courts to deal with unfettered violence, typically related to drug trafficking, convinced most Mexicans that it was time to try something different. AMLO represented an independent alternative, wooing voters with his own integrity and vague promises about fighting crime.

Both are prompting serious fears.

In Brazil, the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigations revealed the scale of corruption in the Workers Party (PT) of former presidents Lula da Silva, now in jail, and his successor Dilma Rousseff. They motivated millions of angry voters, many of them from among the poor, to choose Bolsonaro. He fueled the fervor with irresponsible promises of inflicting death penalties and life prison terms on those responsible for crimes, which previous governments could not curb.

There are also important differences between them. AMLO is coming across as a Messianic leader of the Left, convinced of being heir to emblematic, historical leaders like Benito Juárez and Lázaro Cárdenas, and destined to restore the country to the dispossessed. Bolsonaro, a hybrid of Donald Trump and the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, voices the Right's sharp language and is for now, attractive to those yearning for an authoritarian model in Brazil. While AMLO defends the environment and measures to fight climate change, Bolsonaro's stated plans include allowing exploitation of the Amazon.

AMLO in Mexico — Photo: Eneas De Troya

Both are prompting serious fears across society. Bolsonaro's diatribes target minorities, journalists and opponents, with a blatant disregard for human rights and the rule of law. AMLO has also dismissed journalists and opponents, but more cautiously. Many observers however have pointed out that as he enjoys an ample majority in both the country's legislative chambers and can influence the composition of law courts, he could impose his will on the entire state and upset the balance of powers among institutions. Bolsonaro lacks this legislative majority and faces an independent judiciary that will surely carry out its duty to block possible presidential excesses.

For the influence both states have traditionally enjoyed beyond their frontiers, what happens in Brazil and Mexico in coming years will certainly have profound repercussions across the region, and the world.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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