The Edge of Democracy (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): The unraveling of democracy in Brazil

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Brazilian documentary film “The Edge of Democracy”, which was released on Netflix yesterday, is often uncomfortable and depressing to watch especially if, like me, you have been disturbed by the rise of extreme right-wing political factions around the world during last several years. Like Donald J. Trump in US or Brexit in Britain, the unraveling of democracy in Brazil is another horrific example of that disturbing global political trend, and the documentary gives us a calm, sobering overview on that while deftly weaving an aching personal perspective into its unabashedly partisan narrative.

After opening with an archival footage clip showing former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is usually called ‘Lula’ in public, leaving for a prison where he would be incarcerated for more than 10 years, the documentary looks back on the last five decades of the Brazilian society. After the coup d’état in 1964, the country went through a gloomy period of military dictatorship for next 21 years, but it eventually begin to make a slow progress toward democracy as more of its citizens came to protest against the military dictatorship, and that was when Lula, who was initially a local labor activist, came to rise as a prominent political figure.

Director Petro Costa, who was born in 1983, reminisces a bit about how things initially looked hopeful for her parents and many other people demanding democracy for their country. Although Lula failed to win the presidential election three times in row after the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, he and his supporters did not give up nonetheless, and he eventually got elected in 2002, though he had to make some compromise with those powerful business and political figures for his significant political victory.

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Anyway, the mood was optimistic as Lula entered the presidential palace in Brasilia in 2003, and he and his government did not disappoint the people of Brazil as pushing forward a number of policies for stimulating the economic growth of the country. While the economic wealth of the country was considerably increased, the quality of life was also improved for those poor working-class people out there thanks to Lula’s bold welfare policy, and it seemed everything would continue to go pretty well for Brazil and its citizens around the time when Lula was succeeded by Dilma Rousseff in 2011, who incidentally got the honor of being the first female president of Brazil.

However, Rousseff’s presidency soon came to face a number of unexpected troubles, and things subsequently began to fall apart. As the national economy took a big downturn due to several causes, public discontent and unrest were accumulated against Rousseff and her government, and that was eventually exploded through a massive protest, which further accelerated the decline of the public support of Rousseff and her government.

And then there came a huge corruption scandal involved with several executives of a state-run oil company named Petrobras. As the investigation led by federal judge Sergio Moro was continued, many conservative politicians started to criticize and blame Rousseff, and she consequently became far less popular than before while Lula was also blamed a lot for this corruption scandal. The public demand for her impeachment was increased day by day, and there was really nothing she could do except following what was forced upon her and her government by her political opponents.

The documentary showed us how unjust the process for her impeachment was. Although there was not any concrete evidence to incriminate Rousseff, her opponents kept demanding her impeachment, and Michel Temer, who was her vice president, and Eduardo Cunha, who was the president of the lower house, were willing to get her impeached by any means necessary for their political gain. As a result, the majority of the lower house voted yes to Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016 August, and Temer instantly filled the vacant position, but, ironically, he got exposed for his own corruption not long after that.

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Meanwhile, Lula decided to run for the presidential election again, but then he was targeted by Moro, who was very determined to make his investigation into a political circus to boost his public popularity. After his prosecutors gave a ludicrous PowerPoint presentation for showing those hungry news reporters how Lula was supposedly associated with the corruption scandal, Moro personally interrogated Lula for a rather absurd charge, and then the court swiftly ruled that Lula was guilty as charged.

And the situation got worse as an extreme right-wing politician named Jair Bolsonaro came into the picture. Although his public support was less than 10% at first, he gradually gained more public support while the Brazilian society became more polarized than before, and the documentary calmly but chillingly showed how things got pretty ugly as the election day approached. As far as I could see from the documentary, Bolsonaro, who eventually got elected in last year, is a man as vile and hateful as Trump, and it is surely unnerving to see that there are many people in Brazil quite willing to go along with his virulent right-wing ideology.

Overall, “The Edge of Democracy” will linger on your mind for a while with its grim prospect on the ongoing social crisis in Brazil, and Costa did a skillful job of presenting facts and then making her points as steadily maintaining her restrained but intimate approach. I can only hope that the circumstance will get better for her and many others in Brazil someday, but, boy, considering what is going on around in the world these days, I have to admit that it is really hard to be optimistic.

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