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Brazil: inside Jair Bolsonaro’s militarised democracy – podcast

Jair Bolsonaro with a military escort behind him.
Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is profoundly militarised. Salty View/Shutterstock

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, we look at just how politicised Brazil’s military has become since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019. And we speak to a zooarchaeologist studying animal bones from 700-year-old trash in Spain to learn about people left out of history.

Jair Bolsonaro is openly nostalgic for the era of Brazil’s military dictatorship, which ended in 1985. Since the former army captain was elected president in 2018, he’s maintained a close relationship with the armed forces – but in recent months it’s not always been straightforward. With Brazil heading towards presidential elections in 2022, and Bolsonaro slumping in the polls, some of those military officers who’ve tasted political power may be assessing their options.

We speak to two experts to understand the history of relations between the military and politics in Brazil – and what’s at stake.

Maud Chirio, lecturer in history at Université Gustave Eiffel in Paris, is a specialist in Brazil’s military dictatorship and the recent growth of extreme right ideologies within the military. She believes Brazil’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, that has left more than 490,000 people dead by mid-June, could cause some high ranking military officers to distance themselves from Bolsonaro. While some believe he can – and should – be re-elected, and that he’s the best guardian of their interests, she tells us “some military do not want to sink with Bolsonaro’s ship”.

Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho is director of King’s Brazil Institute at King’s College London, and served as a lieutenant in the army technical corps during Lula’s presidency in the early 2000s. He explains that despite the legacy of the military dictatorship, many Brazilians still have a positive view of the armed forces and so Bolsonaro’s military background helped him get elected. Yet De Carvalho says Bolsonaro appears not to fully understand the role of the military in a civilian democracy. “Sometimes the president talks about the military almost as his praetorian guard that he can use to do whatever he wants.”

De Carvalho thinks part of the longer-term solution is to reduce Brazil’s dependence on the military for tasks that should be left to civilian authorities. He tells us that when there is a change of minister, it’s common for Brazilians to wonder what the military thinks about it. “That’s a question we should never ask.”

And in our second story (24m20s), we travel back to 12th century Islamic Iberia with the help of zooarchaeologist Marcos García García, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of York in the UK. He’s part of a project examining household garbage at Cercadilla, an archaeological dig outside Córdoba in Spain. Garcia explains what studying this ancient waste is revealing about the people who lived there – including evidence of pork. This suggests that there were Christians living in Islamic Al-Andalus, contrary to the previous historical consensus that Christian communities had disappeared by this point.

And Nick Lehr, arts and culture editor at The Conversation in the US, tells us about a new series of articles on transgender young people (34m15s). To go alongside it, The Conversation has put together an email newsletter course to help shed light on the issues that transgender young people and their families face. Anyone of any age, gender or sexuality that is interested in learning about the latest research on transgender youth can sign up here to receive the mini-course in the form of four emails over about a week.

This episode of The Conversation Weekly was produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Mau Loseto. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. or via email on You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.

News clips in this episode are from Journalismo TV, France 24, Al Jazeera English, TRT News, CNN News, VICE, CGTN News, The Guardian and BBC News.

You can listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, our RSS feed, or find out how else to listen here.

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