This radical neoliberal agenda is different from the PT’s more moderate adherence to the conservative rules of macroeconomic management up until 2012. Incidentally, its temporary abandonment of economic orthodoxy under the Dilma Rousseff administration was one reason for the political crisis that was solved, temporarily, by her impeachment, despite her turn toward austerity in 2015. Until 2015, the PT administrations, in fact, had: increased the public expenditures-to-GDP ratio, especially with social outlays; not only suspended privatizations, but supported the expansion of state corporations and public banks’ market shares; deradicalized social movements by absorbing their leaders into the state apparatus, while implementing part of their agenda as public policy; enforced sterner environmental, racial, and gender-equality rules, especially the protection of indigenous people’s lands, the containment of gender-based violence, and affirmative action on college enrollment; moderated and emboldened trade unions, enforcing labor rights, and proposing legislation to increase the minimum wage by 70% while presiding over rising wages in general (and strikes) from 2004 to 2014; controlled prices of basic supplies when politically expedient, regardless of the cry from capital markets; and blocked some foreign takeovers of local capital and, instead, funded the outward expansion of domestic capital, especially in Africa and South America (where the PT backed Left administrations against the U.S. and the local conservative backlash). Its main weakness was to conduct these policies without organizing its mass political base, and without challenging campaign finance rules or breaking the mold of neoliberal economic policy, counting instead on horse-trading with traditional clientelistic parties.
The inverse agenda enacted since 2016 by Rousseff’s successor, former VP Michel Temer, was backed in the November 2018 Presidential Election, except for by the Center-Left (PT, and Ciro Gomes by the PDT) and the Left (PSOL, basically). On the Right, though both big banks and media clearly preferred the progressive neoliberal PSDB of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Bolsonaro was the favorite of the smaller business class (urban and rural), big agribusiness, the upper middle class, and the Law and Order bureaucracies (LOB, including prosecutors, judges, the Army, the military and civilian police). Of course, he wouldn’t be elected without the allegiance of the social conservatives, both from the elite and the poor (especially neo-Pentecostal Evangelicals). However, on average, the poor seem much more worried about high levels of crime than with homosexuality and women’s emancipation. Through Operation Carwash, the LOB was crucial to hasten Rousseff’s impeachment and, even faster, the jailing of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the former PT president who was by far the front-runner in the 2018 election.
Justice Sergio Moro was the political leader of the LOB, operating illegally both as judge and as prosecutor-in-chief in Operation Carwash. Telegram messages revealed by The Intercept revealed his political partiality, and even crimes when judging Lula in time to remove him prior to the 2018 Presidential election. Bolsonaro’s despotic instincts are well-known, but Moro’s authoritarianism also revealed itself when, as Minister of Justice, he tried to persecute Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald after the leaks. In addition, Moro admitted a crime in his farewell address on April 24, most likely to inoculate himself against Bolsonaro’s reaction. He denied again having traded his discharge from the office at the lowest-level of the Brazilian judicial system for an eventual post at the Supreme Court, but revealed that he asked that his family be compensated with a life-long pension, above what he would be legally entitled to, in case he died in office. Bolsonaro illegally accepted the deal, failing to deny or even mention the mutual crime in his reply.
It is not a stretch to say that Bolsonaro rewarded Moro with an appointment as Minister of Justice and with the promised nomination to a vacant bench at the Supreme Court on November 2020, for pushing Lula out of the 2018 election and airing new accusations against the PT, by the convicted Antonio Palloci, Lula’s first Minister of Finance, nine days before the election. However, from Bolsonaro’s perspective, the rationale is two-fold. First, Moro would give him popularity, international respectability, and leverage in the judicial branch. And second, he would help him intimidate clientelistic parties in the legislative branch. From Moro’s perspective, he accepted the nomination to superintend legal and administrative reforms that would increase the autonomy of the LOB, both to protect police brutality from accountability, and to discipline and punish the traffic of influence between corporations and politicians, in line with the U.S. ideal of transnational “fair” competition.