Within days of retired military officer Jair Bolsonaro's victory in Brazil's presidential election, the president-elect's party is already demonstrating how a rapid rise of fascism will target its perceived political enemies and attack fundamental democratic principles in the country.
Less than 24 hours after Sunday's election results were in, State Representative Ana Caroline Campagnolo, who was elected to represent Bolsonaro's Social Liberal party in the legislature earlier this month, called on students to report teachers voicing criticism of his victory or policies.
As the Guardian reports, students who see or hear their teachers expressing outrage over the new president—whose open racism, misogyny, and plans to purge the country of leftists, has inspired millions to demonstrate against him in Brazil and around the world—were encouraged to send Campagnola a WhatsApp message exposing the educators.
"When you have a populist authoritarian, militaristic ruler in that context, he isn't just a laughing stock—as Trump often is—he is actually a very serious challenger to civil rights, and human rights and basic freedoms." —Ivan Briscoe, International Crisis Group
Campagnolo, who was herself a history teacher before entering public office, claimed in a radio interview Tuesday that she had received numerous messages from students so far. Meanwhile, educators denounced her attack on freedom of expression or being what she derisively calls "indoctrinator teachers."
As of this writing on Tuesday, a petition circulating on Avaaz.org, calling on teachers and students to reject Campagnola's efforts, had gathered more than 265,000 signatures.
"We, teachers, understand that Ana Caroline is inciting hatred by asserting untruths, provoking an unhealthy school environment," wrote the educators who started the petition.
Teachers "do not indoctrinate while teaching" but rather "present and promote debates with total respect respecting the free thought of students and the educational community in general."
"In the face of this, we ask that you, a teacher, a student, parents who care for a free and democratic education share and help us denounce the attempt to curtail that teachers are already suffering for a candidate that even without having assumed [office] is using authoritarianism to promote their ideas in a light and undemocratic way!" the petition continued.
Efforts to attack teachers' freedom of speech stoked fears of the new reality Brazilians will be living under after 55 percent of voters supported a man who has been called a "genuine fascist" by Brazil-based journalist Glenn Greenwald. Just before winning his election, Bolsonaro threatened to rid the country of left-wing politicians and their supporters, telling a crowd, "Either they go overseas, or they go to jail."
Campagnolo's campaign to target left-leaning teachers follows moves by government election authorities who, days before the country voted on October 28, seized election-related posters and other materials from university classes and events. The political activities ahead of the election were in violation of election laws, the authorities claimed, even though many of the materials made no mention of specific candidates and focused solely on defeating fascism.
Supreme Court Carmen Lucia ruled late last week that the seizure of political materials from universities was illegal, arguing, "Freedom of thought is not a concession made by the state. It is a fundamental right."
But political observers have expressed fears since Bolsonaro's victory on Sunday night that not only Brazil but other Latin American countries—especially those which, like Brazil, have been ruled by military dictatorships in years past—will experience serious curtailing of rights as the new president takes office.
"This is a guy who said the Brazilian dictatorship didn't kill enough people, that they need to kill another 30,000 people, that the police should be able to kill suspects, that the left will have a choice of going to jail or leaving the country. Will he do these things? I think he will implement as many of these threats as he can get away with," Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research told France 24 on Tuesday.
"When you have a populist authoritarian, militaristic ruler in that context, he isn't just a laughing stock—as Trump often is—he is actually a very serious challenger to civil rights, and human rights and basic freedoms," added Ivan Briscoe, Latin America director of the International Crisis Group.