Humor is no Joke

By Gabriel Lesser

Political humor is booming in Brazil. It’s practically inescapable if you’re on social—or unsocial—media. Sérgio Augusto recently wrote in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that the election of an extreme right-wing president who reveres Brazil’s most recent dictatorship (1965-1980) has resulted in a rebirth of anti-authoritarian, resistance-focused humor.  My Facebook feed, for example, supplies me with daily memes mocking President Jair Bolsonaro and a variety of other government actors.

My CLAS Summer Field Research Grant project initially sought to explore the relationship between humor and political resistance in Brazilian literature. My focus was political satire and graphic humor during Brazil’s military dictatorship. I hoped to analyze continuities in resistance culture during times of political oppression by examining political cartoons in newspapers and humor magazines.

Once I started visiting archives, such as the State University of São Paulo’s (UNESP) Centro de Documentação e Memória (CEDEM) and the Mário de Andrade Library, a different picture emerged. Many political cartoons in well-known left-wing magazines such as O Pasquim, and lesser-known ones such as Ovelha Negra, attacked the dictatorship by mocking other marginalized groups. Stereotypes such as the horny, money-obsessed housewife or the wild, uncivilized person of African descent were often the punchline. What contemporary academic research categorizes as “resistance humor” seemed littered with contradictions to me. The humor criticized the country’s political shift towards authoritarianism while reinforcing many facets of the social status quo. A mostly white and male cast of humorists mocked politicians, women, immigrants, non-whites, the LGBT community, and anyone else they could caricature.


The author researching early 20th century humor magazines at Mário de Andrade Library. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Lesser.)

This new insight shifted my direction in the archives. I began to examine mainstream, popular newspapers and magazines published during and before the dictatorship, regardless of political orientation. In these publications, cartoons were not acts of humoristic resistance but of oppression: homophobia, sexism, and racism were performed through jokes that reached a wider audience than those in clandestine resistance humor periodicals.

Below is an example of a seemingly innocuous social cartoon that reinforces negative stereotypes about Afro-Brazilians, published in 1937 in Tit-Bits magazine. Tit-Bits did not have an explicit political orientation, claiming its goal was simply to entertain and spark laughter. In this cartoon, the Afro-Brazilian is a shirtless, uncivilized cannibal, who works as a cook, a stereotype found in Brazilian cartoons throughout the 20th century.


– Don’t cry: be brave!
– Easy for you to say: you don’t realize that they are cooking me with raw onions!
(Tit-Bits. September 17, 1937.)

Another cartoon, published in Careta magazine in 1931, uses humor to criticize immigration and inter-marriage in Brazil. Careta was a weekly humoristic illustrated magazine with a large national readership. It lasted more than fifty years and published pieces by some of Brazil’s best-known writers. In the cartoon below, the different racial and ethnic groups are portrayed as the ingredients of a cocktail. When mixed, they create a repulsive, uncivilized creature, dressed similarly to the Afro-Brazilian in the Tit-Bits cartoon above. Jews, Arabs, Japanese, and Italians, among others, are caricatured.


– Take various colored people of foreign races.
– Shake up the contents!
– And what you get is an ethnic person! A standard person! The desired standardized person!
(Careta. April 4th, 1931. From Brazil’s Biblioteca Nacional, available online)

Academic literature tends to focus on political humor as a form of resistance in Brazil. My thesis expands on these approaches by showing how social humor is used as a tool of oppression and exclusion. By making fun of the “other,” the jokester and their audience form a new type of community—often at the expense of the underclasses. These cartoons represent tendencies like racism and classism across the political spectrum. 

My approach to studying humor will illustrate a weapon still common in contemporary acts of oppression, both in Latin America and the United States. It may point to continuities in elite Latin American culture and literature from as early as the 18th century. Canonical Latin American texts often make fun of the lower classes, indigenous groups, immigrants, and many other “others.” It’s time to take those quips seriously! Studying humor is no joke.

Gabriel Lesser. (Photo courtesy of the author.)


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trump’s NAFTA Replacement Needs to Have its Tires Kicked

By Harley Shaiken

A version of this article originally appeared as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on July 5, 2019.

President Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2017. (Photo by Michael Vadon.)

President Trump would like to see the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ratified without delay. It’s a bit like a used car salesperson giving you 10 minutes to accept the deal of the century. You may want to look under the hood and test-drive the vehicle first.

USMCA is largely an updated and rebranded version of the North American Free Trade Agreement passed in 1993. That deal contributed to what the economist Joseph Stiglitz views as a defining national problem: “stagnant or declining wages at the bottom, an eviscerated middle class, and top wages that are soaring.”

The central question now is, will the USMCA correct the flaws of NAFTA or lock them in for another quarter-century? Specifically, what impact will the new agreement have on U.S. jobs, wages and outsourcing to Mexico? Merchandise trade soared sixfold under NAFTA from $101 billion in 1994 to over $615 billion last year. What is problematic, however, is the paradox that fueled much of this growth. Mexican workers have produced more and earned less, creating a lure for investment and a fierce downward pressure on U.S. wages.

Why? Industrial wages in Mexico aren’t simply low, they are suppressed by few labor rights — workers cannot form independent unions — and government policy to throttle wages to attract investment. Despite high productivity, Mexican industrial wages now trail wages in China and are among the lowest in the world.

In a highly integrated economy, this dismal picture is also an American story. Not surprisingly General Motors put its fast-selling new Chevy Blazer SUV in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, with labor costs at $3 an hour, rather than in Lordstown, Ohio, at $30 an hour. At these rates, the total annual compensation bill of wages and benefits for 3,000 hourly workers in Lordstown would be more than $360 million, compared with $30 million in Ramos Arizpe.

A Chevy Cruze. (Photo by Otto Kristensen.)

On March 6, the last Chevy Cruze rolled off the line in Lordstown. The sprawling Ohio plant that employed 4,500 workers three years ago now sits empty and the town is reeling. Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 in Lordstown, told me in March about divorces, depression, and parents unable to care for disabled children or their own elderly parents. In spite of the pain, he still took pride in the high-quality cars they built.

Mexican workers are shortchanged as well. Suppressed wages mean many industrial workers live in poverty despite their high productivity, and $3-an-hour wages diminished economic growth.

The auto sector accounts for about a third of Mexico’s manufacturing exports and reflects a highly distorted trading relationship. While the market remains in the U.S., production has migrated to Mexico. The U.S. ran a $95-billion auto trade deficit with Mexico in 2018 — more than the U.S. deficit with Japan and South Korea combined.

We need a new trade agreement but one that will protect U.S. workers and families. The best way to do this is ensuring the rights of Mexican workers. Two critical changes are needed before ratification: improved labor rights in the agreement and demonstrated labor rights reform in the export sector. Simply put, workers would actually have to be able to join independent unions and bargain collectively. The first change is important, the second fundamental.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (center) in Mexico City. (Photo by Eneas de Troya.)

Mexico has a new reform government genuinely committed to change. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected in 2018 with an overwhelming majority. He already has passed impressive labor reform legislation, but the law has not yet been carried out. Fierce opposition to labor reform from well-financed old-guard unions and employers who profit from suppressed wages still rules the day, with state institutions too weak to implement far-reaching changes in the labor sector.

Whatever the relative merits on paper of the old NAFTA and the USMCA — in effect, the “new NAFTA” — the reality for both Mexican and U.S. workers would not be much changed, if at all, without labor reforms.

What we know from NAFTA is that any leverage evaporates once the trade deal is signed. That’s why it’s crucial that reforms to USMCA happen before ratification. This would not require tackling the entire economy immediately, but it would make it more likely that the new trade agreement will result in a more broadly shared prosperity.

Harley Shaiken is a professor at the University of California Berkeley specializing in labor and the global economy. 


Posted in Mexico | Leave a comment

Colombia: A Touch of Humanity Amidst Negative Evenness

By Margarita Martínez

This article is partially abridged from The Peace Project by the VII Foundation

A demonstration against FARC, 2008. (Photo by Camilo Rueda Lopez).

Imagine being in Havana, Cuba, in perhaps the only room in the entire Caribbean city devoid of charm, with long beige curtains and particle-board tables set into a fixed rectangle. Seated at these tables, facing each other, are two delegations of eighteen people—nine in each delegation. They all have poker faces, changing their expressions only to issue an icy “Good morning”. Occasionally, someone rises and starts pacing, the steps measuring the tension like beats on a metronome. It is November 19, 2012, the beginning of the first day of the torturous negotiations between bitter enemies: the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The half-century war brought unspeakable violence; more than 50,000 kidnappings, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the displacement of a staggering eight million people. This negotiation is the fourth attempt to reach peace between the democratic government and the Marxist guerrillas.

A woman lights a candle in Bogotá to remember those killed in the conflict. (Photo by Silvia Andrea Moreno).

I am a privileged observer, a Colombian journalist making a documentary film about the peace negotiations. All bets, including my own, were against success. Like most Colombians, I didn’t believe there was a will or a way. Alongside my skepticism and experience of the tense environment, I carried with me what had happened in the past.

Yet the negotiators on both sides experienced a moment of immense humanity when victims of some of the most horrendous crimes committed in Colombia were invited to speak. No other peace process had included victims this way, in the process itself; this was a Colombian innovation. The United Nations, the Catholic Church, and the National University put together a list of victims of the most brutal crimes committed by the guerrillas, the government, and the paramilitaries.

Five groups of twelve victims were brought to Havana starting on August 16, 2014. No one knew how this gambit was going to play out, and there was high anxiety about what the victims were going to say. Each of them spoke in a quiet room with windows opening to lush Caribbean vegetation. A few sobs punctuated their stories.

From the author’s documentary film La Negociación. November, 2018.

Constanza Turbay, a 57-year old from the Caquetá Department, in the southern Amazonas region, told how her brother died as a FARC hostage. Her mother and her other brother, a politician, were accused of being corrupt. They and their bodyguards were killed and dumped on a rural road. Turbay witnessed the demise of her entire nuclear family.

“I’ve already lost everything,” Turbay said calmly to the negotiators. “But we can do a lot to honor those loved ones we lost, to rebuild peace and reconciliation in Colombia.”

To everybody’s surprise, although the peace process had deeply divided Colombia, other victims were as supportive of it as Turbay. They gave a sense of humanity to a dry political process and sent a message to society that they, the ones who had suffered the most, where willing to turn the page, to imagine a different country for future generations.

Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator and a fellow child of Caquetá, approached Turbay afterwards and asked for her forgiveness. “This should have never had happened,” he said.


Margarita L. Martínez is a Colombian documentary filmmaker and journalist.  She received a masters’ degree in Journalism and International Affairs from Columbia University, then started her career at NBC in New York. She returned to Colombia in 1999 to work for the Associated Press, covering internal conflict at one of the peaks of violence. She has produced four feature-length documentaries and more than a dozen shorts since then. Granted unprecedented access to the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana, Cuba, her documentary The Negotiation was released in November 2018. 





Posted in Colombia | Leave a comment

Everyday Use of Plants in Pre-Hispanic Costa Rica

By Venicia Slotten

Arenal Volcano viewed from the archaeological site La Chiripa. (Photo by Venicia Slotten).

This July, supported by a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, I helped excavate a house structure in Costa Rica that was preserved by the eruption of Arenal Volcano around 3,500 years ago. This archaeological site, La Chiripa, is one of the oldest known domestic structures found to date in Central America. The ancient house was discovered in 2016 by the Proyecto Prehistorico Arenal, directed by Payson Sheets and Christine Dixon. The recovery of ancient botanical remains here provides an excellent opportunity to address questions regarding the daily lives and resilience of ancient people in this region of the world. La Chiripa’s landscape has been continually inhabited for approximately 2,500 years, persevering through frequent volcanic activity. Distinct ash deposits help distinguish between periods of human occupation, with abandonments, ecological recovery, and reoccupations after each eruption. The research will provide invaluable information regarding ancient household practices, long-term residence stability, and environmental resilience in pre-Hispanic Central America.

As a paleoethnobotanist, my role was to collect soil samples from the floor surface of the house structure and also from each cultural strata covering this remarkable find. Extra samples were taken from any cultural features we encountered during excavations as well, such as post-holes from where the house was once anchored or darkened organic features that could have been a hearth or cooking pit. Once processed and analyzed, these soil samples will help researchers know the assemblage of food the ancient inhabitants of the house were consuming and other details about the environment that surrounded their home. Soil samples designated for water flotation were taken to recover the larger macrobotanical remains such as seeds and wood charcoal that can be identified later based on their morphological and anatomical characteristics. Separate samples were also taken that were designated for phytolith and pollen analysis, to provide a more microbotanical view of the ancient flora.

The author takes soil samples systematically from each stratigraphic layer of the excavation at La Chiripa. (Photo courtesy of Venicia Slotten).

All botanical samples were then exported back to the UC Berkeley McCown Archaeobotany Laboratory for analysis. Employing a variety of collection techniques will help my project determine which methodology is more productive in future excavations while also maximizing what was collected in 2018. Operation of the flotation device and collection of materials is labor intensive and requires assistance, so it was an excellent opportunity to train a local Costa Rican archaeologist who can now aid in the recovery and processing of the botanical data elsewhere on other archaeological projects in their country. Processing archaeological samples using water flotation is not yet widely practiced in this region of the world, so there is still much to learn about past foodways of Central America. Paleoethnobotanical recovery can speak to various aspects of daily household practices: This analysis can reveal information regarding how plants in the past were utilized as food, medicine, fuel, tools, clothing, construction material, and even art. The botanical results will be combined with research from other members of the archeological team, who focus on lithic, ceramic, organic residue, and spatial analyses. All of this information will be combined and work together to depict the past lives of pre-Hispanic Central Americans.

PhD student Andres Mejía-Ramón (Penn State) operates a drone to map the area surrounding the archaeological site. (Photo by Venicia Slotten).

The analysis of the paleoethnobotanical samples is a long process that I will undertake here at Berkeley for the next several years, as it involves hours of microscope work and identification of plant material. The experience of collecting these botanical samples showed me just how much there is to learn archaeologically in this region. Few researchers have collected these types of macrobotanical samples in Central America, often claiming that there just is not enough preservation of organic remains to make the recovery efforts worthwhile. While this particular site does have exceptional preservation due to nearby volcanic activity, the project also suggests that other efforts elsewhere in the region to recover macrobotanical remains could prove to be productive as well. I hope that my interactions with other scholars during my time in Costa Rica demonstrated that this field of study could yield fantastic results; it is just a matter of taking the time and energy to collect the samples.

The author processes soil samples using a flotation tank in order to recover preserved organic remains. (Photo courtesy of Venicia Slotten).

Initial results of the floated soil samples show abundant carbonized organic matter was collected.  The next step is to sort and identify the assemblage of plant remains that were preserved for thousands of years to tell us a story about the past lifeways of Central America!


Venicia Slotten is a PhD student in Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Venicia earned her MA in Anthropology from the University of Cincinnati and a BA in Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Miami University. Her main research interests include household archaeology, paleoethnobotany, historical ecology, and Latin America.





Posted in Berkeley Student, Costa Rica | Leave a comment

Venezuela: On the Supreme Court in Exile and the Violation of Human Rights

By Eleni Anagnostopoulou

Associate Justice Domingo Salgado explains the legal basis for the Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice in Exile and its inner workings. (Photo courtesy of the Berkeley Law special committee).

“This fight is not about ideology. It is about democratic, constitutional legitimacy.” These were the first words uttered to the crowd in a packed auditorium on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 for a talk on the Venezuelan crisis. The event, called “Venezuela: Supreme Court in Exile and the Violations of Human Rights”, was presented by a panel of distinguished speakers: Judges Domingo Javier Salgado and Jose Sabino Zamora, members of the legitimate Supreme Court of Venezuela currently in exile, and Tamara Sujú Roa: a Venezuelan criminal lawyer and human rights specialist. The panel was moderated by Gisela Pérez de Acha, a human rights lawyer, journalist (specializing in online freedom of expression in Latin America) and member of the Human Rights Center currently studying data interfaces at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism on a Fulbright scholarship.

Judge Domingo Javier Salgado, who served as Vice President of the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Court of Venezuela, was the first to address the audience, starting by explaining the illegitimacy of the current Supreme Court. He told how he and his colleagues fled the country under fear of persecution and pointed out that he couldn’t share all the details of their departure as others are still trying to get out. Salgado spoke of “unheard-of institutional parallelism”, and countless human rights violations currently taking place in Venezuela. “Every single human right has been violated. If there are any rights that haven’t been violated, it’s just because they don’t exist. There are no basic guarantees. Anyone can lose their life over a pair of shoes. All humanitarian channels have been cut off,” said Salgado. “We want the constitution to prevail for the rule of law to exist,” concluded the Supreme Court Justice.

Gisela Pérez, human rights lawyer and data journalist, introduces the guest speakers and sets the backdrop for the discussion. (Photo courtesy of the Berkeley Law special committee).

Tamara Sujú Roa presented an overview of human rights violations currently occurring in the country. She distinguished between torture happening in the times of Chavez and what is happening under the governance of Nicolas Maduro: “With Chavez, we had selective repression, starting with his military supporters, journalists, and other agents that opposed him. I defended torture victims in Venezuela who testified that they saw Chavez in the room where they were being tortured,” said the human rights lawyer. “With Maduro it’s different, there is general, systematic repression, involving almost all governmental branches as well as foreign agents. There is extreme torture in jails that doesn’t differentiate between sex, age, physical condition, civilians or military,” Suju continued. She has compiling torture cases registered in Venezuela between 2002 and 2014 and formalized a demand against Nicolás Maduro in the International Criminal Court on July 2016. “In order for a claim to have merits at the ICJ, the persecution needs to be carried out in a systematic way by the government towards the civilian population. This is what is happening in Venezuela. Crimes against humanity have been committed,” she added, and called for every citizen to be vigilant about safeguarding democracy and not allow institutions to be manipulated.

“History will right us,” proclaimed Jose Sabino Zamora, a Chief Justice of the Anzoátegui State Circuit of Venezuela from 2003-2005, who had to spend a lot of time underground in fear of execution before managing to leave the country and seek asylum in Panama. “5.5 million Venezuelans eat only once a day. Three million eat garbage. There are no medications, the minimum wage is five dollars. International and national laws are not respected. You can’t survive,” said Zamora. He then proceeded to explain the legitimacy of the Supreme Court currently in exile: “This Court is the one based on the Constitution. All conditions of democratic election and constitutional appointment were followed for the members of the original court currently in exile. None of those happened for the new court. The Constitution is the foundation of democracy. It has to be respected.”

Eleazar Saldivia (LL.M. Candidate ’19); Domingo Salgado (Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Venezuela in Exile); Gisela Pérez (human rights lawyer and data journalist); Tamara Sujú (human rights lawyer, Executive Director of the CASLA Institute and Delegate of the World Jurist Association before the International Criminal Court); and José Sabino Zamora (Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Venezuela in Exile). (Photo courtesy of the Berkeley Law special committee).

The panel then opened up the floor for questions, and received an enthusiastic response from the audience, ranging from human rights claims to international policy and relations with neighbor states. When a law student from Mexico asked, “How can we help?”, the panel’s response was unanimous: “You don’t need to take a stand. What is more important is important to be informed, spread the word about what is happening. That is how you help. Get informed, research, spread the word, care. That will be enough to get the conversation started.” And indeed, the conversation certainly got started in Berkeley Law.

This enlightening event wouldn’t have been possible without Eleazar Javier Saldivia (LLM ’19), a Venezuelan law student and former criminal judge. Many thanks to the organizations that co-sponsored the event: Berkeley Law and Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the Human Rights Center, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Global Corporate Law at Berkeley, the Berkeley Journal for International Law, the Human Rights Law Student Association, and the Miller institute and the Student Organization for Advanced Legal Studies. Presented by the special committee: Eleazar Saldivia, Sophie Alaert, Eleni Anagnostopoulou, Estela Camargo, Alejandro Medina, Alexander Schramm, Christopher Schletter, Fabian Unser-Nad, and Philip Waltke.

ELENI ANAGNOSTOPOULOU is a practicing lawyer and journalist from Athens, Greece. Having completed her LL.B. and LL.M. in Contract Law in the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, she is currently an LL.M. at UC Berkeley on a Fulbright scholarship, with a specialization in Law & Technology. She focuses on Media and Technology Law and is a passionate advocate of freedom of speech.



Posted in Berkeley Student, Venezuela | Leave a comment

Enhancing Zapotec Language Revitalization through Discussion

By Julia Nee

A mother dekerneling corn, submitted by a Zapotec language learner as part of a Photovoice project where students were asked to take a picture of “what speaking Zapotec means to me.” (Photo courtesy of Julia Nee).

In Teotitlán del Valle in southern Mexico, there are many people who desire to use and promote Zapotec, the indigenous language currently spoken by about 3,600 of the town’s 5,600 inhabitants. Although oppressive historical, political, and economic forces have pushed some Teotitecos to shift towards Spanish monolingualism and the opportunities for social and economic advancement that proficiency in Spanish offer, both parents and children continue to fight for the right and ability to learn and use the Zapotec language. As an elementary school student of Zapotec explained, using the language is an important part of maintaining cultural continuity across generations; speaking Zapotec “[es] respetar lo que nos dejaron los antepasados, por eso quiero seguile hablando y enseñarles a mis hermanos.

To support community desire for the continued and strengthened presence of Zapotec in the community, I have been collaborating with the municipal government, community language committee, and public library in Teotitlán to host Zapotec language camps for kids in August and January each year. We use a communication-based instructional approach in the classroom paired with excursions around town to carry out task-based learning where students engage in Zapotec conversations with native speakers using the language we’ve practiced in the classroom. For example, in one lesson, students learn the names of local plants and animals and how to ask questions like, “What’s that?” and “Where is the lizard?” before taking a hike to the top of the nearby mountain Picacho with their parents and Zapotec speakers where they complete an “I Spy” activity, locating and naming the plants and animals we’ve been discussing in class.

Picacho mountain, with Teotitlán’s Catholic Church and pre-Hispanic temple in the foreground. (Photo by Julia Nee).

These days, language revitalization initiatives like those in Teotitlán are being developed around the world, but the theories of language learning and teaching, as well as methods for evaluating student learning within the unique contexts of language revitalization, are still being developed. One place where those involved in developing and implementing language revitalization projects come together to share ideas is the International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC), hosted at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. With the support of the Center for Latin American Studies’ Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA) Travel Fund, I was able to present the work that we have been doing in Teotitlán at ICLDC in 2019.

This year, ICLDC had a special focus on the topic of “connecting communities, languages & technology,” which brought experts on language documentation, language revitalization, and technology together into the same space to see how projects from different fields could enhance and support one another. I attended a talk by Mary Hermes, Melissa Engman, and Kevin Roach whose groundbreaking approach to language documentation included conversational participants wearing GoPro cameras on headbands, allowing researchers to not only hear the language used, but also to track participants’ gaze as they spoke with elders and engaged with their physical surroundings. In a workshop led by Dr. Wesley Leonard, Dr. Megan Lukaniec, and Adrienne Tsikewa, I engaged with other language activists to think about the ways in which technology could be reimagined in order to overtly work towards decolonization through language revitalization. We discussed practices like transforming the individualistic nature of interacting, for example, with a smartphone app, into a format like augmented reality that could facilitate intergenerational, interpersonal communication such as might happen between elders and children in traditional contexts. Another talk, by Carmen Jany, addressed considerations of how to deal with code-switching between Spanish and Mixe (another language of southern Mexico) in the process of documenting and revitalizing the language in a way that both validated the language of code-switchers and worked against an overall shift to Spanish language dominance.

The author presenting the Zapotec language camp at ICLDC 6. (Photo courtesy of Julia Nee).

In addition to presenting work on Zapotec, I was able to co-present (alongside Andrew Garrett, Edwin Ko, Zachary O’Hagan, and Ronald Sprouse) new developments in UC Berkeley’s California Language Archive, which houses a wide range of archival materials, including collections on 65 Latin American languages (see the slides from our talk here). Our new user interface allows researchers to curate their own archival collections incrementally, making the process of archiving more efficient and timely. By presenting this new system at ICLDC, we were able to raise awareness and promote the sustainable archiving of documentation on endangered languages so that language activists and researchers of the future will have access to these precious resources.

After four busy days of exchanging ideas, I felt reinvigorated to continue my research on best practices for language revitalization in Teotitlán. The feedback I’d received on the language camps has given me new directions to explore and new methodologies for language teaching that I will be able to use to more effectively engage young Zapotec language learners. Thanks to the support of the ILLA Travel Fund, I have a new set of tools that I learned through the ICLDC conference which I can use in the development of the next Zapotec language camp, planned for August 2019.


JULIA NEE is a PhD candidate in the Linguistics department, with a Designated Emphasis in Indigenous Language Revitalization. After finishing her BA in linguistics at the University of Chicago, she moved to Oaxaca, Mexico to teach English before returning to the U.S. to continue her education. During her time in Mexico, she began to study Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec, an indigenous language spoken outside of Oaxaca City. Her research now centers on language documentation and revitalization within the Zapotec community. 






Posted in Berkeley Student, Indigenous Languages of Latin America Travel Fund, Mexico | 2 Comments

El Sueño Mexicano: Returning Migrant Youth’s Adaptation Experience in Mexico

By Adriana Ramirez

Downtown Oaxaca, Mexico by night. (Photo by Eduardo Robles Pacheco).

Mexican migration in the U.S. is typically perceived to come from the South, as migrants pursue the “American Dream” in the North. My research focuses on the children of migrants who have no agency in their own migration to the U.S. Even at a young age, some of these children form an understanding of their undocumented status because of small signifiers; their parents always get their social security card from a local store, or a coyote coaches them what to say when crossing the border.  I study how the designation or lack of legal citizenship and cultural citizenship influence the identity and belonging of Mexican returning migrant youth through a comparison case study of U.S.-born and Mexican-born youth that “returned” to Oaxaca, Mexico.

The question for migrant youth becomes, “What will my future be in the U.S.?”  Some of the youth I met in Oaxaca this summer, supported by a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, did not dare to “dream” of any future in the U.S. They accepted that their future would be very similar to that of their parents; their employment options limited to the informal sector, like babysitting or domestic work. Yarely[1] stated,“La verdad no pensaba en mi futuro allí, yo pensaba en que trabajo iba yo hacer. Luego más cuando decían que era más difícil para un migrante.” (“Honestly, I did not think of my future there, I thought about what job I was going to do.  Even more so when they said that it was more difficult for a migrant.”)

On the other hand, some took AP or honors courses, climbed to the top of their classes, and received offers from top universities in the hope that they would join their classmates in college. However, they soon realized the “American Dream” was not created for them. This became clear to Julian when he was stopped by immigration officers at the airport and deported to Mexico the following day without any of his belongings. He was getting ready to begin college on a full scholarship, and had received many national awards for his art throughout high school. Like Julian, Manuel described the moment he realized this shift, “I was right on the border and I’m like, ‘Well, this is, this is it for me.’ And looking back I had a dream that hadn’t even started, I’m leaving back a life that I didn’t begin…I took my last breath, and crossed the border [to the Mexico side]. Sad, but knowing that [pauses] that something is going to be waiting for me in the other side [Mexico].” The physical U.S.-Mexico border reflects Manuel’s identity being caught between both cultures and countries, and his “crossing” into a new reality and alternative dreams.

A market in Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photo by Eddy Milfort).

Many students in the U.S. come from mixed status families. Parents’ immigration status has an impact on these youth’s lives and futures in the U.S. Laura, U.S.-born, said her father’s deportation affected her mother’s financial situation, so the only way for Laura to attend college would be to return to Mexico so her father could help with finances. All U.S.-born migrants that I interviewed except for Laura “returned” to Oaxaca when they were less than ten years old. Unlike most of the Mexican-born migrants I interviewed, they did not speak much English nor remember much about life in the U.S. Thus, they were better able to integrate into their new communities in Mexico, but avoided telling people of their U.S. citizenship for fear of being seen as “other.”

Many U.S.-born middle school students in Oaxaca continued to pursue the “American Dream” by planning to return to the U.S. for their high school and college education. They preferred to wait until after middle school to return because English language classes, the only English preparation they would have before migrating back to the US, begins in middle school. Among the older U.S. citizens in Oaxaca there was a strong Mexican identity, and the “American Dream” had little appeal to them. However, both U.S.- and Mexican-born respondents experienced different degrees of double consciousness. [2]

A gathering place outside of a Oaxacan high school. (Photo by Adriana Ramirez).

Both Mexican-born and U.S.-born migrant youth arrive in a country that is supposed to feel like home. For some, this is the country where they were born, for others it is where they have spent most of their lives, or where their family lives. After arrival, the challenge becomes how to incorporate and transform their identity to make sense of themselves in a new context. In Oaxaca, migrant youth dealt with two layers of belonging: feeling and being perceived as Mexican as well as Oaxacan. For many this meant learning or greatly improving their Spanish and/or Zapotec, knowledge and mastery of colloquial terms and albur (double meaning), history, music, and food, among other things. For those who spoke English at home while living in the U.S., incorporation and reconstructing their identity was a greater hurtle because their lack of Mexican or Oaxacan cultural citizenship classified them as gringos. Especially for these returning migrants, forming friendships and high school clubs with other returnees became a crucial part of their adaptation and incorporation process in Oaxaca. Some stated celebrating U.S. holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving in Oaxaca and continued to speak English with their families and friends.

The majority of these students continue to be caught between both worlds, and to develop a double consciousness similar to what they experienced in the U.S. Even so, these students and returnees are taking an active part in shaping their new environments by becoming English teachers, opening art galleries that welcome global artists, developing progressive ideas about gender roles, and highlighting the complex racial relations not only between the U.S. and Mexico, but within Mexico as well.

[1] Names have been changed to protect the respondent’s identity.
[2] W.E.B. Du Bois. 1903. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings.” The Soul of Black Folks. New York: Modern Library, pp. 7–15.


ADRIANA RAMIREZ is a second year doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley.  She studies migration with an emphasis on Mexico; return migration, youth migration, citizenship, and belonging. 





Posted in Berkeley Student, Mexico | Leave a comment

The Quechua Alliance: Promoting and Celebrating Quechua and Andean Culture in the United States

By Ana Lucía Tello

Attendees of the fourth annual Quechua Alliance Meeting. (Photo courtesy of Quechua at Penn).

Spoken by 8-10 million people in the Andes, Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas, yet it is still considered endangered. As scholars Kendall King and Nancy Hornberger argue, “data from a range of sources indicate that a contraction of Quechua domains and a gradual cessation of intergenerational transmission of the language are well underway”.[1] According to Marcial Mamani, a native Quechua speaker from Coporaque, Peru, his children refuse to learn the indigenous language to avoid being bullied at school. Even though in Marcial’s hometown, older generations keep their native language alive, children speak mostly Spanish, since it is considered more prestigious.[2]

Aiming to promote and celebrate Quechua and Andean culture in the United States, the Quechua Alliance organizes an annual event with cultural activities, workshops, presentations, and discussions. The one-day gathering is open not only to the academic community, but to all Quechua language enthusiasts. Thanks to the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA) Travel Fund from the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, I attended the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting, held at the University of Pennsylvania on November 17th, 2018. Being my first time at the event, I was thrilled by the overwhelming response to it: attendees included entire families, community leaders, college students, and professors from all over the country. Representing the Bay Area, there was the academic community from UC Berkeley, Stanford University and Saint Mary’s College of California.    

Lis Arevalo and Florencia Orlandoni’s workshop on Quechua testimonio. (Photo by Ana Tello).

The 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting opened with the q’oa, that is, a ceremony honoring the Pachamama or Mother Earth. In Quechua and Andean culture, it is a tradition to perform a ritual offering and request of the Pachamama the first Friday of every month and on special occasions. It is considered an act of reciprocity with Mother Earth. The q’oa was followed by a series of workshops and presentations, which took place at three separate rooms.

First, I attended Emily Thompson’s presentation on her English-Quechua-Spanish dictionary, which she worked on for over six years with Odi Gonzales and Christine Mladic Janney. Thompson, who currently works at UC Berkeley CLAS, discussed the challenges of providing English and Spanish equivalents to complex Quechua concepts such as pacha. Then, I listened to Jermani Ojeda’s presentation on short radio programs in Quechua. Through podcasts, Ojeda shares stories of the lives of Andean communities, and celebrates a medium -the radio- that has played a fundamental role in communities where writing is secondary. Finally, I participated in Lis Arévalo and Florencia Orlandoni’s workshop on Quechua testimonio. They displayed excerpts from Gregorio Condori Mamani’s autobiography as well as discussion questions, and participants reacted to the experiences with messages and drawings.

After these sessions, attendees enjoyed lunch while listening to the music of hip hop artist Liberato Kani. Through his music, Liberato Kani celebrates Quechua language and culture, and protests against the long history of exclusion and violence against indigenous populations across the Americas. Afternoon activities included a homage to Elva Ambía, founder of the Quechua Collective of New York, and a panel with special guest Mirian Masaquiza, UN official of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Mirian Masaquiza, UN official of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues speaks at the Quechua Alliance Meeting. (Photo courtesy of Quechua at Penn).

Participating in the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting motivated me to continue my studies of the language and helped me to find new resources. Even though I have been very fortunate to receive grants that have allowed me to make progress with the language, practicing it during the academic year has been challenging due to the limited resources on campus. However, attending the event gave me the opportunity to connect with people interested in both Quechua language and Andean culture, and to learn from their experiences. Finally, being a graduate student with teaching responsibilities, the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting introduced me to new methods and pedagogies in language teaching.

A story on the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting was included in Ñuqanchik, the first news show in Quechua broadcasted in Peruvian television.

[1] King, Kendall A, and Nancy H. Hornberger. “Introduction. Why a special issue about Quechua?” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 167, 2004, pp. 1-8.
[2] “El quechua muere de vergüenza”. El Comercio, 6 November 2010, Accessed 15 May 2012.


ANA LUCIA TELLO is a PhD student in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Berkeley. Ana Lucía holds an MA in Spanish from the University of Virginia and a BA in Hispanic Literature from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Her main research interests include
capitalism, labor, and resistance in indigenous communities, and memory and performance, especially in the Andean region.






Posted in Berkeley Student, Indigenous Languages of Latin America Travel Fund | Leave a comment

A tempestade perfeita de Bolsonaro no Brasil: do eleitor indignado ao voto na ultradireita

Por Carolina Botelho

Read this entry in English here.

Manifestação todos com Bolsonaro. (Foto por Gabriela Felin).

A vitória de Jair Bolsonaro na disputa à presidência da República no Brasil surpreendeu muitos analistas em todo o mundo. Ainda candidato, o ex-capitão do exército fez uma campanha com elogios à ditadura militar brasileira e à tortura, criticou movimentos sociais, grupos de minorias e desdenhou de diferentes conquistas dos direitos civis e sociais dos últimos trinta anos. Como candidato a vice-presidente, escolheu o general do exército Hamilton Mourão, que poucos dias antes do pleito fez declarações públicas de que seria a favor de um “auto-golpe”, caso fosse necessário.

Atualmente, muito se discute sobre a emergência e o fortalecimento de uma suposta onda conservadora em diferentes países do mundo, tendência esta que teria contribuído para a vitória de lideranças de ultradireita também no Brasil. No entanto, não recorrerei a esse fenômeno para analisar a vitória de Bolsonaro. Proponho neste artigo chamar atenção para algumas questões que merecem destaque e que repousam sobre o ambiente político e econômico do Brasil nesta ocasião. Recorro também à ideia de que essa eleição, tal como qualquer outra, é um fenômeno amplo e multidimensional, portanto possui muitas explicações. Utilizarei, principalmente, resultados de pesquisas de percepção do brasileiro do monitoramento Pulso Brasil, da Ipsos Public Affairs. Também serão citados alguns dados complementares do Instituto Ideia BigData, Datafolha, Ibope, IBGE, Tesouro Nacional, Banco Central e Banco Mundial.

Presidente Jair Bolsonaro durante uma sessão plenária. (Foto por Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado).

Candidato da mudança?

Jair Bolsonaro não é um político inexperiente, nem novo no Congresso, mas conseguiu catalisar para si a indignação e as frustrações de milhares de brasileiros impactados pela crise política e as graves consequências de um cenário de catástrofe econômica.

A trajetória parlamentar do ex-capitão do Exército é longa, sempre aliada a políticos tradicionais no Brasil. Embora tenha atravessado um longo período no parlamento, a sua produtividade legislativa tem pouco destaque. Ao longo dessas quase três décadas, apesar de fazer uma campanha eleitoral baseada num discurso anticorrupção e pró-segurança pública, teve escasso trabalho parlamentar, aprovando apenas dois projetos de lei em defesa de categorias militares, das quais faz parte. Nada mais se encontra em sua produção legislativa, nem em defesa do combate à corrupção, tampouco a respeito de políticas de segurança pública. O trabalho pouco significativo permitiu que passasse incólume na agenda política brasileira.

Apesar disso, observando em retrospecto a trajetória política do ex-capitão e a despeito do discurso baseado em um compromisso moralizador para a sociedade e contra a corrupção, esteve filiado ao longo de sua trajetória como deputado a partidos muito afetados por denúncias de corrupção, como PP (onde esteve de 2005 a 2016, o partido com mais denunciados e condenados na operação Lava Jato, tendo entre seus expoentes Paulo Maluf), PTB (do deputado Roberto Jefferson, condenado na Lava Jato), além de partidos como PSC, PFL, PPR, PDC e PPB (antiga sigla do atual PP). Foi somente em 2018, no limite do prazo para se candidatar à disputa presidencial, que se filiou ao atual partido, o PSL (Partido Social Liberal).

Por que então Bolsonaro conseguiu capitalizar para si o discurso da mudança e contra a corrupção já que sua trajetória como parlamentar esteve ligada a partidos condenados em processos judiciais de corrupção, sem falar nas denúncias da imprensa sobre seu acúmulo pessoal de bens? Sugiro em seguida algumas informações que merecem ser destacadas e que respondem a essa questão.

Plenário do Senado Federal durante sessão deliberativa ordinária. (Foto por Jonas Pereira/Agência Senado).

Cenário pré-eleitoral

O Brasil vive, há quatro anos, um longo período de grave crise econômica, com alta taxa de desemprego e um pronunciado desequilíbrio fiscal. Acompanhando uma queda do PIB mais longa e profunda que a da Grande Depressão, o desemprego disparou em 2015 e 2016, no segundo mandato da presidente Dilma Rousseff, sucessora de Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ambos do mesmo partido, o PT. Lula completou seu segundo mandato em 2010 com recorde de popularidade e conseguiu que Dilma fosse eleita. Ela seria reeleita em 2014, mas sofreria impeachment em 2016 por infringir regras fiscais, após perder popularidade e apoio parlamentar devido à recessão e aos escândalos de corrupção que atingiram a petroleira estatal, membros de seu governo e o ex-presidente Lula, que seria preso em abril de 2018. O vice-presidente Michel Temer, do PMDB, que acompanhara Dilma na chapa duas vezes eleita, assumiu o poder em maio de 2016. Sua agenda de reformas econômicas foi interrompida por novos escândalos de corrupção e, enquanto o PIB iniciou uma lenta recuperação (cresceu 1% em 2017), o desemprego cedeu pouco, mantendo-se ainda ao redor de 12%. Temer ostenta um recorde de impopularidade quase imbatível no mundo: o percentual que o considera ótimo ou bom é tão baixo quanto as margens de erro das pesquisas de opinião.

Em 2014, iniciou-se no Brasil, por parte do Ministério Público, Polícia Federal e Judiciário, uma série de investigações e operações de combate à corrupção, lideradas pela Operação Lava Jato. Essa operação foi responsável por investigar e condenar uma série de lideranças políticas dos partidos tradicionais, com destaque para PP, PMDB e PT, mas atingindo também PSDB, PTB e muitos outros dos mais de 30 partidos em atividade no país. Para agravar mais o mal-estar da população, a segurança pública piorou de forma bastante acentuada. Em 2017, houve no Brasil cerca de 60 mil homicídios. Numa compilação realizada pelo Banco Mundial em 2017, entre outros 181 países, 94,5% possuem taxas de homicídios por cem mil habitantes menores que a brasileira. A sociedade, cada vez mais prejudicada pela crise econômica e indignada com as denúncias de corrupção que vinham à tona, já dava sinais de que esperava por mudanças.

Presidentes Dilma Rousseff e Michel Temer durante a posse de Dilma Rousseff. (Foto por Jefferson Rudy/Agência Senado).

Percepção do brasileiro sobre os políticos e o rumo do país

As pesquisas sobre percepção do eleitor no Brasil convergiam para direções parecidas. Mais de 80% dos brasileiros passaram a considerar a presidente Dilma como “ruim” ou “péssima” em outubro de 2015, contrastando com 20% menos de um ano antes. Os principais problemas citados pelos brasileiros eram o desemprego e a corrupção, seguidos pela violência e a preocupação com a saúde pública. Assim, a permanência da Operação Lava Jato “custe o que custar” foi defendida por 90% a 96% dos entrevistados na pesquisa e em todos os levantamentos realizados de 2016 a 2018.

O brasileiro demonstrava insatisfação com o governo, assim como uma descrença e falta de identificação com os políticos eleitos. Ainda sim, Lula, mesmo preso, liderava todas as pesquisas eleitorais até um mês antes das eleições, quando Fernando Haddad foi anunciado em seu lugar como candidato do PT. A popularidade de Lula não foi totalmente transferida a Haddad, mas a rejeição ao PT foi.

Nos monitoramentos que vão de 2017 ao período pré-eleitoral, mais de 90% dos entrevistados afirmam que os políticos atuais não os representam. Nem mesmo os políticos em que os próprios entrevistados votaram nas últimas eleições os representam segundo mais de 80% dos respondentes. Além disso, 55% dos entrevistados não votariam novamente no mesmo candidato em que votaram nas últimas eleições para presidente, 63% afirmavam que a corrupção é o tema que mais os angustia e 30% pretendiam votar em algum candidato fora da política tradicional nas próximas eleições para presidente.

Enquanto as instituições políticas são alvo de ampla rejeição, as que gozam de maior credibilidade – ainda que limitada perante o que se observa mundo afora – são a Igreja (61%), os militares (46%) e os juízes (42%). Os sentimentos predominantes sobre o futuro do país, que eram de “otimismo” ou “entusiasmo” para 60% dos brasileiros na primeira eleição de Dilma, já haviam se convertido em “revolta” ou “preocupação” de quase 80% às vésperas de seu impeachment, chegando a 90% no governo Temer. Se em 2010 mais de 80% dos pesquisados consideravam certo o rumo que o país vinha tomando, os que viam um rumo errado chegaram a 93% em 2015 e a 95% um mês antes das eleições de 2018.

Com Lula fora da disputa eleitoral e incapaz de transferir seus votos a Haddad, os monitoramentos realizados em pesquisas de percepção dos eleitores revelavam que a maioria das pessoas pedia mudanças no sistema político. Sendo assim, as candidaturas deveriam passar por novos entrantes, ainda não conhecidos, ou por políticos reconhecidos como “fichas limpas”.

Além dessas questões, há ainda duas que merecem investigação mais ampla por parte de pesquisadores e que foram muito importantes para a vitória do ex-capitão: o apoio de lideranças evangélicas e a influência de fake news sobre determinados grupos da população.

Sobre a primeira, Diniz Alves (2018), com dados DataFolha, estimou que a vantagem Bolsonaro sobre Haddad no segundo turno foi de 11 milhões de votos entre os evangélicos, maior que a diferença no total de eleitores. Em outras palavras, Haddad venceu entre os não evangélicos e seria eleito se a minoria crescente de evangélicos o tivesse apoiado em proporção semelhante à do restante do eleitorado. Bolsonaro também obteve maioria em uma forte polarização geográfica e socioeconômica, perdendo apenas nas regiões mais pobres.. Em um país com 5.570 municípios, nos mil de maior IDH Bolsonaro venceu em 97%, enquanto o segundo colocado venceu em 98% dos mil municípios de menor IDH.

Há ainda algo inédito nas eleições brasileiras. Bolsonaro tinha direito a muito pouco tempo de propaganda oficial na TV, mas passou a ser intensamente exposto via noticiário após sofrer um atentado e firmar aliança com um líder evangélico proprietário de um canal de TV e outras mídias. Além disso, pesquisadores, integrantes de organizações da sociedade civil e representantes do governo federal discutiram a influência dos conteúdos enganosos ou “fake news” no processo eleitoral. Embora a TV ainda seja o meio de comunicação mais utilizado pelos eleitores para se informarem, o aplicativo WhatsApp é muito popular no Brasil e foi o principal veículo disseminador de notícias falsas durante as eleições.

O próprio Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE) criou um conselho consultivo de especialistas para discutir essas influências no processo eleitoral, embora inócuo em termos práticos. Uma pesquisa do IDEA Big Data apontou que a maioria dos eleitores de Bolsonaro acreditou em um inexistente “kit gay” supostamente distribuído às crianças quando Haddad era ministro da Educação, em uma inexistente fraude das urnas eletrônicas contra Bolsonaro ou em outras fake news, como a que associava Haddad a incesto. Mesmo após o TSE proibir Bolsonaro de propagar essas fake news, o candidato e seus apoiadores continuaram (e continuam, mesmo terminada a eleição) disseminando alguns desses conteúdos.

Uma pesquisa publicada por Hunt Allcott e Matthew Gentzkow no Journal of Economic Perspectives  concluiu que as fake news tiveram influência desprezível nas eleições presidenciais americanas de 2016. No entanto, de modo geral, os eleitores brasileiros têm menos escolaridade e acesso a informação do que os americanos. A utilização do aplicativo WhatsApp também não se assemelha entre um lugar e outro. Seria interessante um aprofundamento de pesquisas como essas para o caso brasileiro, com a mensuração da influência do aplicativo sobre diversos grupos. Finalmente, seria também importante verificar uma possível conexão entre variáveis como renda, educação, utilização do WhatsApp e voto evangélico nessas últimas eleições.

A tempestade perfeita

A vitória de Bolsonaro foi viabilizada por uma combinação de fatores simultâneos. Em primeiro lugar, o líder das pesquisas eleitorais, Lula, estava preso por corrupção e seu substituto na corrida eleitoral não herdou toda a sua popularidade, mas sim toda a rejeição a seu partido

Apesar de ser deputado federal há quase três décadas em partidos políticos com graves denúncias e condenações por corrupção, Jair Bolsonaro saiu vitorioso nas eleições presidenciais brasileira intitulando-se o candidato da mudança e do combate à corrupção. O ex-capitão construiu um discurso eficiente e capitalizou a indignação de parte expressiva dos eleitores. Sua narrativa foi certeira ao mirar naquilo que a sociedade demandava: seria rigoroso com as questões relativas à segurança pública, combateria de forma enérgica a corrupção e devolveria ao cidadão o ambiente propício para a retomada do emprego no Brasil. Finalmente, ao adicionar o apoio de parte expressiva dos evangélicos e com uma campanha recheada de notícias falsas encaminhadas por seus apoiadores pelo aplicativo WhatsApp, Bolsonaro beneficiou-se de uma tempestade perfeita.


CAROLINA BOTELHO é visiting fellow no Centro de Estudos Latino Americanos da Universidade da Califórnia, Berkeley. Possui doutorado em Ciência Política pelo IESP/UERJ e mestrado em Antropologia e Sociologia pelo IFCS/UFRJ. Foi coordenadora e pesquisadora de ciência política na Fundação Getulio Vargas, consultora sênior na Ipsos Public Affairs e pesquisadora no Ipea. Passou por diversos órgãos governamentais estaduais e federais como assessora técnica. Possui alguns livros publicados, como “Reforma da Previdência – a visita da velha senhora”, pela Gestão Pública,“Caminhos trilhados e os desafios da educação superior no Brasil”, Eduerj e “Brasil pós-crise: uma agenda pra próxima década”, pela Elsevier. em artigos publicados no Estadão, O Globo e Exame.






Posted in Brazil | Leave a comment

Bolsonaro’s Perfect Storm in Brazil: From Outraged Voters to Extreme Right-Wing Votes

By Carolina Botelho


A pro-Bolsonaro demonstration. (Photo by Gabriela Felin).

Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in the race for the presidency of the Republic of Brazil surprised many analysts around the world. While still a candidate, the former army captain ran a campaign praising the Brazilian military dictatorship and the use of torture, criticizing social movements and minority groups, and voicing disdain for the country’s civil and social rights achievements in the past 30 years. As his running mate, Bolsonaro chose General Hamilton Mourão, who a few days before the election made public statements that he would be in favor a “self-coup,” if necessary.

Much debate continues about the rise and swell of a “conservative wave” in various countries around the world, a trend that may have contributed to the victory of far-right leaders in Brazil. However, I will not use this phenomenon to analyze Bolsonaro’s victory. Rather, in this brief article, I’ll focus on some issues that deserve more attention and that are intimately connected to the contemporary political and economic environment of Brazil. I also want to stress that this election, like any other, is a vast, multidimensional phenomenon, and thus, it has many interpretations. For sources, I rely primarily on the results of Brazilian public opinion polls carried out by Pulso Brasil of Ipsos Public Affairs. Some additional data will also be cited from the Instituto IDEIA Big Data, Datafolha, IBOPE, IBGE, Brazil’s National Treasury, Brazil’s Central Bank, and the World Bank.

President Jair Bolsonaro during a plenary session.  (Photo by Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado).

Candidate for Change?

Jair Bolsonaro is not an inexperienced politician, nor is he new to Congress, yet he managed to catalyze the indignation and frustrations of millions of Brazilians hard hit by the political crisis and the serious consequences of economic catastrophe.

The parliamentary career of the former army captain is a long one and always hand in glove with traditional politicians. Yet, even though he served in parliament for many years, Bolsonaro produced little in the way of prominent legislation. Over the course of nearly three decades, despite a campaign based on an anti-corruption and pro-public-security discourse, he has little parliamentary work to speak of: he only approved two bills which were in defense of military projects. There’s nothing else in his legislative history, nothing in defense of the fight against corruption, nothing related to public security policies. These insignificant efforts allowed him to pass unscathed on the Brazilian political agenda.

Nevertheless, regardless of the former captain’s political trajectory and despite his discourse touting a moral commitment to society and against corruption, throughout his career in parliament Bolsonaro was affiliated with right-wing and center-right parties plagued by reports of corruption: the PP (from 2005 to 2016, he was a member of this party, which had the most charges and convictions in Operação Lava Jato, including Paulo Maluf among its ranks), the PTB (the party of Deputy Roberto Jefferson, who was convicted in Lava Jato), as well as parties such as the PSC, PFL, PPR, PDC, and PPB (the former acronym of what is today the PP). Bolsonaro joined his current party, the right-wing, conservative Partido Social Liberal (PSL, Social Liberal Party) in 2018 — just in time to throw his hat in the presidential race,

So how has Bolsonaro been able to capitalize on the discourse for change and against corruption, when his trajectory as a deputy has been enmeshed with parties convicted in corruption cases, not to mention the accusations from the press regarding his personal accumulation of assets? Let’s look at some pertinent information that may answer this question.

Opposition members in the parliament during a plenary session. (Photo by Jonas Pereira/Agência Senado).

The Scenario Before the Election

For the past four years, Brazil has been experiencing an extended period of severe economic crisis, with high unemployment and a significant fiscal imbalance. In addition to a drop in GDP even longer and deeper than that of the Great Depression, unemployment soared in 2015 and 2016, during the second term of President Dilma Rousseff, the successor of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (both of the PT). Lula ended his second term in 2010 with his popularity at a record high and helped get Dilma elected. She was re-elected in 2014, but after losing popular and parliamentary support due to the recession and corruption scandals that hit the state oil company, as well as several members of the PT, Dilma was impeached in 2016 on charges related to manipulating the federal budget. In April 2018, Lula himself was arrested on corruption charges. PMDB party member Vice-President Michel Temer, who stood as Dilma’s running mate twice in a row, took office as President of the Republic of Brazil in May 2016. His economic reform agenda was hobbled by new corruption scandals, and while the GDP began a slow recovery (growing 1 percent in 2017), unemployment barely improved, hovering at around 12 percent. Temer boasts a record of unpopularity almost unmatched around the world: the percentage that consider him to be “great” or “good” is as low as the margin of error in the opinion polls.

In 2014, Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Police, and the Judiciary began a series of investigations and operations to fight corruption, beginning with Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). This initiative was responsible for investigating and convicting several political leaders from traditional parties, most notably the PP, PMDB, and PT, but it also affected the PSDB, PTB, and many others from the more than 30 parties active in the country. At the same time, public safety has deteriorated sharply, another grave concern for the Brazilian people. In 2017, there were some 60,000 homicides in Brazil. A 2017 World Bank review of 182 countries revealed that 94.5 percent have homicide rates lower than Brazil. Increasingly distressed by the economic crisis and outraged by allegations of corruption that continued to surface, the population was already indicating that they was ready for some changes.

President Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer during her swearing in ceremony. (Photo by Jefferson Rudy/Agência Senado).

Brazilian Opinions About Politicians and the Future of the Nation

The opinion polls of the voting public in Brazil converged in similar directions. More than 80 percent of Brazilians viewed President Dilma as “bad” or “terrible” in October 2015, contrasting with 20 percent who held this poor opinion of the president less than a year earlier. The main problems cited by Brazilians were unemployment and corruption, followed by violence and public health concerns. The need to continue Lava Jato “no matter what it cost” was defended by 90-96 percent of those surveyed in all polls conducted from 2016 to 2018.

Brazilians were dissatisfied with the government; they neither trusted and nor identified with the politicians currently in office. Nonetheless, despite his imprisonment, Lula continued to hold a lead in all the polls until a month before the election, when Fernando Haddad was presented as the PT candidate in Lula’s stead. However, while former president’s popularity did not totally transfer to Haddad, sentiments against the PT did.

In polls carried out in 2017 and 2018, more than 90 percent of respondents agreed that the politicians currently holding office did not represent them, and more than 80 percent did not feel represented even by the politicians that they had voted for in the most recent elections. In addition, 55 percent of respondents would not give their vote to the same candidate that they had voted for in the last presidential election; 63 percent said that corruption was the subject that most worried them; and 30 percent wanted to vote for a candidate outside of the traditional politics in the next presidential election.

While political institutions are widely rejected, the Church (61 percent), the military (46 percent) and judges (42 percent) are ranked as most credible. The predominant feelings about the country’s future, which were “optimism” or “enthusiasm” for 60 percent of Brazilians under Dilma’s first term, had turned into “disgust” or “worry” for nearly 80 percent on the eve of her impeachment, and 90 percent expressed these negative feelings under the Temer government. While in 2010 more than 80 percent of those surveyed agreed with the course that the country was taking, those who objected to the nation’s current trajectory was as high as 93 percent in 2015 and 95 percent a month before the 2018 elections.

With Lula out of the presidential race and unable to transfer his votes to Haddad, public opinion polls showed that most people were calling for changes to the political system. Such sentiments paved the way for new candidates: either complete unknowns or politicians who offered a “clean slate.”

In addition to these issues, there are still two concerns deserving more extensive study by researchers that were very important for Bolsonaro’s victory: the support of evangelical leaders and the influence of “fake news” on certain groups of the population.

With regard to the first issue, Diniz Alves (2018) used DataFolha data to estimate that in the second round, Bolsonaro’s lead over Haddad was 11 million evangelical votes, which was greater than the difference in total voters. In other words, Haddad won among non-evangelicals and would have been elected if the growing minority of evangelicals had supported him in a proportion similar to that of the rest of the electorate. Bolsonaro also obtained a majority with a strong geographic and socioeconomic polarization, losing only in the poorest regions. In a country with 5,570 municipalities, in the thousand municipalities with the highest Human Development Index rating, Bolsonaro won by 97 percent, while Haddad won in 98 percent of the thousand municipalities with lowest Human Development Index rating.

But there was something else totally unprecedented in the recent Brazilian elections. Bolsonaro was entitled to very little official advertising time on television, but he enjoyed tremendous exposure on the news after being seriously injured in an attack and when he signed an alliance with an evangelical leader who owned a television channel as well as other media outlets. In addition, academic researchers, members of civil society organizations, and representatives of the federal government have discussed the influence of misleading information or “fake news” in the electoral process. Although television is still the most widely used means of communication with voters, the WhatsApp social media platform is very popular in Brazil and was the main disseminator of fake news during the election.

The Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE, Superior Electoral Court) even created an advisory council to discuss these influences on the electoral process, although this group of experts is powerless in practical terms. A poll carried out by IDEA Big Data showed that most Bolsonaro voters believed in a nonexistent “gay kit” supposedly distributed to children when Haddad was Minister of Education, an electronic ballot fraud against Bolsonaro that never happened, and other fake news, including stories claiming that Haddad advocated incest. Even after the TSE prohibited Bolsonaro from spreading fake news, the candidate and his supporters continued (and still continue, even after winning the election) to share some of these stories.

A study by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow published in 2017 in the Journal of Economic Perspectives concluded that fake news had a considerable influence in the 2016 presidential elections in the United States. However, in general, Brazilian voters have less formal education and less access to information than the U.S. population. The use of WhatsApp is also very different in the two countries. It would be interesting to explore this research further in the case of Brazil, measuring the social media platform’s influence on several groups. Finally, it would also be important to verify a possible connection between variables such as income, education, use of WhatsApp, and evangelical votes in these recent elections.


An anti-Bolsonaro protest in 2018. (Photo by ideasGraves).


The Perfect Storm

Bolsonaro’s victory was made possible by a simultaneous combination of factors. Most importantly, Lula, the leader in the election polls, was arrested for corruption, and his replacement in the presidential race did not inherit his widespread popularity, but did have to shoulder the rejection of their party.

Despite being a federal deputy for nearly three decades as a member of political parties that faced serious charges and convictions for corruption, Jair Bolsonaro emerged victorious in the Brazilian presidential elections by calling himself the candidate of change and the fight against corruption. The former army captain constructed an efficient discourse and capitalized on the indignation of a tremendous number of voters. His narrative zeroed in on the demands of the Brazilian population: he would be rigorous on issues related to public security, he would fight corruption with all his might, and he would make sure that citizens could once again enjoy an environment that brought jobs back to Brazil. Finally, with the support of many evangelicals and a campaign packed with false news shared by his supporters through the social media platform of WhatsApp, Bolsonaro harnessed winds of a perfect storm.


CAROLINA BOTELHO is a visiting fellow at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. She has a PhD in Political Science from IESP/UERJ and a master’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from IFCS/UFRJ. She was a coordinator and researcher of political science at Fundação Getulio Vargas, a senior consultant at Ipsos Public Affairs, and a researcher at IPEA. She has also worked as a technical advisor for various state and federal government agencies in Brazil. She is the author of several books, including Reforma da Previdência – a visita da velha senhora (Gestão Publica, 2015) and Caminhos trilhados e os desafios da educação superior no Brasil (Eduerj, 2016). She has written for various Brazilian periodicals, including Estadão, O Globo, and Exame.






Posted in Brazil | 1 Comment