‘Brazil Needs Peace and Not Hate’

Ahead of a runoff presidential election, Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad spoke with Foreign Policy about Brazil’s future.

Brazilian Workers’ Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad campaigns on Oct. 27 in São Paulo. (Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)
Brazilian Workers’ Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad campaigns on Oct. 27 in São Paulo. (Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)

JOÃO PESSOA, Brazil—On Sunday, Brazilians head to the polls to vote in one of the most important Latin American presidential elections in a generation. After a long stretch of Workers’ Party rule, from 2003 to 2016, Brazil seems to be on the verge of electing the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who has spoken admiringly of the military dictatorship that held power until 1985. The most recent survey from the polling firm Ibope shows him earning 54 percent of the vote, compared with 46 percent for Fernando Haddad of the Workers’ Party.

Haddad, a former mayor of São Paulo, stepped in as his party’s candidate last month after the courts barred jailed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, from running. Haddad’s poll numbers have surged in recent days, but he still faces an uphill battle to win.

In an exclusive interview, Haddad spoke with Foreign Policy ahead of the vote.

Foreign Policy: After past corruption scandals, many Brazilian voters say that they won’t vote for the Workers’ Party under any conditions. How do you appeal to those voters?

Fernando Haddad: Everyone knows that the Workers’ Party governments did much more good than bad for the country. The great majority of people think of Lula as the best president in the history of Brazil.

The first problem is that Lula was impeded from running in this election. Even the United Nations recommended that Brazil not stop him from running. And the Brazilian authorities simply ripped up that international agreement of political rights and impeded him from running.

I’ve been campaigning for fewer than 50 days. And I ended up in the runoff. And I’m now nipping at the heels of my competitor.

FP: You’ve been trailing Bolsonaro in the polls ever since you started running. If you could begin the campaign again, what would you do differently?

FH: I don’t think I would change strategy. Our difficulty is the fact that my opponent hides from me. He doesn’t confront me head-on, face to face. [Reporter’s note: Bolsonaro has refused to attend the traditional presidential debates during the runoff.] It’s never before happened in a runoff that one of the candidates refused to debate their opponent. Tonight, we are supposed to have a debate on Globo TV with 30 or 40 million people watching, and he ran away.

I’ve indicated that I recognize the errors we have made, and I’m interested in correcting things. But I will continue the great project of the Worker’s Party. And if I see errors, I don’t see a problem in correcting them. But this project has changed the face of Brazil, and that is what I want to represent.

FP: How do you explain the rising wave of support for Bolsonaro in the past few months?

FH: Thanks to the economic crisis—he decided to give voice to a feeling of horror. In these moments, the opportunists benefit.

The attack on him [an assailant stabbed Bolsonaro on the campaign trail earlier this year] also touched the country because it was a great act of violence that happened. These circumstances promoted the current state of things.

FP: If he wins, what do you anticipate we will see happen to Brazil? How will things change?

FH: Brazil needs peace and not hate. If he wins, there will be a wave of terror in this country because people will feel authorized by the vote to be violent toward others. Everyone will buy guns. Black people won’t be safe. Women won’t be safe. The LGBT community won’t be safe. Social activists won’t be safe.

FP: What should the international community know about what is happening in Brazil?

FH: I want to send a message to international media thanking you for the work you are doing. You all are the ones doing journalism. The national media in Brazil, unfortunately, is not.

The media, because of their economic interests, are OK with the country taking a shot in the dark, imagining that afterward they are going to monitor him, as if they’ll be able to put him in a straightjacket the moment he loses it. But it doesn’t work that way.

A president with a pen in their hand is a very powerful person. You don’t mess around with this kind of thing.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Shannon Sims is a lawyer-turned-journalist and a former fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs and the International Women’s Media Foundation. She has been based in Brazil for nearly a decade, and her reporting most often appears in the New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek. Twitter: @shannongsims

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