Brazil’s economy continues to support Bolsonaro, albeit with reservations

Brazil’s economy, wary of left-wing presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s economic policies, will again vote for incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, but this time with more reservations, experts say.

Elected in 2018 on a promise to reduce government intervention, Bolsonaro has stayed true to his word with a series of measures to boost the economy, introduce privatizations and draft tax reform.

Small and medium-sized business owners appreciated Bolsonaro’s refusal to halt the economy during the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 685,000 Brazilians, according to Daniela Campello, political science expert at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

The post-pandemic economic recovery also worked in the President’s favour.

After GDP slumped during the pandemic, Latin America’s largest economy grew 4.6 percent in 2021 and is expected to grow further by 2.65 percent this year.

– economic recovery –

Business leaders fear Lula will impose “greater government interventionism in the economy and a redistribution commitment for the benefit of workers, his constituency,” Campello said.

Lula, for example, has promised to roll back a 2017 labor reform that has been heavily criticized by labor rights groups.

Meanwhile, the agribusiness sector, which accounts for nearly 28 percent of Brazil’s GDP, is one of Bolsonaro’s most ardent supporters.

Oscar Cervi, a major grain producer, is one of the biggest donors to Bolsonaro’s campaign, donating one million reais (around $200,000).

A convoy of tractors even took part in the traditional military parade in Brasilia during the September 7 Independence Day celebrations.

The sector has benefited from investment in infrastructure such as ports and railways and continues to perform well despite difficulties caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said Luiz Carlos Correa Carvalho, president of the Brazilian Agribusiness Confederation.

Bolsonaro’s opposition to land claims by Brazil’s indigenous groups – an issue now in the hands of the Supreme Court – has also proved popular with a sector that thrives on clearing rainforests to produce farmland.

“Lula even said agribusiness is ‘rightist and fascist’… which is why producers are very scared and see it as a threat,” said Correa Carvalho.

– Support not unanimous –

The other fear in the agribusiness sector is that Lula will follow the lead of neighboring centre-left Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in levying export taxes, an adviser said on condition of anonymity.

The president’s loyalists include a group of businessmen currently under investigation by the Supreme Court for professing support for a coup d’état if Bolsonaro loses the election.

But this staunch support for the far-right leader is not unanimous.

Businessman Luis Stuhlberger claims he will “never again” vote for the “psychopath” Bolsonaro.

“Corporate sector support is more divided” than in 2018, said Christopher Garman, executive director for the Americas at consultancy Eurasia Group.

Auto industry and international trade directors told AFP they did not want to take sides this time after backing Bolsonaro in the last election.

Powerful business groups like the Federation of Sao Paulo Industries and the Federation of Banks even signed an open letter defending democracy after Bolsonaro attacked the electoral system.

Bolsonaro has lost credibility in his financial management and has “a terrible reputation outside of the country and … ecologically,” Garman added.

And that convinced some multinational CEOs to join Lula.