Op-Ed: Brazil riots indicative of new global trend in democracy

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Civil disobedience and political protests are staple aspects of democracy.

Riots in the streets Brazilia in January of 2023 (Associated Press).

They are methods in which individuals can express their dissatisfaction with the current state of public affairs peacefully. Despite peaceful alternatives, the media has been filled with images of violent rioting and the storming of political grounds for some years now. On January 8 2023, Brazil’s capital was stormed by protestors attempting to overturn election results. This may sound familiar; and that is because it is.

While this may seem solely indicative of the state of democracy in Brazil, or perhaps even in South America, it is apart of a much broader global chain of similar events? It has been seen in the United States Canada, Peru, and now Brazil. So, what is happening? 

Brazil: January 8, 2023

The events on January 8 begin much earlier than the riot itself. The 2022 Brazilian elections were a particularly polarizing set of elections between incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The elections proved controversial due to its associated political violence, voter suppression, and political rhetoric from Bolsonaro (Bolsonaro even appeared as a guest star in The Daily Wire’s “The Ben Shapiro Show.”). Bolsonaro regularly claimed that Brazil’s election infrastructure was vulnerable and prone to rigging, creating a strong belief in many that Brazil’s election could be stolen, and that belief was only strengthened when Lula won the election in 2023.

Protestors eventually broke into Brazil’s legislature, damaging and stealing property inside.

(Associated Press)

Peru: December 7, 2022

On December 7, then Peruvian President Pedro Castillo attempted to dissolve the Congress of Peru in a self-coup attempt in order to avoid impeachment. Castillo largely failed to obtain the support required to maintain an emergency government, with various government officials resigning on the spot. He also failed to garner the support of the military, who would have been integral in supporting his new power-structure.


Canada: early 2022

Even earlier than that, in January of 2022, Canada experienced its convoy protests, where large sections of Ottawa were blocked off and occupied by protestors to impede traffic and demonstrate in front of Parliament. The self styled “Freedom Convoy” was a national movement in opposition to COVID restrictions and vaccine requirements in Canada.

(Dave Chan/AFP via Getty Images)

United States: January 6, 2022

In similar fashion to Brazil, political unrest due to the rhetoric of then President, Donald Trump, resulted in a violent insurrection in the capitol. During the 2020 elections, Trump had encouraged much of his voter base to avoid mail-in ballots, claiming that they were not secure. The resulting hysteria led to many Americans feeling reluctant to trust in America’s democratic process and the election results when Biden eventually won only strengthened their beliefs. The resulting protest resulted in the Capitol being breached, and the offices inside being ransacked and vandalized.

(John Minchillo/AP)

Freedom House

If one were to look at any of the above events in isolation, it may appear as a national issue. When placed in a timeline similar to above, it is evident that there is a political trend. It is even more clear when comparing the scenes in Brazil and the United States. If there is a trend in the decline of democracy, how do you see it? For that, Freedom House’s “Global Freedom” score is a useful tool.

Freedom House assesses the qualities and policies of nations in order to give them a ranking between Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. It has been producing year-end reports since the 1950’s. In this model, countries are awarded 0-4 points for 10 different political factors, and 15 civil liberty factors. Political factors include the electoral process, political pluralism, and government function. Civil liberties include freedom of expression and belief, rights to association, rule of law, and personal autonomy.

Reproduced from Freedom House; Map: Axios Visuals

Freedom House records 2021 as the sixteenth consecutive year of a decline in global freedom—which indicates that these protests are not isolated, they are in fact apart of a much larger process of broader political discontent. From 2020 to 2021, Peru was the only nation out of those mentioned above that improved in Freedom House’s metric of freedom, with +1. Canada and the United States did not change, and Brazil was listed as -1. While not without issue, Freedom House is a brilliant tool that is accessible to all for free, and is therefore a priceless tool for the assessment of democracy worldwide.