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2019 Brazil conference examines what happened in Brazil's last election and why

The election of Jair Bolsonaro, a previously inconsequential member of Brazil’s far-right political fringe, to the Brazilian presidency last October shocked and perplexed many in and beyond the country. Why did Bolsonaro win? What does it mean for Brazil? These questions will be addressed at the Duke Brazil Initiative’s fifth annual Global Brazil Conference, What Happened in Brazil? Brazil After the Election of Jair Bolsonaro, to be held on the evening of Feb. 27 from 6:30 to 8 pm and from 10 am to 8 pm on Feb. 28. All events will take place at Rubenstein Library, room 153, on Duke’s West Campus. The conference is free and open to the public.

Keynote speakers from Brazil will include feminist human rights activist Djamila Ribeiro and law professor Silvio Luiz de Almeida, an expert on structural and institutional racism. Other participants include Duke’s renowned conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, who will outline threats to the environment under Bolsonaro; Brazilian scholar Rosana Pinheiro Machado, who will discuss her research on support for Bolsonaro among poor and working-class Brazilians; and Duke history professor and DBI co-director John French, who will speak on how the election of Bolsonaro reflects what French calls “Brazil’s nostalgia for death.”

French said the focus of the conference is particularly timely. “Brazil reached a crossroads during the election, and right now everybody is at a point of bated breath. Nobody knows what is going to happen and it’s a particularly tense moment because of Bolsonaro’s polemics.”

Most observers expect an increase in bloodshed, much of which could stem from state violence encouraged by the new president, he said. 

“There’s enormous violence in Rio,” French noted, “with much of it being exacerbated and enacted by the police. Now that there is a far-right militant in office, there’s a question of ‘what now?’” 

The conference will kick off on Wednesday evening with a keynote address from Ribeiro, who studied political philosophy at the Federal University of São Paulo before becoming Vice Secretary for Human Rights and Citizenship Affairs for the City of São Paulo in 2016. Remaining speakers will be part of a full schedule on Thursday.

The conference is sponsored by the Duke Brazil Initiative and the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.