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Handout

  • Title: Securing Democracy: My Fight For Press Freedom and Justice in Brazil
  • Author: Glenn Greenwald
  • Genre: Politics
  • Publisher: House of Anansi Press

In fall of 2022, Brazilians will elect a head of state. In mid-April, the country’s Supreme Court confirmed that former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is eligible to stand against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, upholding a ruling that annulled the former’s 2018 corruption convictions. The decision was made against the backdrop of Bolsonaro’s botched coronavirus response as Brazil’s daily death rate led the world, backed by a COVID misinformation campaign that has made managing the pandemic all the more difficult.

As the death toll mounts, Bolsonaro’s focus is elsewhere – trained, for instance, on liberalizing gun laws in a country that saw over 41,000 killings in 2019 – stunning, though also a significant decrease from previous years. The President’s gun obsession fits with his authoritarian commitments and proclivities. As Human Rights Watch reported that year: “President Bolsonaro has encouraged police to kill suspects. Criminals should ‘die like cockroaches,’ he said in August.” There are plenty of chilling quotations from the President. Violent. Homophobic. Dangerous.

This is the context, just ahead of the pandemic, in which journalist Glenn Greenwald and his colleagues took on Bolsonaro, erstwhile Justice and Public Safety Minister Sergio Moro, and others after a hacker shared a trove of materials with Greenwald in 2019. The leaks, obtained from Telegram chats, implicated Moro, then-prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol and others in irregular and inappropriate activities in their capacity as officials involved in Operation Car Wash, which began as a money-laundering investigation and grew into a probe of hundreds of individuals and more than a dozen companies, including the state-owned energy giant Petrobras.

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Securing Democracy: My Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro’s Brazil is Greenwald’s account of his reporting, along with colleagues, of the Car Wash leaks and subsequent outcomes – including threats and attacks on him and his family from Bolsonoro thugs; the resignations of Moro and Dallagnol; and Lula’s release from prison. It’s perhaps a cliché to write that such accounts read as a thriller, but this account does. The book is a page-turner – not a sensationalized drama, but a detailed telling of a story about the struggle for press freedoms and other rights against a crypto-fascist regime and its supporters.

After Greenwald and the team at online news site The Intercept and their Brazilian partner media outlets published stories on the Car Wash leaks, Bolsonaro lashed out at him, suggesting he could end up spending time in “the slammer.” Despite being cleared of wrongdoing in receiving the leaks – by Moro’s own federal police – Greenwald ended up facing bogus, trumped-up charges related to a conversation with the leaker. A judge dismissed those charges, declining to indict, but they are pending on state appeal.

The book will stand beyond the moment. The issues Greenwald raises – from press freedom to individual liberty to the tactics of the extreme right – are concerns that marked the last century, shape the current one and will outlast many of us. The story gives those concerns form as it underscores sacrifices: the assassination of Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco, threats and violence faced by Greenwald and his family, the arrest of the hackers who obtained and shared the leaked communications and others. It reminds us that the fight for freedom and democracy is not abstract. And those who fight have names and faces and families. Often, they suffer; sometimes, they die.

Brazilian democracy is not yet four decades old. It is fragile. In recent years, we have been reminded that consolidated democracies are fragile, too. Self-government is only as good as its institutions – and those “rules of the game,” as economist Douglass North called them, are only as good as those who respect them, or do not.

Securing Democracy ought to be read not only by people concerned about the future of Brazil, but those concerned about the future of the media and democracy throughout the world. While the story is about one country, the issues and themes it covers transcend borders – and will for a very long time, especially in an era of rising surveillance techniques and capacities.

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