Lula's Brazil: A Cautionary Tale For Free Speech In The West

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by Tyler Durden
Saturday, May 25, 2024 - 12:20 AM

Authored by Paulo Figueiredo via The Epoch Times,

The notion of censoring political opponents is as old as civilization itself. Throughout history, countless governments have employed this tactic to silence dissent and maintain their grip on power. From ancient Rome to modern-day dictatorships, the suppression of free speech has been a hallmark of authoritarian rule. Even today, censorship remains a pervasive force in countries such as China, where the Great Firewall restricts access to information; North Korea, where the state maintains an iron grip on all forms of media; and Russia, where journalists and activists face severe consequences for speaking out against the government.

However, in the West, the Enlightenment ideas championed by British thinkers like John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Paine paved the way for a radical departure from this oppressive tradition. Their writings, which emphasized the importance of individual liberty and the free exchange of ideas, inspired the groundbreaking “American experiment.” The adoption of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which unequivocally protects freedom of speech, marked a turning point in human history. This bold move proved successful, as greater freedom of expression fostered innovation, enhanced legal security, improved government accountability, and ultimately led to increased prosperity.

The Western world took notice and followed suit, giving rise to the so-called “Free World.” In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, enshrining the right to freedom of expression for all. While this development was not without its challenges—as it allowed for the dissemination of harmful and malicious ideologies like Nazism and communism—the consensus remained that the spread of bad ideas posed a lesser threat than the dangers of censorship. As the famous saying goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

However, this trend is now reversing at an alarming rate. In a recent hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski warned of an escalating trend of censorship in countries once considered bastions of free speech. He cited examples such as France, where the government has cracked down on so-called “hate speech,” and Germany, where social media companies face hefty fines for failing to remove “illegal content” within 24 hours. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have also introduced controversial laws that could stifle free expression.

But perhaps the most egregious example of this troubling trend is Brazil. According to Elon Musk, no country where X (formerly Twitter) operates experiences a worse state of censorship than Brazil, a nation until recently regarded as the largest liberal democracy in the Southern Hemisphere. Since 2019, the powerful Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, now infamous, has been conducting his investigation dubbed the “Fake News Probe.” This probe has targeted hundreds of individuals, most recently including Elon Musk himself, for allegedly spreading “disinformation.”

The consequences of this investigation have been severe. Numerous people, including journalists like me, have had their social media accounts blocked, passports revoked, and financial assets frozen.

Others have faced even harsher fates, including imprisonment—all under the guise of “combating disinformation” and “protecting democracy.”

Glenn Greenwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and co-founder of The Intercept, has been one of the most vocal critics of this crackdown. In a recent article, he wrote, “The level of repression and censorship in Brazil is staggering. It’s a country that has really become a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and the erosion of civil liberties.”

When leftist Lula da Silva resumed the Brazilian presidency in 2023, he realized that, thanks to the precedent set by Justice Moraes, he now wielded censorship powers he did not possess during his first two terms (2003–2010).

He gained the ability to criminally prosecute any speech that contradicted the government’s narrative. This became evident in the aftermath of this month’s devastating floods in southern Brazil, a catastrophe surpassing the impact of Hurricane Katrina in the United States.

As government aid was delayed, federal agencies displayed immense incompetence, and bureaucratic hurdles even led to fines being imposed on trucks carrying donations from civil society, information and videos exposing these facts began to circulate on social media and some news outlets. Independent journalists and opposition politicians, such as Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, shared these videos and information, only to be met with Lula da Silva’s response, labeling the criticism as “fake news” and “disinformation” amid a calamitous situation. The Brazilian government ordered the Federal Police to open an investigation into the matter, targeting even members of Congress.

The Brazil of Lula da Silva and Justice Moraes serves as a stark reminder to the world of a lesson that should have been learned long ago: It is foolish and naive to believe that censorship will be “temporary” or “restricted.” Once a government succeeds in establishing a Ministry of Truth and dictating what can and cannot be said, it will inevitably use these powers to silence any genuine opposition. When governments arrogate to themselves the power to determine what is true and what is false, they open the door to tyranny. It is a slippery slope that leads inexorably to the suppression of dissent and the erosion of democracy. Until recently, this was a point of consensus among liberals and conservatives alike. It appears that is no longer the case.

For in the immortal words of George Orwell, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” The events unfolding in Brazil should serve as a warning to us all.