The semiconductor crisis could have cost Brazil its democracy


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Laura Quirin
The Brazilian Report


The semiconductor crisis could have cost Brazil its democracy
Brazilian elections in 2022, which secured the position of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and governors in all 27 states, almost did not happen. Authorities kept the reason under wraps and information was only finally brought to public attention by The Brazilian Report in June 2023. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent rise in remote workforces triggered an unprecedented global semiconductor crisis. The shortage of chips slowed production lines and fueled inflation in many countries. In Brazil, however, it also posed an existential threat to democracy because the same component is used in voting machines that tally over 123 million votes within hours. The operation to acquire chips for 225,000 voting machines (intended to replace older models) in time for the national vote involved electoral officials, current and former diplomats from Brazil and the U.S., as well as private companies and consulting firms. It constituted a significant effort by authorities to guarantee that elections would not be postponed. The situation was even more sensitive due to repeated statements by former President Jair Bolsonaro, who falsely claimed that the elections could be manipulated by tampering with ballots. None of these claims have been substantiated by evidence. Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso, Chief Electoral Justice at the time, told The Brazilian Report that the pursuit of semiconductors was one of the biggest challenges he faced while leading the Superior Electoral Court. He contacted Brazilian and American diplomats with connections with Taiwanese and American manufacturers to place top priority on shipments to Brazil in an operation that took months. This all transpired in secrecy because if Mr. Bolsonaro became aware of the issue, the former president could have jeopardized the entire project. As a clandestine operation, most sources would only provide information off-record, making it difficult to corroborate the story. Nonetheless, three of our most crucial sources — Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso, diplomat Rubens Barbosa, and former U.S. ambassador Anthony Harrington — eventually consented to going on record, thus lending credibility to our findings. The Financial Times published a similar story one week after our publication. Our work was subsequently republished by UOL, Brazil's largest news portal.
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