Brazil’s new far-right pres­i­dent

Brazil has elected the ra­bidly right-wing Jair Bol­sonaro who’s anti-gay, anti-im­mi­grant and anti-women. Sound fa­mil­iar?


WHEN­EVER he opens his mouth all kinds of crazy stuff comes spew­ing out. Women, he says, de­serve to earn less than men be­cause they have this an­noy­ing habit of fall­ing preg­nant. Im­mi­grants are the “scum of the Earth” and he’s de­clared he’d rather suf­fer the trauma of hav­ing his son dy­ing in a car crash than have to hear him ut­ter­ing the words, “Dad, I’m gay.”

How can such a bigot be in charge of run­ning a coun­try? For once Don­ald Trump must be re­lieved he’s not the one spark­ing out­rage – next to Brazil’s new pres­i­dent, Jair Bol­sonaro, the Amer­i­can leader looks like a bunny-hug­ging green lib­eral.

Although Bol­sonaro (63), a for­mer army cap­tain, has been dubbed “the Trump of the trop­ics” he’s much more right-wing. In fact, there are those who say he’s down­right dan­ger­ous – for Brazil and the world.

This is a guy who’s praised dic­ta­tors, ex­pressed sup­port for tor­ture, joked about hav­ing his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents shot and sees be­ing la­belled “the most misog­y­nis­tic, hate­ful elected of­fi­cial in the demo­cratic world” as a badge of hon­our.

And yet in­stead of be­ing re­pulsed by him, Brazil­ians voted for him in droves. Tired of be­ing lied to by mealy-mouthed politi­cians, they find his blunt style re­fresh­ingly hon­est – and they hope he’ll shake things up.

But where did Bol­sonaro come from, and how did he land up run­ning the show in the world’s fourth-largest democ­racy?

JUST like Trump he’s in awe of the mil­i­tary. As a teen grow­ing up in the town of Glicério in the state of São Paulo, Bol­sonaro at­tended the Academia Mil­i­tar das Agul­has Ne­gras, Brazil’s main mil­i­tary acad­emy. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1977 he served as an army parachutist but quickly rose up the ranks to cap­tain.

In 1988 he left the army to fo­cus on build­ing a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and was suc­cess­ful in get­ting him­self elected as a city coun­cil­lor in Rio de Janeiro.

Two years later he was elected to congress as a mem­ber of the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Party. He re­mained in congress for 27 years, jump­ing ship sev­eral times be­tween var­i­ous con­ser­va­tive par­ties, but although he pro­posed more than 170 bills only two made it into law.

A while back he was at the cen­tre of con­tro­versy af­ter it came to light he’d hired his wife, Michelle (38), as his sec­re­tary, pro­mot­ing her and tripling her salary within two years.

He was forced to fire her in 2008 af­ter Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that nepo­tism was il­le­gal in the pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion. He and Michelle live in Barra da Ti­juca, a wealthy area of Rio de Janeiro. He has five chil­dren from his three mar­riages.

But although he seems to hold his wife in high es­teem wife his re­marks about women have landed him in hot wa­ter on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. In 2015 he was fined for com­ment­ing in an in­ter­view that con­gress­woman Maria do Rosario was “not worth rap­ing” be­cause “she’s very ugly”.

He was charged with racism

fol­low­ing com­ments he made about black Brazil­ians.

But none of this held him back. Early this year he left the So­cial Chris­tian Party to join the So­cial Lib­eral Party and it was his in­flu­ence that saw the party be­come more right-wing, an­a­lysts say. In July he be­came the party’s of­fi­cial nom­i­nee for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Ini­tially his chances seemed slim against the pop­u­lar Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, who was seek­ing re-elec­tion hav­ing served as pres­i­dent for seven years up un­til 2010. But when Lula was jailed for 12 years in April on cor­rup­tion charges re­lat­ing to his time in of­fice, Bol­sonaro grabbed his chance and be­came in­creas­ingly out­spo­ken as he promised to “make Brazil great” – an unashamed rip-off of Trump’s cam­paign slo­gan.

But not ev­ery­body ap­pre­ci­ated his blunt ver­bal style. In Septem­ber, Bol­sonaro was stabbed in the stom­ach by a man who ran at him while he was be­ing car­ried on the shoul­ders of a sup­porter at a cam­paign rally in the small town of Juiz de Fora.

The as­sailant, Adélio Bispo de Oliveira – a for­mer mem­ber of the left-wing So­cial­ism and Lib­erty Party – told po­lice “God” had or­dered him to carry out the at­tack.

Bol­sonaro’s son Flávio later re­vealed his fa­ther al­most died be­cause he’d lost so much blood. Con­fined to bed for more than a month the politi­cian con­tin­ued to cam­paign, fir­ing off mes­sages to his mil­lions of Face­book fol­low­ers.

In the first round of the elec­tion he fin­ished in first place, se­cur­ing 46% of the vote. But it wasn’t enough of a lead so late last month the elec­tion went to a sec­ond vote with Bol­sonaro fac­ing off against Fernando Had­dad from the Work­ers’ Party.

In this round he se­cured 55% of the votes, enough of a lead to en­sure that come 1 Jan­uary 2019 he’ll be sworn in as Brazil’s 38th pres­i­dent.

But while his sup­port­ers are over the moon, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors have been sound­ing a note of alarm about Bol­sonaro and his “neo-fas­cist” lean­ings.

“The ex­treme right has con­quered Brazil,” says Celso Rocha de Bar­ros, a Brazil­ian colum­nist. “Brazil now has a more ex­trem­ist pres­i­dent than any demo­cratic coun­try in the world . . . we don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

But why would Brazil­ians take such a gam­ble?

“My anal­y­sis is that this is a re­jec­tion of the sta­tus quo pol­i­tics. Peo­ple are just fed up,” says Dr Sean Burges, a lec­turer in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity whose spe­cial field of fo­cus is Brazil­ian pol­i­tics.

Af­ter see­ing all the cor­rup­tion that’s dogged Brazil­ian pol­i­tics – which in­cluded the im­peach­ment in 2016 of Dilma Rouss­eff, Brazil’s first fe­male pres­i­dent, for flout­ing bud­getary reg­u­la­tions – vot­ers no longer have faith in politi­cians from the main par­ties.

“They wanted some­thing out­side of the norm and Bol­sonaro fits the bill,” Burges adds. “He’s the loud, an­gry voice.”

The politi­cian has promised to crack down on cor­rup­tion, beef up se­cu­rity in the crime-rav­aged coun­try and take a hard line against left-wing eco­nomic poli­cies. “We can­not con­tinue flirt­ing with com­mu­nism,” he says. “We’re go­ing to change the des­tiny of Brazil.”

It’s these promises that re­ally res­onated with vot­ers, mak­ing them will­ing to over­look all the other crazy stuff he says.

“Peo­ple are scared,” Burges says. “I think fear is a big part of this. Brazil has seven of the 20 most vi­o­lent cities in the world. It has more than 60 000 homi­cides ev­ery year – frankly it’s ter­ri­fy­ing. Peo­ple want an in­stant fix for that.”

Whether Bol­sonaro will be able to de­liver on any of his promises re­mains to be seen. But at least he can count on one per­son for sup­port – Trump was one of the first world lead­ers to phone to con­grat­u­late him. And it prob­a­bly meant a lot to Bol­sonaro hear­ing from his hero.

“Trump is an ex­am­ple to me,” he says. “I plan to get closer to him for the good of both Brazil and the United States.”

ABOVE LEFT: Bol­sonaro served in the Brazil­ian army for more than a decade, ris­ing to the rank of cap­tain. ABOVE RIGHT: With his wife, Michelle, at a vot­ing sta­tion last month.

Bol­sonaro with his three el­dest chil­dren, Flávio, Car­los and Ed­uardo.

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