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.