Brazil's President-Elect Follows a Familiar Agenda

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s right-wing President-elect, has a policy agenda which appears to come straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's current President-elect, speaking at a public event in 2016. Photo: Agência Brasil Fotografias, CC

On October 28, Jair Bolsonaro, a lawmaker with far-right credentials, former army captain, avowed nationalist, and defender of the country’s previous military dictatorship, won the runoff election for President of Brazil with 55% of the vote.

His campaign promised the usual get-tough anti-crime message one might expect in a country which has been plagued by corporate corruption for years. What set him apart was a right-wing vision which has been unheard of in almost every country but one: The United States.

Bolsonaro won the backing of the masses, plus in particular the strongest support from white men and the wealthy, after a longer period of left-leaning power in the country. His policy positions include:

  • An explicitly nationalist approach to trade. Like Trump, Bolsonaro also attacked China for the damage it had done to his country, accusing it of “buying up” Brazil.
  • Backing of the military as a strong ally of the government, even domestically. Bolsonaro has vowed to staff many of his cabinet positions with ex-military officials. He once complained that the former military dictatorship in the country had not murdered enough of those who stood against it.
  • A belief that the country has been far too environmentally-protectionist in the past. To help the country grow, the incoming President has demanded that the Amazon, the rainforests, and indigenous lands all be opened to widespread development. Specific plans his Social Liberal party has already announced to support this include eliminating any demarcation of indigenous lands and allowing most existing mining reserves to be made available for exploration. There are draft laws and policies in process which would go after social movements which attempt to protect defenders of the environment. This last is especially concerning with Brazil already on record as one of the most dangerous countries anywhere for those who stand up for environmental rights. Since 1985, 1,270 murders of environmental activists have been recorded in the country – and less than 10% ever reached the courts for prosecution.
  • A rejection of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. In July, Bolsonaro said he will pull out of the Paris Agreements. That may be harder to pull off than some of his other statements, since his country ratified the Paris accords via its Congress. Bolsonaro can undermine it in other ways, including even when Brazil is scheduled to host the 2019 UN Climate Summit, assuming the country is still a part of that group when it happens. Bolsonaro also openly applauded Trump’s announcement that he planned to pull out of the Climate accords; he also shared online an article entitled “the greenhouse fables”.
  • A pushback on the whole idea of fighting wage inequality between men and women in the country. Bolsonaro is on record as saying it would be “absurd” for the government to have a policy on the subject. This is despite the recent  Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios  (National Survey by Household Sample), which showed that in Brazil on average women earn 53% percent less than men for the same job titles and assignments.
  • A dramatic easing of gun control laws. Bolsonaro believes Brazil’s citizens will be safer if citizens can provide their own armed self-defense.

In his campaign, Bolsonaro also openly demeaned women, gays, and African slave descendants. In one forum, referred to one woman politician as too ugly to rape. He said in another speech that it would be better for a son of his to be dead than to be gay, and said he was against what he called a “gender ideology” which was being taught in schools and promoted gays. In a speech in 2017, he said the some of those who had been born of African slaves were lazy and overweight.

If that wasn’t enough to evoke another of a remembrance of a certain other country’s Chief Executive up north, he also made a point in his speeches to vow to make Brazil “great” again – and even argued about the dangers of “fake news”.

In his Facebook Live speech after he was declared victor in the country’s elections, Bolsonaro used the opportunity not to pull the country together but to tear it apart. He slammed his opponents in the left-wing Workers’ Party, a group he has already said he would either jail or kick out of the country, saying that Brazil will no longer spend time “flirting with socialism, communism, populism and the extremism of the left”.

Bolsonaro himself has a trademark gesture, holding his fingers in the shape of a gun. He appears to have no qualms about fighting with all necessary tools to achieve what he believes in.

According to the President-elect, Donald Trump phoned him Sunday to congratulate him on his victory. In the call, Trump referred to Bolsonaro as “obviously a very friendly contact”.