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Brazil’s New Far-Right President: Who Is Mr. Bolsonaro?
President Jair Bolsonaro
Brazil's new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, declared a crusade against crime, corruption and left-wing ideology as he took office on Jan. 1, 2019, for a four-year term at the helm of Latin America's biggest nation, according to foreign news sources from Rio de Janeiro. In his first public speech wearing the presidential sash, Bolsonaro said, "Brazil will start to free itself of socialism and political correctness," breaking with policies brought in under decades of leftist rule.
The 63-year-old former paratrooper, long an obscure politician, won electoral legitimacy with a comfortable win in October, triumphing in a country left bitter and demoralized by a record recession, graft exposed at the highest levels, and a soaring murder rate.
To ensure he can govern, Bolsonaro will rely on deputies belonging to key lobbies rallying to his party to pass legislation. They include those defending the interests of agribusiness, burgeoning evangelical churches, and pro-gun groups. Initially at least, he will also enjoy the support of investors, hoping he can see through fiscal reforms to drag Brazil out of its unsustainable accumul-ation of debt.
The task before him is formidable. To overhaul the over-generous pension system, for instance, his economic team that views this as a priority is certain to butt heads with Bolsonaro allies who do not want to upset voters.
Bolsonaro's high-profile embrace of Israel has alarmed the country's big meat exporters, which fear losing lucrative Arab markets. An announcement of moving Brazil's embassy to Jerusalem was hastily rowed back to "not decided yet."
The President-elect has warmly welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of his inauguration. Netanyahu said Dec. 30, 2018, in Rio de Janeiro that Bolsonaro had told him the Brazilian embassy move was a question of "when" rather than "if."
"We are on the eve of the President-elect taking office and there are still a lot of unknowns about his government," said Rogerio Bastos Arantes, a political science professor at the University of Sao Paulo.
A few of the concrete policy moves to come are Brazil's withdrawal from a United Nations global pact on migration, an end to Cuba's sending doctors to poor parts of Brazil, and an imminent decree making gun ownership far easier.
These appeal to Bolsonaro's base, which wants to see an end to Brazil's friendly-to-all-countries policy reinforced during the 2003-2016 period of center-left rule under the Workers Party.
Bolsonaro, criticized during the electoral campaign for his long track record of disparaging women, blacks and gays, has promised to be a leader for all of Brazil's 210 million inhabitants, though there was no sign yet of any unifying agenda.
Observers also noted Bolsonaro's stated intention to deliver his messages directly to Brazilians via social media, which he is as big a user of as U.S. President Donald Trump. "New technologies allow a direct relationship between a voter and his representatives," the president-elect told the Supreme Court when his upcoming mandate was validated.
But such tactics, which would skip around checks and balances provided from direct questioning by journalists, could permit Bolsonaro to create narratives around external enemies in an effort to concentrate more power, Bastos Arantes said.
Already, Bolsonaro has pledged to do all he can to challenge the left-wing governments of Cuba and Venezuela. "Inventing an external enemy to reinforce domestic control is a well-known formula," Batsos Arantes said.
Openly nostalgic for Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, Bolsonaro has formed a government with a third of ministries going to ex-military men. But the team also includes Paulo Guedes, a U.S.-trained economist determined to bring in free-market dogma, and a formerly mid-ranking foreign ministry employee, Ernesto Araujo, as foreign minister. A star anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro, has been named justice minister.
In his inauguration speech before Brazil's Congress, Bolsonaro called for "a true national pact" to restore his country's lackluster economy, "without ideological bias."
While Bolsonaro enjoys sky-high approval ratings, many in Brazil fear his nostalgia for the military dictatorship that reigned from 1964 to 1985, his hardline approach to fighting crime and his record of disparaging women and minorities could herald a harsh shake-up.
His promise to extend immunity to security forces who use lethal force against suspected wrongdoers has also sparked unease in a country where some 5,000 people a year are already killed by police.
While his government, which takes over on January 2, features a U.S.-trained free market advocate as economy minister, and a star anti-corruption judge as justice minister, nearly a third of the 22 ministerial posts are held by ex-military men.
Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has said his education ministry will stop "Marxist trash" being taught in schools and universities - another swipe at the Workers Party, which greatly boosted access to education for the poor and blacks.
The United States said that it is on the brink of a "transformative" relationship with Brazil thanks to new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has embraced Donald Trump's values and vision as he takes charge of Latin America's biggest nation. In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brasilia, on January 2, President Bolsonaro said the tendency for Brazil "to elect Presidents that for some reason were enemies" of the United States was over and now, "it is just the opposite: we are friends."
Secretary of State Pompeo responded that Trump "is very pleased with the relationship that our two countries are on the precipice of beginning to develop."★