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Who is Brazil’s New Far-Right Leader Jair Bolsonaro?

This week Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidential vote (55.7%), defeating leftist candidate Fernando Haddad. His victory in the largest country of Southern America marks the beginning of a new era.

Who is Bolsonaro? Bolsonaro graduated from military academy in 1977 during the military dictatorship Brazil underwent from 1964 to 1985. He became captain by the time Brazil was democratic in the mid-1980s and won a seat in congress in 1990.

His values? A reason why many believe his leadership to be a threat to human rights is due to his homophobic, misogynistic, and racist stances; he has even faced charges for his offensive claims. However in his victory speech, he extended an olive branch and said he would govern for all Brazilians regardless of orientation, opinion or color. This assertion that has yet to be evidenced.

Bolsonaro holds a fond opinion for the former military dictatorship of Brazil. He said in an interview from 2016 that “the dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill.” In a country that has a relatively young democracy, his rule runs the risk of weakening it with his intention of militarizing the cabinet . He also wants to make guns easier to obtain for the police to gain greater authority over the violence that reportedly killed more than 62,500 people in 2016.

It isn’t currently clear as to what his plans for the eighth largest economy in the world are. The ideas outlined on his campaign website are vague: “Our strategy will be to adopt the same actions that work in countries that are booming, with jobs, low inflation, wages for workers and opportunity for all”. He and his surrogates have also backed contradictory positions such as their stances on whether large state enterprises should be privatized.

Why did people vote for him?  To understand in part why Bolsonaro won the elections, it is important to know more about Brazil’s previous government. From 2003 to 2016, The Worker’s Party governed Brazil under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). Although Lula left the office with high approval ratings and helped decrease poverty, he was prosecuted along with more than 150 other business leaders, corporations, and politicians for a 4-year anti-graft probe known as “Operation Car Wash.” He was stopped from running for a third term. Dilma Rousseff on the other hand was the first president to be impeached and removed for “window-dress[ing] government accounts ahead of the last presidential election. The charge [was] that her government filled holes in its accounts by taking loans from state banks without congressional approval.” The country also suffered through a deep economic recession in recent years. 

These events created a heavy distrust in The Worker’s Party, and voting for Bolsonaro from the Social Liberal Party was the way to keep them out of office. Furthermore, as chairman of the Brazilian Association of Political Consultants Carlos Manhanelli put it:

“Bolsonaro is the voice of people who want to speak but don’t feel they can because they fear being politically incorrect”

He is a leader who is unafraid of projecting homophobic, misogynistic, and racist messages. To name a few, he reportedly called black activists “animals” who “should go back to the zoo”, responded to congresswoman Maria do Rosario who’d accused him of encouraging rape that he “wouldn’t rape [her] because [she] doesn’t deserve it”, and openly said he would be incapable of loving a gay son. Those who share the same repressive feelings are now free to express them because they have a leader who represents and validates them.

A turning point during his campaign was the sympathy gained for him when he was stabbed this September 6th during a rally in Juiz de Fora, in Minas Gerais state. His poll numbers rose by 15% after the incident, showing the general Brazilian desire for law and order.

Image Source: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil

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