4 things to know about Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's new far-right president

Posted by On 11:04 AM

4 things to know about Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's new far-right president

Jair Bolsonaro after casting his vote on October 28. 2018. He’s about to become Brazil’s next president.
Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s next president, summed up his far-right campaign with the slogan “Brazil before everything, and God above all.”

Think of it as Brazil’s version of “America First.”

That campaign carried Bolsonaro to a decisive victory in the country’s presidential runoff on Sunday. He won 55 percent of the vote, easily defeating leftist candidate Fernando Haddad.

Bolsonaro appealed to Brazilians by promising to “break the system” and depart from the status quo after a tumultuous few years. Brazil suffered from a deep recession starting in 2016. That economic crisis was accompanied by political turmoil, as a massive corruption scandal unspooled in the country at the highest levels of government and business, leaving few high-profile leaders unscathed.

Against this backdrop, a rise in violent crime has left some voters yearning for order and security, which Bolsonaro â€" an ex-military officer â€" promised to deliver.

But his embrace of “law and order” carries alarming undertones, as he has expressed a fondness for the country’s past military dictatorship. His anti-democratic views are just one element of his disturbing rhetoric, though; the president-elect also freely spews misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, and racist statements.

The presidential frontrunner has been compared to US President Donald Trump; both men share a rep utation for incendiary rhetoric, have tried to build campaigns on promises to end corruption and crack down on crime and chaos, and know their way around social media.

Indeed, Trump tweeted Monday that he’d called to congratulate Bolsonaro on his victory. Bolsonaro also tweeted about their conversation, saying the US president had congratulated him on his “historic election.”

Bolsonaro’s rise has roiled Brazilian politics â€" and the election of this polarizing figure could set the Latin American country on a new, unpredictable path.

Here’s what you need to know about the Brazilian candidate sometimes called the “Trump of the Tropics.”

1) He’s casting himself as the political outsider

Bolsonaro isn’t exactly a political outsider, though he’s certainly tried to paint himself as one. The 63-year-old is a former military officer and has served seven terms in Brazil’s federal congress. As Mike LaSusa wrote for Vox, the cand idate has enjoyed strong ties to the military and rose to prominence as “a no-holds-barred conservative.”

He’s been a member of many different parties over the years, but Bolsonaro most recently joined the Social Liberal Party (PSL), and from there mounted his presidential campaign. His affiliation with the formerly marginal party has turned it into a political force that’s made tremendous gains in Brazil’s legislature.

Bolsonaro relied heavily on social media to promote his candidacy and get his message out. The candidate often seemed to be taking a page out of Trump’s playbook, whether it was bragging about his votes, blaming the leftist Workers’ Party for Brazil’s failures, or promising to “rescue Brazil.”

He also faced intense opposition and protests, particularly from women. Opponents have used the slogan #EleNão, or “Not Him.” In September, a man who claimed he was on a “mission from God”stabbed the candidate in the abdomen at a campaign rally.

Bolsonaro was seriously injured â€" but it helped raise his profile and gave him something of a “martyr” status. It may have also cowed his opponents, who didn’t want to be seen blasting a man who’d just survived a knife attack.

“I just want to send a message to the thugs who tried to ruin the life of a family man, a guy who is the hope for millions of Brazilians,” said Flávio Bolsonaro, Jair’s Bolsonaro’s son, after the attack. “You just elected him president.”

2) He has a history of embracing offensive views

Oh, where to begin. Bolsonaro has a deep record of making offensive comments about women and the LGBTQ community and racist statements about Brazil’s black or mixed-race community.

He’s held these views for years, but his newfound popularity and presidential platform have amplified their reach. Guilherme Casarões, a comparative politics professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo, told the Washington Post that “five years ago, he was just another congressman with anti-gay views. Now Bolsonaro, like Trump, has become a larger-than-life figure.”

The candidate has even faced charges for his discriminatory comments. Here’s a sampling of some of the things he’s said:

  • He disparaged indigenous and Quilombolas communities, who are descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves, implying, among other things, that they were lazy. “I think they don’t even manage to procreate anymore,” the candidate said.
  • He said that if he had a gay son, he would be unable to love him and would “prefer that he die in an accident.”
  • He said a fellow lawmaker in congress wasn’t attractive enough to be raped because she was ugly. “She’s not my type. I would never rape her. I’m not a rapist, but if I were, I wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it,” Bolsonaro said in 2014.
  • Bolsonaro responded to a questi on in 2011 about what he would do if his son fell in love with a black woman by saying, “I don’t run that risk because my sons were very well educated.”

Some of his supporters seemed to welcome his rhetoric, while others wanted him to tone it down for fear that he would alienate voters. Bolsonaro’s opponents have protested against his offensive language, and have even compared him to Hitler.

In response, the president-elect tried to play off some of his commentary as jokes taken out of context, and during the runoff campaign, he tried to use more inclusive language by saying he’s trying to make Brazil safer and better for all its people â€" though his past stances seem to contradict that pretty clearly.

3) He has a troublesome affinity for Brazil’s military dictatorship

Some of Bolsonaro’s most controversial statements involve his laudatory remarks about Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship.The country was under military rule fro m the 1960s until the mid-1980s. In 2015, Bolsonaro went so far as to call it “glorious.”

In 2016, Bolsonaro voted to impeach then-President Dilma Rousseff â€" indicating that he did so in honor of the deceased chief of secret police in São Paulo, who oversaw the torture of hundreds under military rule. It was a disturbing act, as Rousseff herself had been imprisoned and tortured by the dictatorship.

For his presidential run, Bolsonaro chose as his running mate a retired military general who has also made disconcerting statements about military power, including that the return of military rule in Brazil could be justified under some circumstances.

Bolsonaro did not go that far in his presidential campaign â€" and he vowed that his government would be “constitutional and democratic” in his victory speech.

But his nostalgia for the days of military rule has alarmed many Brazilians. There are others, however, who sympathize with his position in th e wake of increased crime and insecurity in the country.

4) He’s a hardliner who’s constructed an anti-corruption and anti-crime platform

One of the main reasons so many Brazilian voters supported Bolsonaro is his promise to fix the country’s ills â€" high rates of violent crime, a faltering economy, and endemic corruption.

A huge and sprawling corruption scandal has engulfed Brazilian politics in recent years, and that sense of dysfunction has made the population dissatisfied and disillusioned with its leaders.

Michel Temer, the outgoing president, is affiliated with a center-right party, and he’s abysmally unpopular. He took over after Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party, was impeached and removed from office in 2016 because of her connections with the corruption scandal. Rousseff was not implicated directly, but her party was in power, and she faced other pressures, such as the deepening recession.

Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Ináci o “Lula” da Silva, served as president from 2003 to 2011 and remains extremely popular in Brazil, as his tenure was associated with economic growth and greater equality. Lula is so popular, in fact, that he was the frontrunner in the 2018 presidential race and was on his way to becoming president again â€" except he was barred from running because he’s serving a 12-year prison sentence after also being caught up in the corruption scandal. (Lula and his supporters have called his conviction dubious.)

With Lula out, Fernando Haddad, a former mayor of Sao Paulo, stepped in. Haddad tried to tie himself tightly to Lula’s legacy, and he made improving the economy central to his campaign. But he failed to drum up enough popular support to beat Bolsonaro, who successfully capitalized on Brazilians’ discontent with their government and its perceived inability to address the country’s economic and political ills.

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