Trump of the Tropics | Daily News

Trump of the Tropics

Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as the President of Brazil on January 1, 2019, after winning the Presidential Election held a couple of months back by a landslide. He has followed through on several key campaign pledges in his first few days in office, delighting supporters -- and investors keen on his pro-market message. In his first official act, Bolsonaro signed a decree stripping the National Indian Agency of the right to demarcate indigenous territories in the country, granting it instead to the Ministry of Agriculture, a move which naturally angered many.

There is no doubt that Bolsonaro is the most controversial figure ever to occupy the Presidential chair in Brasilia with his far-right views on everything from women to minorities. Bolsonaro has already been dubbed “Trump of the Tropics” as many of his views and policy announcements parallel those emanating from Washington, 6,800 Km to the North. He has already indicated his desire to have a US military presence in Brazil.

His “Brazil First” slogan closely mirrors US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy and his triumph follows victories in Italy and Hungary, among others, for far-right nationalist parties. Italy’s deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary have championed action against immigrants and other far-right policies. In fact, Orban was a prominent guest at Bolsonaro’s inauguration.

A former Army Captain whose campaign motto was “Brazil above Everything, God above Everyone” Bolsonaro has pledged to defend “the Constitution, democracy and freedom” after winning the polarizing election, denying accusations he will turn Brazil towards authoritarianism. Many analysts say his ascension to power reflects the wishes of a frustrated and dispossessed electorate, besieged by economic woes. Many admire his “never say die” attitude - Bolsonaro made an almost miraculous recovery after suffering a near-fatal stabbing at a campaign rally a few months ago.

Regardless of the election rhetoric, he faces some tough challenges in reality in this sprawling nation of 210 million people, the world’s biggest centrally-governed (non-federal) democratic country. His main challenge will be bringing the crime rate down. Throughout the campaign, Bolsonaro promised to crack down on Brazil’s violent crime that saw nearly 64,000 homicides last year. In fact, the election campaign itself was one of the most violent in recent memory.

Bolsonaro has just the man for this job: New Justice Minister Sergio Moro, the former judge who jailed ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. “The top mission given to President Jair Bolsonaro is clear: the end of impunity for corruption, the fight against organised crime and the reduction of violent crime, all while respecting the rule of law,” he has said. Bolsonaro wants to increase gun ownership and has pledged to give police “carte blanche” to kill criminals and drug lords, in somewhat similar fashion to the Philippines.

Turning the Brazilian economy, South America’s largest, around will be another major challenge. One of Brazil’s most serious economic challenges is aneamic economic growth, which has been undermining the country’s growth potential. In a country struggling with recession and high unemployment with a rapidly deteriorating quality of life, there is vast inequality. Brazil’s six richest men have as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the population, which stands around 100 million people, according to Oxfam.

Corruption is still rampant in Brazil, despite measures taken to curb it including the impeachment and arrests of former Presidents suspected of graft. Business leaders, multinational corporations and leading politicians have been caught up in allegations ranging from bribery and money laundering to attempting to distort the democratic process. A Pan-South American Police operation called “Lava Jato” or “Car Wash” is still netting some suspects.

Poverty is also rampant in Brazil, where many people spend their entire lives in the infamous ‘favelas’ or slums in the big cities. They have looked on with disdain after seeing civil servants retire in their 50s with a full pay pension, whereas they do not even have access to basic services.

Bolsonaro’s biggest challenge will be shedding his authoritarian image and becoming a President who works for all Brazilians. Many who voted against him have expressed fear that he would revert Brazil to a military style of Governance, as he had often been heard praising the military rule that prevailed from 1964 to 1985, one of the most violent periods in Brazilian history. He has also made many disparaging remarks against the LGBT community, women, and ethnic minorities. He was in fact charged last year by Brazil’s Attorney General with inciting hatred toward black, gay and indigenous people.

It remains to be seen whether he will soften or change his stance on these issues and instead strive to bring all Brazilians together regardless of their differences. He will have to keep his word to protect the country’s young Constitution, drafted only in 1988. Though a self-styled nationalist, the world will be keenly watching his foreign policy, for no nation can live in isolation in today’s world. There is a steep learning curve ahead for Bolsonaro on many fronts, domestic and global. 


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