Bolsonaro: A menace in the making?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Let's get something clear. President-elect and former army captain Jair Bolsonaro is a potential threat to Brazil's democracy with his glorifying of the military (he has openly declared his support for torture, although he once said the military regime made a mistake in torturing opponents, it should have just killed them) and his talk of purging leftists. He's a potential threat to the environment and in the past has hinted he wants to take Brazil out of the Paris Agreement. He's a potential threat to the Amazon, having reportedly pledged to open up more tracts of the vast rainforest to farming (something that would hinder Brazil's climate change commitments under the Paris accord) and wants to speed up the development of hydro dams in the area. He has also said under his government the environment ministry will be effectively absorbed by the agriculture ministry. He's a potential threat to indigenous peoples, promising to open up reserves to mining. He's a potential threat to the LGBT community and other minorities, with his homophobic and racist rhetoric; a potential threat to women's rights, with his misogynist tirades. And as if all that weren't enough, and despite his promises to get tough on crime, he's a potential threat to the security of Brazilians, having promised to relax gun controls and encourage people to carry arms to fight crime, along with his insinuations that the police should have immunity to kill criminals. The result of such a "guns galore" policy will inevitably be more violence as weapons get into the wrong hands and people take the law into their own hands, oftentimes killing innocent citizens.

A key word in all of the above, however, is "potential." There is so much about Bolsonaro and his campaign pledges that is vague and replete with mixed messages that are open to interpretation. Hence, we simply cannot be sure what he will really do once in office. For a start, he won't have control of congress, which is fragmented with some 30 parties. That will severely limit his room to maneuver, including his ability to pass major economic reforms such as on pensions. His victory speech, meanwhile, was conciliatory, and he may turn out to be something of a technocrat president, leaving the running of the economy and maybe other aspects of government to those who know better.   

Whatever the case, Bolsonaro must govern in the interests of all Brazilians, not just those who backed him but also the 44% who voted for center-left candidate Fernando Haddad and those who didn't vote at all. He should remember that, despite the weak economy, widespread corruption and rampant crime (64,000 murders last year), especially in his adopted state of Rio de Janeiro, and despite being in jail himself for corrupt practices, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was well ahead in the polls before being disqualified.

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Once elected, politicians are often accused of reneging on their campaign promises, but that is exactly what they need to do at times in order to govern in the interests of all. The fact that 57mn people voted for someone who has been depicted as an extremist, a bigot and even a fascist, doesn't mean that even those people wish to see a Brazil that is isolationist, intolerant and reminiscent of the Wild West.