‘Trump of the Tropics’: The Impact of a Jair Bolsonaro Presidency? | Simon Conn
‘I am just hoping women can have peace and feel secure in Brazilian society… Women need to feel valued as well. I am afraid if Bolsonaro wins we will be in danger and violence against women will increase’.
This quote is from Gabriello, a graphic designer from Rio de Janeiro during an interview with ABC News. Out of fear, she did not want to reveal her surname to ABC. This may seem shocking as people generally worry about the volatility of the economy. However, with the election of Jair Bolsonaro known as ‘Trump of the Tropics’, concerns raised by Brazilians, unfortunately, include the rights and safety of women, minority groups and even the very survival of democracy itself in the country.
It is remarkable how Brazil has come to this, with a far-right former military Congressman becoming the President-Elect of the Federative Republic of Brazil. In the first 10 years of the 21st century, Brazil became the fourth largest economy with inflation depreciating from 12.53% to 5.90% in 2015; in the same time period, GDP growth was 3.3%. However, since 2010 inflation has risen sharply again with only 2017 having a lower level than 2010 whilst GDP growth has dropped to 1.4%.
It is worth noting that Bolsonaro will not have the constitutionally enshrined power of Trump or Duterte, the President of the Philippines. It is often the mistake of saying an awful man who is elected is the cause of all the problems that occur in a society – but he’s a symptom of a problem. Ranting and exaggerating about ‘nasty’ things said by an elected official tends to miss the point at hand. Simply put, the first, and most important, the question is: what caused Bolsonaro?
The self-inflicted depression that engulfed Brazil by the country’s left-wing governing Workers Party is a good place to start. The investigation that uncovered this, called Operation Car Wash, showed that this corruption was rife at the highest level (prominently within the state-owned company, ‘Petrobras’). President Dilma Rousseff herself was a director of Petrobras during the first decade of the millennium. Although Rousseff denied it during the investigation and her impeachment trial, she must have been aware of the financial embezzlement that was rife, as she put forward a bill to Congress to change the Budgetary Directives Law, in order ‘to modify the rules of the primary surplus’. This was a significant reason why Rousseff was impeached in 2016.
The fallout that emerged from the Petrobras and other scandals is a key reason why Brazilians voted for Bolsonaro, who convincingly won both the first and second rounds of voting in Brazil. The vast majority of Brazilians supported the investigations and subsequently Bolsonaro as he claimed he would shed light on and help end the widespread corruption that is clearly prevalent.
Moreover, Bolsonaro was not the Workers Party candidate, who was represented by Fernando Haddad, the same political party with whom Brazilians grew angry during the Petrobras corruption scandal that engulfed Brazil. Similar to the recent US and French elections, Bolsonaro was elected because he was the pick of a bad bunch. Macron, who was elected due to the virtue of his youth, benefited from the stained reputation that came with Marie Le Pen and her family.
But the rise of Bolsonaro and his popularity in Brazil does not mean that he is popular with the majority of Brazilians. His Presidency will still immensely impact Brazil and its people and thus it is the potential impacts I will analyse in this article.
Bolsonaro is an apologist of misogyny. In 2014, Bolsonaro regarded Congresswoman Rosario as ‘un-rapeable’ due to the fact that she was ‘too ugly’ to be raped. Women are already held back in ascending to high-level positions in organisations; the average salary for women in Brazil is $250 per month while for men it was nearly double at $461 per month. Thus, they are reliant on men for their income to be topped up and have to take up more occupational roles such as homemaking in order to have a stable life. Despite this, according to Globo, a Brazilian free to air network, women statistically stay in school longer and achieve more university degrees than their male counterparts.
In regards to the LGBT community, Bolsonaro stated that if he saw ‘two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up’ as well as bluntly advocating that he would be ‘incapable of loving a homosexual son’ preferring him to ‘die in an accident’
Like women and the LGBT community, Bolsonaro holds little empathy for the Brazilian indigenous community as well. He states, ‘Indians are small, uneducated and don’t speak our language’ and that their communities are in the way of ‘business’. It is significant that
he plans to fold the Environment Ministry and instead merge it into the Agriculture Ministry; while the Environment Ministry is mandated to protect the environment, they would likely support those who wish to exploit forests and turn it into arable land. This would unquestionably threaten the existence of indigenous tribes in the Amazon. Brazil has approximately 100 uncontacted tribes in Brazil whose land is under threat if Bolsonaro moves forward with his plans for deforestation of parts of the Amazon. The Brazilian Government released a video this year of a man referred to as ‘The Last of His Tribe’. He is the only survivor of his people due to illegal ranching and logging.
Yes, these indigenous tribes may not be economically prosperous to Brazil but they are a legacy of how our ancestors once lived when finding their feet the world, and if indigenous land in which they rely on for their existence is destroyed then, as the Guardian puts it ‘this vital part of human diversity will be wiped out forever’. Something which no person could excuse.
With Bolsonaro becoming President on the 1st January 2019, what would a Bolsonaro government mean for women and minority groups in Brazil? The unprovoked attacks against women who opposed Bolsonaro during his campaign could become institutionalised and legitimised by the majority of his supporters who support his rhetoric, instigated under the guise of cracking down on dissenters and gangs. Bolsonaro has stated that he would give police free-reign and protection for the actions that they commit. Therefore, it is no wonder that women and minority groups in Brazil fear what may occur from January 1st. Many may be targeted if the police and their associates know that they could potentially be immune from punishment.
Apart from his rhetoric and his threat to women and other minorities in Brazil, Bolsonaro is also a threat to the democracy that Brazil now enjoys. Bolsonaro over his political life has made no commitment to continuing democracy in the country. He bluntly once told Congress that he is in favour of a dictatorship. He admires the methods that were used by the dictatorship in Brazil to consolidate power – amongst which were tortures and extrajudicial killings – and Bolsonaro supports, with his opinion that the dictatorship only failed as their ‘mistake was to torture without killing’.
Although supportive of dictatorship, Bolsonaro has denied plans to lead Brazil back into its dark past with his slogans being ‘authority without authoritarianism’. Nonetheless, he will be surrounded with those of a military background containing people who are also supportive of a return to dictatorship. His pick for Vice-President Antonio Mourao, is a retired General who is far more controversial than Bolsonaro. He has stated the possibility of an auto-coup if anarchy occurs soon after Bolsonaro becomes President. Bolsonaro also threatens the democratic framework of the country by calling for a new constitution to Brazil, written by unelected allies as, in his words, the constitution that was implemented shortly after the return to democracy in 1988 was a ‘mistake’. The fact that he surrounds himself with military strongmen supports the fears of a military rule.
However, all is not lost for Brazilian democracy – it would be extremely unlikely for Brazilian democracy to be transformed back into a more authoritarian style of government. Brazil is an example of a ‘deadlock democracy’ where, due to the proportional representation system, weak parties and independent politicians have greater power than they might otherwise have. Brazil will therefore have upwards of over 30 political parties represented in their Congress from 2019 with Bolsonaro’s Social Liberals the second largest party with 52 seats out of 513. The Workers Party will still have the largest seat share, at 56. The fact that the Workers Party has the largest control of seats in Congress means that they can work with minority parties to block Bolsonaro legislation.
As a Conservative, I believe that individuals should forge their own destiny: leaders should empower and protect their people. A Bolsonaro presidency would most likely not respect this. As shown in this article, his Presidency will impact Brazilian society. Women and minority groups such as LGBT may now start to live in fear of indiscriminate attacks by police and Bolsonaro supporters. They would also likely be worried by violence from their fellow citizens due to the anti-gay and misogynistic rhetoric that Bolsonaro voices. Indigenous tribes who have no idea who Jair Bolsonaro or even what Brazil is will be at his mercy. The very fabric of Democracy itself will also be tested. I have faith that democracy will survive in Brazil due to the proportional representation that exists. Opposition parties will be able to block Bolsonaro legislation from manoeuvring through Congress and due to the unproductive nature of Brazils political system; this will most likely be the case. Bolsonaro may be a knee-jerk reaction to the problems that have plagued Brazil in the recent past, however, it is necessary to have Brazil as a strong and secure economic, social and political country in the South America. However, only history will judge the overall impact the Presidency of Jair Bolsonaro will have on Brazil and its people.