On the rampage


Jair Bolsonaro and his wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, after the swearing-in ceremony in Brasilia, on January 1
; PHOTO/Andre Penner/AP

President Jair Bolsonaro goes about trampling on the rights of indigenous communities, casting aside environmental laws and tinkering with the education system in order to “free” Brazil from the clutches of socialism.

Brazilians can expect a tumultuous new year after the swearing-in of its extreme right-wing President, Jair Bolsonaro, on January 1. Of the right-wing populist candidates who have won elections in Latin America in recent times, Bolsonaro is by far the most reactionary. On the campaign trail, he advocated giving the police and the army unfettered rights and railed against members of the LGBTQ community, coloured people, feminists and the indigenous communities of Brazil. Bolsonaro has been openly saying that he is a proud “homophobe”.

Bolsonaro also does not give a damn about Brazil’s rainforest, which is called the lungs of the world. He had promised to cast aside the strict environmental laws that have managed to protect a sizeable part of the Amazon from depredation by agriculturists, ranchers and miners. He had compared indigenous communities living in the Amazon to animals living in the zoo. Bolsonaro, a retired army captain, is also an unabashed supporter of the brutal military regime that ran Brazil for two decades since the mid 1960s.

In a speech delivered after he was sworn in, Bolsonaro was at his incendiary best. He said that his election signalled the freeing of Brazilians “from socialism”. Like his role model Donald Trump, Bolsonaro is known for shooting from the hip and cares little for facts or truth. Brazil has never had a socialist economy despite being under the rule of the left-wing Workers’ Party for much of the last decade and a half. It was corruption on a grand scale under a capitalist system that laid the groundwork for the emergence of a racist demagogue like Bolsonaro.

The polarised nature of Brazilian politics was evident as the Workers’ Party boycotted the inauguration ceremony. Among the prominent guests present were Mike Pompeo, the United States Secretary of State, and other right-wing leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Netanyahu was the first Israeli Prime Minister ever to visit Brazil. Bolsonaro has pledged to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Arab League has warned Brazil against making such a move. The only other major country that has done so is the U.S. The regional media have dubbed Bolsonaro “the Trump of the tropics”. Steve Bannon, Trump’s election strategist and “alt-right” leader of the global neofascist movement, advised Bolsonaro during his campaign.

Controversial appointments

Bolsonaro’s Cabinet is very much reflective of his ideological mindset. It comprises retired military men, big business representatives and right-wing ideologues. Most of his political appointees have very little political experience and administrative expertise. A significant number of the top officials he has appointed are from the military. Among his most controversial appointees is Sergio Moro, the so-called crusading judge who was responsible for the sentencing of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on what many Brazilians believe were trumped-up charges. Lula da Silva was comfortably ahead of Bolsonaro in the opinion polls in the run-up to the elections before he was arrested and barred from contesting.

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