Brazil’s Controversial President is Sworn in

The rise of the "Trump of the Tropics".

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Uncertainty, fear, and pride pervaded in Latin America’s’ largest nation as Brazil’s new far-right President, Jair Bolsonaro, was sworn into office on New Year’s Day. The rise of the conservative and controversial President has drawn parallels to President Trump’s surprise election, with many dubbing Bolsonaro the “Trump of the Tropics.”

Bolsinaro and his wife in the inaugural parade.

Unfortunately for Brazil, Bolsonaro may prove an even more dangerous and divisive leader than President Trump. For many years, Jair Bolsonaro was simply a radical right-wing Congressman known for making controversial comments.

As a former Army Captain, Bolsonaro has praised Brazil’s former military dictatorship and has called for the use of torture in prisons. He has made other incendiary comments, such as telling a fellow Congresswoman, “I wouldn’t rape you” because she was “too ugly.” He also said that, “I would be incapable of loving a homosexual son” and that, if his son were gay, he would hope that he would die in a car accident.

Despite these comments, Bolsonaro attracted the support of many Brazilians who were frustrated with the corruption that has become commonplace in Brazil. Over the past few years, the Brazilian government has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that led to the imprisonment of a former President and the impeachment of another, as well as the ousting of huge swaths of Congress. Much of the recent corruption took place under the former Socialist Presidents, which led many voters to be against Bolsinaro’s opponent who was a member of the socialist party.

Bolsonaro supporters at his campaign rally.

Bolsonaro appealed to many voters by running on an anti-establishment, anti-corruption platform that appealed to many Brazilians.

Additionally, Brazilians are upset about soaring unemployment and the nation’s murder rate, which is the highest in the world. Bolsonaro has said he will address these issues by increasing civilian gun ownership and cutting regulations to help business.

The slashing of regulations has raised many concerns, especially among environmentalists, who were dismayed this week when Bolsonaro issued an executive order transferring regulatory nature reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby. This is especially concerning in Brazil which is home to much of the Amazon rainforest, one of the world most biodiverse regions that provide 20% of the world’s oxygen. Therefore, the destruction of the Amazon would be extremely detrimental to the entire world.

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Bolsonaro received a bump in the polls after he was stabbed and nearly killed by a deranged man who supported his opponent. Many experts have said that the stabbing actually helped Bolsonaro by emboldening his supporters and garnering sympathy for him.

Bolsianro reacting after being stabbed.

For me, this story has a personal significance, since I have Brazilian ancestry and have a large family still living in Brazil.

This summer, while visiting my family in Brazil, I asked them about the election and the state of the Government.

The response I received was thought-provoking and disturbing in equal measure. They had no hope. They had lost faith in the government. They felt that no matter what happened, what reforms were promised, or who was elected, nothing would get better.

This is a marked difference from the United States, where even if people are dismayed with the current state of politics, they still know deep-down that our democracy will protect us. In Brazil, they do not have this faith.

This truly made me sad. Brazil is a beautiful country which has many natural resources and so much potential. Yet it has been mismanaged and taken advantage of for so long. I have many fears about Bolsonaro — from his threat to the environment to civil rights to abortion access. However, I do think perhaps he can still do some good.

He is a big supporter of Israel, something that I believe is necessary to combat the rise of anti-semitism around the world. He has many well-known economists as part of his team who may be able to help Brazil regain its financial footing. He has hired one of Brazil’s biggest anti-corruption crusaders to be his Minister of Justice. He has also seemed to moderate some of his opinions now that he has been sworn in as President. I do not dispute that he may have a major detrimental impact on the country in many areas, but I also hope that he will enact policies that help Brazil return to the right path.