The 2018 election of Far-Right politician Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency shook the Federative Republic of Brazil and rippled across the globe in a way similar to the Shockwave caused by the US election of Donald Trump two years earlier. Supported by the "law and order" lobby, economic elites, and evangelical leaders, Bolsonaro's victory was seen as a threat to human rights and to the country's volatile democracy. Since taking office, he has been trying to make good on those threats.
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, as well as the largest economic force in South America. One of the most diverse societies globally (with a population over 211 million people) is now being led by a man who promotes military dictatorship, violence against political opponents, and strengthening the rule of the rich at the expense of the poor and the oppressed.
Wrapping himself in the Brazilian flag (figuratively speaking), Bolsonaro preached a political gospel of liberating the country from socialism, from "gender ideology," and from "political correctness" with his inaugural speech on January 1, 2019. He called on "each congressperson to help me in the mission of rebuilding and restoring our homeland." The term "homeland" here has more sinister connotations than "patriotic populism"--it's a move into fascist territory. His vision of a country "whitened by iron and fire" is a more obvious example of such rhetoric.
Bolsonaro won the popular vote in both rounds of the 2018 election, which were held on October 7 and 28. To many on the outside, what transpired was a demonstration of Brazil's democracy in action, that it was the people's will to elect Bolsonaro and those who share his views. Others viewed the results as a protest against the Workers' Party (PT), which led the country for thirteen years under presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), popularly known as Lula, and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). But, as usual, there is so much more to the story.
From Army Captain to Career Politician
Jair Messias Bolsonaro was born in Campinas, Brazil, on March 21, 1955. He attended the Preparatory School of the Brazilian Army, graduated from the Agulhas Negras Military Academy in 1977, and went on to serve in the Brazilian Army, rising to the rank of captain. Shortly after leaving the army, he was elected to a seat on the Rio de Janeiro city council in 1989. Two years later, he represented Rio de Janeiro in the federal Chamber of Deputies in the first of seven consecutive terms. His thirty-year career in politics had been, for the most part, unremarkable.
An ineffective legislator with very few bills listed to his credit, Bolsonaro was widely viewed as a fringe character--so much so, that Rio de Janeiro's largest newspaper, Globo, printed cartoons depicting him as a dinosaur wearing army boots. During this time, he displayed the personal thuggery and political extremism he would later use to construct his future presidential platform, as evidenced by numerous inflammatory statements.
In 2014 Bolsonaro told Chamber of Deputies member Maria do Rosario, "I wouldn't rape you because you don't deserve it," and later told a local newspaper she was "too ugly" to sexually assault. Back in 2011, he said he "would be incapable of loving a homosexual son." When speaking about immigrants in 2015, he said, "The scum of the earth is showing up in Brazil, as if we didn't have enough problems of our own to sort out." On the subject of human rights, he said in 1999, "I am in favor of torture, you know that. And the people are in favor as well."
In a 1993 speech to the Chamber of Federal Deputies, Bolsonaro did not mince words when revealing the true foundation of his political beliefs, scorning the very system that granted him his seat in the first place: "I am in favor of a dictatorship. We will never resolve serious national problems with this irresponsible democracy"
A 1964 coup established a military dictatorship in Brazil that lasted until 1985, casting a dark cloud over the country for two decades. The regime was responsible for the imprisonment and torture of thousands, as well as the disappearances and deaths of hundreds. While many Brazilians view this period as a time of terror, Bolsonaro has expressed a desire to return the country to such a state. His critics fear he might be successful in this task.
In March 2019, as the fifty-fifth anniversary of the coup was approaching...