“Let’s Go Straight to Dictatorship”: The Story of Brazilian Presidential Elect Jair Bolsonaro

By Philip Baillargeon

Nicknamed, “Donald Trump of Brazil,” Jair Bolsonaro has garnered a tightly knit following and an equally tightly knit opposition. He won Brazil’s general election, despite being unable to campaign for several months due to being stabbed during a march he lead on the campaign trail. Regardless of your views of him personally, this was a tragic event, and, sadly, is an accurate representation of Brazilians’ trust for politicians at the moment.

Before this election, “Operation Car Wash” has included the arrest of 160 people and the conviction of 93, including former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will spend 12 years in jail for accepting bribes in the scandal. The president at the time, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in the midst of this scandal.

To give a short summary of a very complicated investigation, Brazilian intelligence uncovered a system of money laundering through gas stations and car washes that paid politicians bribes for their cooperation. The businesses involved were also greatly punished, harming the economy of Brazil as these large companies quickly downsized and laid off thousands of workers at a time to cut costs as they had to pay for their crimes.

So, with the country in crisis and trust for politicians at an all time low, who is Jair Bolsonaro, the heir to the presidency of Brazil?

Bolsonaro was a military man to begin with. He attended the Preparatory School of the Brazilian Army and graduated from the Agulhas Negras Military Academy, later serving seventeen years in the army and rising to the rank of captain by the end of his tenure.

One year after leaving the army, Bolsonaro was elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council in 1989. Two years after that, he was elected to the Federal Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s lower house of Congress, and would serve seven consecutive terms representing Rio de Janeiro.

Right away, Bolsonaro became quite the controversial figure. He called for the restoration of military rule directly after he was elected as a part of a representative democracy. He was also extremely socially conservative, famously stating that he, “would be incapable of loving a homosexual son,” and he would prefer his son, “died in an accident than showed up with some bloke with a moustache.”

When a female member of the Chamber of Deputies called him a rapist, he said, “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it,” and doubled down on this comment later, adding she was, “not his type.”

He served on several committees, including the Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense, the Commission on Human and Minority Rights, and was an alternate member of the Committee on Public Security and Combating Organized Crime. He authored 171 bills throughout his tenure, but was only able to pass two, claiming left wing parties only voted, “by who the author of the bill is.”

So, how did this fringe candidate end up winning? Well, one answer is there was really nobody else left besides fringe candidates. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva tried to run for president a second time, but was convicted and disqualified before the election began.

An interesting side note is “Lula” had an approval rating high enough to win even after he was arrested. He was a very popular president, leaving office with a nearly ninety percent approval rating. His party put forth a new candidate named Fernando Haddad, the former mayor of São Paulo. The party marketed him as “the new Lula”, but he didn’t have the same name recognition as the former president, ultimately leading to his downfall.

Record highs in homicides and organized crime also sparked a large shift in leadership, so people chose the candidate that was a military man to protect them. People are scared, and they want a confident voice to lead them from now on. Bolsonaro was able to take advantage of the fear, stoke it, and claim that he could fix it, gaining much support in the process.

Jair Bolsonaro is the president elect of Brazil. He will, in all likelihood, be the next president of Brazil. He’s a military captain who served for seventeen years. He served in the Federal Chamber of Deputies for seven consecutive terms. He’s socially conservative and he’s not ashamed to state his views, no matter how homophobic or misogynistic they are.

He took control during a time of weakness in his country, where fear spurred by high rates of organized crime and elaborate government corruption scandals narrowed the field of eligible candidates and most voters flocked to him.

He just announced he plans to move the Israel embassy to Jerusalem once he’s sworn into office, a controversial decision first carried out by the 45th President of the United States. So, is Bolsonaro the “Donald Trump of Brazil?”


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