Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, had some good years between 2003 and 2013. In 2010, the Brazilian GDP increased 7.5 per cent, two times more than the world average of 4.3 per cent and three times North America’s index of 2.6 per cent.
Western media during that period often referred to Brazil as a rising star.
However, for many reasons, the rise was brief.
Since 2013, the country has faced many uncommon situations, including the tightest, most polarized election in the nation’s history in 2014, two major GDP retreats (-3.7 per cent in 2015 and -3.6 per cent in 2016), the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 and the controversial arrest of its most popular political leader, former president Lula da Silva, in April 2017, followed by corruption and money laundering convictions.
In this chaotic scenario, many Brazilians saw the 2018 general elections as an opportunity to return to normal and bid a final farewell to political crisis. Jair Bolsonaro, a former Army captain elected six times as a congressman, won the election with 55 per cent of the popular vote, defeating the leftist Workers Party candidate.
Bolsonaro is well-known, especially because of his innumerable controversies and explosive comments, including his infamous statement that “the mistake of Brazilian army dictatorship was not to have killed 30,000 people, starting with the president.” He says he’s in favor of torture and ordered celebrations for the 55th anniversary of a military coup that left more than 400 dead, resulted in thousands of people being tortured and lead to the shuttering of parliament from 1964 to 1985.
Women and LGBTQ people are among his primary targets. He said in 2011 that would be unable to love a gay son and would prefer a homosexual son die in an accident. To a rival congresswoman, Bolsonaro said in 2014: “I would never rape you because you’re not worthy of it.”
How Did He Win?
So how was someone like Bolosnaro able to win the election in a country like Brazil? Several factors explain his victory.
In the election campaign, the left was divided into two candidates in the first round. Additionally, the Workers Party —once helmed by former presidents Rousseff and da Silva— was immersed in several corruption scandals, especially related to briberies involving the Brazilian state oil company. Polls showed almost 50 per cent of the Brazilian electorate had rejected the left as the election neared.
Less than a month before the first-round poll, Bolsonaro was stabbed at a public rally as he walked among hundreds of supporters. His life in danger, he underwent emergency surgery and remained in the hospital for some weeks.
Brazilian police arrested the alleged attacker, a former leftist party member. Now the victim of an attack, the incident worked in Bolsonaro’s favor. In the final October poll, Bolsonaro was elected the 38th Brazilian president, winning more than 55 per cent of the vote.
More Controversy, Lack of Preparedness
In the months since, however, many Brazilians who voted for him in the hopes of leaving political crises behind them are disappointed. His government has only a 34 per cent approval rate. A spate of social media controversies involving not only the president but his three sons, all politicians and equally polemic, helps to explain.
During the recent Brazilian Carnival, when thousands of tourists come to the country, Bolsonaro tweeted out a sexually explicit video of two men on the street during a Carnival parade.
“I don’t feel comfortable showing it, but we have to expose the truth to the population (…). This is what many street carnival groups have become in Brazil,” the president wrote to his 3.4 million followers.
He was mocked by progressive Brazilians.
Bolsonaro’s perceived lack of initiatives is also bothering many Brazilians. On education, in particular, policy has been seemingly ignored in place of Bolsonaro speeches “in defense of the traditional family” and against “Marxist indoctrination,” “Communism” and other imaginary enemies.
An official document entitled “message to congress” was recently sent to Brazil’s parliament; just 10 of its 285 pages pertained to education, and contained the same vague ideas from Bolsonaro’s campaign platform.
‘Where Are the Goals?’
At a recent education commission hearing, 25-year-old congresswoman Tabata Amaral directly asked the education minister: “Where are the projects? Where are the goals? What are the expected results?” She concluded that after three months, the document showed by the minister to the commission was not a strategic plan, but a simple “wish list.” The video of the exchange went viral on social media in Brazil.
In a style similar to Bolsonaro’s, Education Minister Ricardo Velez Rodriguez has become notorious for unfortunate statements. In an interview with the country’s biggest magazine, he said: “The traveling Brazilian is a cannibal. Steals things from hotels, steals plane’s lifeguard seats; he thinks he leaves the house and can take everything.” The outcry was even louder since Rodriguez is not a native Brazilian; he was born in Colombia.
It’s not just education that the government is allegedly neglecting. There has been scant policy on health or social welfare either.
In recent weeks, just a few months after Bolsonaro’s election, many Brazilians are waking up to the reality that if they’d hoped to escape political corruption, they have chosen a seemingly ill-prepared president.
The most accurate definition of Bolsonaro’s term so far was arguably made by a mayor and former presidential ally: “The government is a desert of ideas.”