Brazil's new far-right leader puts crime in his sights

Louis Genot, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 01 2019 03:29 PM

Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro salutes before receiving a confirmation of his victory in the recent presidential election in Brasilia, Brazil Dec. 10, 2018. Adriano Machado, Reuters

BRASILIA -- Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's new president, persuaded voters in Latin America's biggest country to elevate him to leader on extreme-right vows to restore security that eclipsed his record of racism, misogyny and homophobia.

The 63-year-old former paratrooper and veteran lawmaker is openly nostalgic for the 1964-1985 military dictatorship that imposed calm in the streets.

But he denies being a threat to democracy, saying he will be a "slave to the constitution" who will govern "with authority but not authoritarianism."

The man with the sharp blue gaze has vowed to ease gun laws to allow "good" people to dispense justice themselves.

"If a truck driver is armed when someone tries to steal his cargo, the robber is killed," and the driver will go unpunished, he said the day after his election. "That will cut violence in Brazil for sure."

Bolsonaro himself was the victim of violence. On Sept. 6, as he was campaigning, he was stabbed in the stomach by a mentally unbalanced lone assailant in a crowd, nearly costing him his life.

That only burnished his image as a "legend" -- the nickname his most ardent supporters have given him.


A keen social media user, with 9 million followers on his Facebook page, Bolsonaro shares quite a bit in common with US President Donald Trump.

Both prefer electronic messaging directly to their base without having to answer pesky journalists' questions, and both regularly mangle syntax -- yet come up with pithy sayings their fans gleefully repeat.

Bolsonaro's political stance on issues other than crime is not entirely clear as he has changed direction and parties several times over the years.

For instance, while he has in the past hewed to a protectionist view of Brazil economy, he flipped ahead of the election to bring in a US-trained economist with free-market views, Paulo Guedes, into his team. Guedes will be his economy minister, heading up a superministry in charge of finances, investment and labor.

Unlike Trump, Bolsonaro had a long political career behind him before his election, having held a seat in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies since 1991. Nevertheless, he presents himself as an outsider.

"He speaks of politicians as if he isn't part of their world. He's managed to give off an image of a strongman who has a hard line and who will fight corruption," explained Michael Mohallem, a law professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

He is backed by powerful lobbies in parliament, notably those representing the interests of agribusiness and evangelicals.

Bolsonaro himself is Catholic, a fact that has earned him some scorn from the religious for having fathered five children from three relationships. After having 4 sons he said in 2017 he must have "weakened" because his last offspring was a daughter.

Three of his sons are politicians. The eldest, Flavio, who was elected to the senate, has been caught up in a scandal over suspect transactions in the name of a former aide that far surpassed the aide's salary.

Bolsonaro has also had to rap the knuckles of his third-born, Eduardo, several times. For instance that son, a deputy, has said he would welcome a referendum on bringing back the death penalty, prompting his father to tweet that the issue would not even be brought up during his mandate.


Bolsonaro was born in 1955 in Campinas, a town close to the megalopolis of Sao Paulo, to a family of Italian descent.

His military career was marked by moments of insubordination, and in the 1980s he was accused of being involved in a bomb plot designed to bring about a pay rise.

But he was also known in the army, where he rose to the rank of captain, for his sporting prowess, earning him the nickname of "Cavalao," or "Big horse."

Bolsonaro has spent most of his political career in Rio, where he was elected a municipal councilor in 1988 before winning his first mandate as a federal deputy three and a half years later.

In Congress, he earned a reputation more for his controversial insults and remarks than for legislative work, passing only 2 bills in 27 years.

In 2014 he created headlines by verbally attacking a left-wing deputy, Maria do Rosario, who he said was "not worth raping" because he considered her "too ugly." Two years later he created more waves by positively evoking a torturer from the dictatorship era.

Bolsonaro has also multiplied anti-gay statements. In 2011, for instance, he told Playboy magazine that he would prefer to see a son "killed in an accident" than declare himself homosexual.

© Agence France-Presse