Jair Bolsonaro: the Trump of the Tropics set to lead Brazil

Pervasive corruption in Latin America’s biggest economy threatens to propel another populist to power. Jair Bolsonaro, a brash, misogynistic former army captain, could wreak havoc. Jane Lewis reports.

Jair Bolsonaro's casual misogyny has horrified people

Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Brazil has been hit by a political earthquake, says CBS News. The victory of Jair Bolsonaro a "brash", far-right former army captain in the first round of the country's presidential election at the weekend promises to turn the country on its head. Bolsonaro captured almost 50% of the vote and will face Fernando Haddad of the Workers' Party in a run-off later this month.

Advertisement - Article continues below

He promises to restore "traditional values" to Brazil including jailing crooked politicians, giving police "a freer hand to shoot drug traffickers", and allowing private citizens to carry weapons. The fact that he himself was nearly fatally stabbed while campaigning appears to have only boosted his popularity.

Harnessing social media

Bolsonaro's supporters call him "Mito", or "Legend". But he has inevitably been dubbed "the Trump of the Tropics". Like Trump, Bolsonaro has capitalised on social media to communicate directly with the public. And his rhetoric "has also shown stark parallels" with the US president. Bolsonaro's "casual misogyny" ("I would never rape you because you don't deserve it," he once told a leftist congresswoman) and his "nostalgia for Brazil's 1964-85 military rule" have horrified many people in the country, says The Times.

Advertisement - Article continues below

But he has also "galvanised large swathes" of an electorate increasingly disillusioned with a political culture many see as hopelessly corrupt. The "Car Wash" scandal, centring on the former state-owned oil company, Petrobras, has implicated "four former presidents, a third of the lower congressional house and half the senate". Bolsonaro's "nemesis" and chief rival, the former president Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, is currently serving more than 12 years in jail for corruption.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Bolsonaro, 63, and a father of five, presents himself "as an outsider untouched by the corruption claims", even though he has served seven terms in congress. "I spent 17 years in the Brazilian army. I know what hierarchy and discipline mean," he observed last year. "Yet there have long been questions surrounding the myths underlying [his] carefully cultivated image," says the Financial Times. Born in Glicrio in So Paulo in 1955 to working-class parents of Italian descent, Bolsonaro claims to have been galvanised by witnessing a shoot-out between police and the prominent leftist guerrilla, Carlos Lamarca, in 1970.

Murky military career

But friends say his later boasts of helping soldiers "track the guerrilla in the nearby jungle" are "rubbish". He also seems to have landed himself in trouble several times. He was once accused of "irregular conduct" and of being "unfit to be an officer".

Despite once observing that a former president "should face a firing squad for privatising state companies", Bolsonaro these days paints himself as an "economic liberal". The markets are optimistic, says Citywire. But at what price, asks Gideon Rachman in the FT. Bolsonaro's rise "is not just a Brazilian soap opera", it is an event of global significance: "the latest chapter in an unfolding story about the destruction of liberal norms and the rise of populism".

Until recently, Brazil was seen "as a model of a nation" that had successfully "left the dark days of authoritarianism behind it". Bolsonaro's probable elevation to "the growing club of strongman leaders" is further evidence "we are entering a new and darker phase of world history".




Wirecard's Markus Braun: schmoozing the elite with tech twaddle

Markus Braun, the self-styled tech visionary behind failed German tech firm Wirecard, was adept at fooling the gullible. There were red flags from the…
4 Jul 2020

Great frauds in history: Nick Leeson – the man who broke Barings Bank

"Rogue trader" Nick Leeson’s losses cost his employer, Barings Bank, an estimated £860m, plunging it into bankruptcy.
1 Jul 2020

Jack Dorsey: Twitter’s chief comes of age

Jack Dorsey has had a turbulent ride of late, but his strategy of thinking big and biding his time seems to be paying off.
29 Jun 2020
Investment strategy

Great frauds in history: Nevin Shapiro’s groceries scam

Nevin Shapiro's "grocery diverting" business was in reality nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.
24 Jun 2020

Most Popular


House price crash: UK property prices are falling – so where next?

With UK property prices falling for the first time in eight years, are we about to see a house price crash? John Stepek looks at what’s behind the sli…
2 Jul 2020

How can markets hit new record highs when the economy is in such a mess?

Despite the world being in the midst of a global pandemic, America's Nasdaq stock index just hit an all-time high. And it's not the only index on a bu…
3 Jul 2020

The end of the bond bull market and the return of inflation

Central bank stimulus, surging post-lockdown demand and the end of the 40-year bond bull market. It all points to inflation, says John Stepek. Here’s …
30 Jun 2020