Advertisement

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.

917-Bolsanaro-634
Jair Bolsonaro's casual misogyny has horrified people

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
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".

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Great frauds in history: Billy McFarland – the man behind the Fyre Festival
People

Great frauds in history: Billy McFarland – the man behind the Fyre Festival

Around 5,000 people paid Billy McFarland up to $100,000 each to attend the lavish Fyre Festival on a Caribbean island. They arrived to find accommodat…
5 Aug 2020
Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting
People

Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting

A lifelong obsession with gambling helped make Stuart Wheeler his fortune. By using that to back the Brexit campaign, he changed the face of British p…
2 Aug 2020
Great frauds in history: Joe Nacchio’s insider trading
People

Great frauds in history: Joe Nacchio’s insider trading

Joe Nacchio, CEO of telecoms firm Qwest, was convicted of 19 counts of insider trading in 2007 and served four years in prison.
30 Jul 2020
Philip Day: the retail knight falls off his horse
People

Philip Day: the retail knight falls off his horse

Retail baron Philip Day, once seen as the saviour of the British high street, is under fire for holding to a monastic silence as his suppliers struggl…
26 Jul 2020

Most Popular

Don’t despair on dividends – these companies could be set to bring them back
Income investing

Don’t despair on dividends – these companies could be set to bring them back

The value of dividends paid out by UK stocks has plummeted this year as companies “rebase” their payment policies. But things could soon start to look…
6 Aug 2020
Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold
Silver and other precious metals

Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold

Gold and silver continue to soar, but there's still time to get in. And there's another precious metal that looks set to go on a bull run too, says Jo…
7 Aug 2020
Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag
Toys and gadgets

Eagle Lightweight GT: the reincarnation of the E-type Jag

Jaguar’s classic E-type sports car has been reinvented for the modern age. The result – the Eagle Lightweight GT – is a thing of beauty.
7 Aug 2020