Brazil enters new era with far-right president: Bolsonaro takes office

Brazil enters new era with far-right president (and a First Lady 25 years his junior): Former paratrooper Bolsonaro, 63, is sworn in with promise to sweep away chronic crime and corruption

  • Right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro will be sworn in as Brazil’s president today
  • Former army captain was elected on right-wing promises including greater powers for police to shoot to kill and fewer protections for the rainforest 
  • Bolsonaro, 63, has promised deregulation and reform of costly pension scheme
  • Huge crowds painted in the country’s flag colours gathered in Brasilia today 

Jair Bolsonaro will be sworn in as Brazil’s President today

Right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to crack down on political corruption, violent crime and ignite a moribund economy with deregulation and fiscal discipline, after being sworn in as Brazil’s president today.

Huge crowds have gathered in front of Planalto Palace, in the country’s capital Brasilia anticipation of the inauguration of the one-time paratrooper.

The former Army captain and seven-term fringe congressman rode a wave of anti-establishment anger to became Brazil’s first far-right president since a military dictatorship gave way to civilian rule three decades ago.

Addressing a joint session of Congress minutes after taking the oath of office, Bolsonaro, a former Army captain and admirer of the country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, vowed to adhere to democratic norms.

He said his government would be guided by the promises he made to Brazilian voters fed up with graft, high levels of violent crime and a still-sputtering economy.

‘I will work tirelessly so that Brazil reaches its destiny,’ Bolsonaro said after being sworn in. ‘My vow is to strengthen Brazil’s democracy.’

On the economic front, the new leader promised to ‘create a new virtuous cycle to open markets’ and ‘carry out important structural reforms’ to shore up a yawning public deficit.

Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (L) and his wife Michelle Bolsonaro lead the presidential convoy towards the National Congress for his swearing-in ceremony

Newly sworn-in Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures during his inauguration ceremony at the Congress in Brasilia

Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (L) gestures next to his wife Michelle Bolsonaro as the presidential convoy heads to the National Congress for his swearing-in ceremony, in Brasilia

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (pictured centre) and wife Michele (pictured centre right) head to a Rolls Royce that will take them to the Planalto Palace, where Bolsonaro will receive the presidential band from his predecessor, Michel Temer, in Brasilia, Brazil

The newly inaugurated President was congratulated on Twitter by US President Donald Trump.

He said: ‘Congratulations to President @JairBolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech – the U.S.A. is with you!’

Bolsonaro, 63, has faced charges of inciting rape and for hate crimes because of comments about women, gays and racial minorities.

Oopponents fear his policies will roll back rainforest protections and increase the use of deadly force by police.

Yet his law-and-order rhetoric and plans to ease gun controls have resonated with many voters, especially in Brazil’s booming farm country. 

Bolsonaro plans to realign Brazil internationally, moving away from developing nation allies and closer to the policies of Western leaders, particularly U.S. President Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro often references and who sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to his inauguration.

Brazilians with faces painted in the colours of the national flag turned out in their thousands to celebrate the swearing in of the country’s first right-wing leader in 30 years

Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro gestures during his swearing-in ceremony at Brazil’s National Congress, in Brasilia today

Despite often jarring right-wing rhetoric the former army captain has a broad base of support

Crowds carried national flags, state flags and huge depictions of their leader-elect to the inauguration

In the Brazilian capital, where temperatures reached a high of 26C (78F) there was a party atmosphere

As a clear sign of that diplomatic shift, heplans to move the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with Brazil’s traditional support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue.

Who is Michelle Bolsonaro?

Michelle de Paula Firmo Reinaldo Bolsonaro, 38, is a former parliamentary secretary and the wife of new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

She was born in Ceilândia, only 16 miles (26 kilometres) from Brasilia and previously worked in a supermarket before becoming working at parliament.

She became Bolsonaro’s parlimentary secretary in September 2007 and was promoted multiple times and her salary tripled in the space of two years.

After Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that nepotism was illegal in the public administration, Jair Bolsonaro was forced to fire her.

The couple married in 2007 and  now live in Barra da Tijuca, a wealthy area of Rio de Janeiro

Crowds of supporters, many with the Brazilian flag draped around their shoulders and with faces painted with its yellow and green, gathered before the Planalto palace, where today the presidential sash will be draped on Bolsonaro.

Backed massively by conservative sectors of Brazil, including Christian evangelical churches, Bolsonaro would block moves to legalize abortion beyond even the current limited exceptions and remove sex education from public schools, opposing what he calls ‘cultural Marxism’ introduced by recent leftist governments.

One-third of his cabinet are former army officers, mostly fellow cadets at the Black Needles academy – Brazil’s equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst – and all are outspoken backers of the country’s 1964-1985 military regime.

In an interview with Record TV on the eve of his inauguration, Bolsonaro lashed out at Brazil’s notorious bureaucracy, which makes doing business in the country difficult and expensive. 

He vowed to strip away the so-called ‘Brazil Cost’ that hamstrings private enterprise.

‘The government machine is really heavy,’ he said. 

‘There are hundreds of bureaucratic governing bodies across Brazil, of regulators as well. … We have to untangle the mess.’

Among the socially conservative policies which have found favour are Bolsonaro’s almost-complete opposition to abortion and sex education in schools

In the heat of the Brazilian summer, crowds were sprayed with water from fire engines’ hoses to keep them cool

Firemen drenched the crowds waiting in a sea of green and gold for the arrival of their new President

His vow to follow Trump’s example and pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has worried environmentalists. 

So have his plans to build hydroelectric dams in the Amazon and open up to mining the reservations of indigenous peoples who are seen as the last custodians of the world’s biggest forest.

Brazilian businesses are eager to see Bolsonaro take office and install a team of orthodox economists led by investment banker Paulo Guedes, who has promised quick action in bringing Brazil’s unsustainable budget deficit under control.

Guedes plans to sell as many state companies as possible in a privatization drive that he forecasts could eventually bring in up to 1 trillion reais ($257 billion).

That would help restore order to government finances. The key measure, however, for reducing the deficit and stopping a dangerous rise of Brazil’s public debt will be the overhaul of the country’s costly social security pension system.

A man displays national flag of Israel as supporters of Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to move the Brazilian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and abandon the country’s decades-old support for a two state solution 

People celebrate before the swearing-in ceremony of Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro,

Party all the way: Yesterday supporters of Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro traveled by bus from Sao Paulo to Brasilia to watch the inauguration ceremony, posing for photos in Ribeirao Preto, Brazil

Pension reform will be Bolsonaro’s biggest challenge since he has yet to build a base in Congress, where he has eschewed the political horse-trading that has traditionally helped Brazilian presidents govern the nation of nearly 210 million people.

Bolsonaro may find that lax protection of the environment and human rights could have negative economic effects, more so than those faced by other far-right leaders, given the spotlight on Brazil’s Amazon jungle as a protection against global warming and because the country has more murders than any other nation.

‘I think they will be good on the economy and they will probably be bad for human rights and the environment,’ said Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York.

‘The key question is whether those things can be separated. Most of Wall Street says ‘Yes.’ I have my doubts.’ (Reporting by Anthony Boadle Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo Editing by Brad Brooks, Dan Grebler and Susan Thomas)

President Bolsonaro’s To Do List

Jair Bolsonaro was elected Brazil’s president on promises to overhaul many aspects of Latin America’s largest nation, from changing its international alliances to cracking down on endemic corruption and street crime. Here are five things the far-right leader will likely move to change in the first months of his administration

Jair Bolsonaro during the election, giving a thumbs up to supporters. He made radical promises to drag the country away from decades of centre-left consensus


Last week, the former army captain said that upon taking office he would issue a decree guaranteeing Brazilians without a criminal history the ability to possess firearms. During the campaign, Bolsonaro argued that one way to confront street crime would be to arm more citizens.

Possession of firearms is currently tightly restricted in Brazil, though drug traffickers and other criminal gangs are heavily armed with automatic weapons. Brazil is the annual world leader in total homicides – more than 63,000 in 2017 – and a majority are from firearms.


Bolsonaro has frequently argued that police who fatally shoot criminals during operations should be decorated, not prosecuted. To that end, he has said they should be shielded from prosecution, possibly by having such cases be investigated in a separate process outside the criminal justice system.

Such ideas terrify human rights groups and people who live in poor neighborhoods, where shootouts between police and traffickers often leave criminals, officers and innocent bystanders dead. Some Brazilian police forces, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, are already among the most lethal in the world. Bolsonaro has not detailed how he might achieve such a change.


For decades, Brazilian politicians and international economists have advocated revising the pension system, which now allows many public workers to retire in their early 50s and takes up an increasingly large portion of public expenditures. But many attempts, including by outgoing President Michel Temer, have failed.

Bolsonaro has promised this time will be different, though he has been mostly silent on details. His party will have the second largest bloc in Congress, and many politicians across the spectrum agree changes must be made. Still, he will face stiff resistance as his economic team begins rolling out details before Congress convenes in February.


Bolsonaro said during the campaign he would pull Brazil from the Paris agreement on climate change, then backpedaled after winning the election. Whether Brazil, which has the largest chunk of the Amazon basin in South America, formally stays in the accord may be all but irrelevant: Scientists say the country won’t meet its targets on emissions reductions if Bolsonaro does what he has promised.

Those promises are wide ranging: roll back environmental regulations, promote increased mining and farming, cease demarcation of indigenous lands and allow indigenous tribes to sell their lands. Opponents have warned these policies will wreak havoc on the rights and lives of indigenous tribespeople. The changes will likely come via various methods, from presidential decrees to privatisations.


Bolsonaro has frequently expressed adoration for U.S. President Donald Trump, and he is poised to follow him in foreign policy. He has promised to move the Brazilian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; push back on China, Brazil’s largest foreign investor; ditch regional trade treaties he thinks are bad deals for Brazil; and take a hard line on leftist governments, including that of neighboring Venezuela.

Each one of these changes could present large risks. For example, Middle Eastern countries are some of Brazil’s biggest customers of meats. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem will likely anger many in that region and jeopardize future business. Still, Bolsonaro will come under intense pressure from evangelicals, one of his largest sectors of support, to make good on this promise.


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