Jair Bolsonaro’s election victory has horrified feminists, the LGBTQ+ community, and people who care about the environment – and that’s just for starters.
On Sunday (29 October), Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. The 63-year-old former army captain received 55.2% of the vote – a little over 10% more than his left-wing rival, Fernando Haddad.
Bolsonaro’s victory has sparked celebrations across Brazil from his supporters, many of whom hope he will be able to restore order to a country beset with violent crime and corruption. But for many others, the far-right politician’s rise to power is nothing short of horrifying.
Bolsonaro is the head of the Social Liberal Party (PSL), an anti-establishment but deeply conservative party. And on one level, his appeal is not hard to understand. Bolsonaro has promised that fighting sleaze will be one of his administration’s top priorities – and since 2014, a major criminal investigation called Operation Car Wash has exposed massive corruption among Brazil’s political class.
Brazil’s last democratically-elected president, Dilma Rousseff – who was also the country’s first female president – was impeached and removed from office in 2016 after being accused of manipulating the government’s budget. Her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is currently serving a 12-year jail term for corruption. And Rousseff’s successor, acting president Michel Temer, has been accused of taking millions of dollars’ worth of bribes.
Against this backdrop, it’s perhaps not surprising that so many Brazilians were willing to vote for a candidate who promised to fight corruption (even though Bolsonaro has been entangled in his own corruption scandals, not least when he hired his wife to be his secretary and gave her a series of promotions and pay rises). But there is much more to the country’s new president than his professed desire to clean up politics.
Bolsonaro has been nicknamed the “Trump of the Tropics” for his blatant disregard for the environment and his incendiary remarks about black people and women. He has repeatedly expressed his fondness for guns and dictators. And earlier this year, he was charged with inciting hatred and discrimination against black people, indigenous communities, women and gay people.
Below, we’ve broken down exactly why so many people are frightened by Brazil’s new president.
If you didn’t think it was possible for a president to be more openly misogynistic than Donald Trump, think again. Bolsonaro once told a female representative in Congress that he wouldn’t rape her because she was too ugly, and said in 2000 that while he “never beat [his] ex-wife”, he “thought of shooting her various times”.
Bolsonaro’s anti-women attitudes are not only expressed through provocative statements. Five years ago, he sponsored a bill that would have removed provisions for rape victims from the public healthcare system, and he vowed to maintain Brazil’s draconian abortion laws while on the campaign trail this year.
Since the summer, millions of women opposed to Bolsonaro have banded together online and at demonstrations under the slogan and hashtag #ElNão (‘Not Him’). In late September, hundreds of women – and men – took to the streets across Brazil to protest Bolsonaro’s rise to power, in the biggest women-led marches in the country’s history.
However, many women in Brazil were not put off by Bolsonaro’s misogyny. On 23 October, five days before the election, an opinion poll commissioned by Brazilian research institute Datafolha suggested that 43% of female voters would vote for him.
Bolsonaro, who was a congressman for nearly three decades before being elected president, has a long history of making virulently anti-gay statements. “Yes, I’m homophobic – and very proud of it,” he once said.
In 2010, he opined that parents should beat their sons if they acted in an effeminate way. “If your son begins to act like this, sort of gay, he deserves a smack and he’ll change his behaviour.” He has also explicitly said that he would be horrified if one of his four sons came out as gay: “I’d rather have my son die in a car accident than have him show up dating some guy.”
In an interview with Stephen Fry in 2013, Bolsonaro proclaimed that “Brazilian society doesn’t like homosexuals,” and argued that “homosexual fundamentalists” were brainwashing straight children to “become gays and lesbians to satisfy them sexually in the future”. Despite all this, he now maintains that his government will not try to interfere with LGBTQ+ rights, stating three days before the 28 October election that the government “has nothing do to with anyone’s sexual orientation”.
Yet even if Bolsonaro’s administration does not attempt to roll back legislation that protects and benefits the LGBTQ+ community, his inflammatory rhetoric presents a very real threat to queer people in Brazil. The country is already a dangerous place to be LGBTQ+: at least 445 gay people were violently killed in 2017, according to the Gay Group of Bahia, the nation’s oldest gay-rights organisation. If people feel that the president condones violent homophobia, the consequences could be dire.
Bolsonaro has made many derogatory comments about Brazil’s black population. During a speech in 2017, he said that residents of quilombos – traditional settlements founded by escaped Afro-Brazilian slaves – were “lazy” and “not fit for procreation”.
Earlier this summer, he dismissed the idea that white Brazilians should feel any responsibility for supporting black Brazilians whose ancestors were slaves, stating: “What historic debt do we have with blacks? I never enslaved them.” And in 2011, when asked by a black female reporter what he would do if one of his sons started dating a black woman, he replied: “I don’t run this risk since my sons were very well educated and haven’t lived in environments like yours.”
Bolsonaro has denied that he is racist, and earlier this month rejected support from David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. But perhaps the fact that Duke wanted to support Bolsonaro at all tells you everything you need to know.
His disdain for the environment
Arguably one of the most alarming strands of Bolsonaro’s ideology is his rejection of environmentally-friendly policies. In early October, the UN released a report warning that the world has just 12 years to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Yet Bolsonaro has promised to roll back environmental protection laws, threatened to ban international environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF, and suggested that he will open up indigenous territories and the Amazon rainforest to mining, farming and logging companies.
Towards the beginning of his run for office, he also said he would follow Trump’s lead and withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. He only backtracked days before the election, following an outcry in Brazil and around the world.
Scientists have warned that Bolsonaro’s proposed policies will result in swathes of the Amazon the size of the UK being cleared every year, making it almost impossible for Brazil to meet its climate commitments.
Bolsonaro will not take office until 1 January 2019, and experts are still divided as to exactly how his presidency will play out.
But in the meantime, consider donating money to organisations that support women, LBGTQ+ rights, the environment and indigenous communities, as well as those that work to combat racism. If ever these groups needed the support of people around the world, it’s now.
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