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Trump of the Tropics

Brazil's new right wing President will take over from the Worker's Party. Source: Rafaela Biazi (via Unsplash)

By Eduardo Karas

On Sunday, October 28, Brazil elected its future president: Jair Bolsonaro, a 63 year old former army captain. He has been famously referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics” by publications including The Economist. Much like Trump, he portrays himself as an outsider of traditional politics, despite being part of the Lower House of Brazilian Congress for the past 28 years. He has made a fair share of controversial statements and used disinformation as part of his campaign strategy.

He defeated Fernando Haddad, member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party), which had led Brazil for most of the previous 15 years, despite a series of political and economical scandals. In fact, these controversies can be seen as one of the causes of Bolsonaro’s election, as a significant portion of the population expressed opposition to the Worker’s Party.

Moreover, Brazil finds itself in the wake of an economic crisis, perceived to be caused by the previous governments left-wing economic policies. Bolsonaro represented a clear opposition to this, with his leading economic advisor being Paulo Guedes, a liberal and open-market economist that studied at the University of Chicago. Finally, another leading point in his campaign was the high crime rates of the country, for which he offered quick solutions, such as increased investment in police, carte blanche for them to kill and the liberation of gun ownership for the general populance.

However, the reason the president-elect has become infamous internationally is his stance in social and environmental issues. A fervant defender of the “traditional Brazilian family”, Bolsonaro has a history of homophobic and misogynistic comments. In 2010, during an official debate in Congress, he said that being gay was a result of a lack of beating.

In 2015, he said that a fellow congresswoman was “not worth raping, as she was ugly”. During his campaign, he also discussed his plan for the environment, namely abolishing the government environment agencies and its policies of reserves and indigenous lands. Much of this land is located in the Amazon Rainforest and the loss of its protection would lead to mass deforestation.

During his campaign, Jair also expressed his admiration for Donald Trump and, in a recent tweet, the compliment was returned by the American President. Trump was not the only right-wing leader to congratulate the Brazilian; Matteo Salvini, the Italian prime minister, Marine Le Pen, the runner-up in French election of 2017, and Steve Bannon, former advisor to Trump, are just a few of his international supporters. In this context, it becomes apparent that the world has taken a sharp turn to the right, with authoritarian, nationalistic and conservative leaders assuming power all over the world.

Leaders such as Bolsonaro, Trump and Philippines’ Duterte have all taken power, despite, or perhaps because, of their critical stances of democracy, focus on security and nationalistic discourse. These are three very different countries in three different corners of the world. Then why is that their leaders have so much in common?

One element is a general discontent with democracy, as cases of corruption, such as the Panama Papers, mount. Another, perhaps more emotionally powerful argument, is the perceived fear of globalisation. As identities become more and more influenced by outside culture, some react by “fighting back” through isolation, violence and dismissal of human and civil rights issues, to instead focus on their own safety. However, as represented by fierce opposition by 45% of the Brazilian population, there is always going to be someone to stand on the way of hate and inhumanity.

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