Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration as Brazil’s head of state will take place on Jan. 1, amid a wave of record optimism: according to a poll by Datafolha, no less than 65 percent of Brazilians believe that their life will improve under the new government, almost three times the percentage who agreed with that statement five months ago (before the neo-fascist candidate’s victory).
It matters little whether this optimism is due to the “honeymoon effect” that usually accompanies the beginning of each new presidency, or is a continuing effect of the parallel reality created on social media, which also proved decisive for the outcome of the vote. Whatever the reasons behind it, this data point could hardly be more baffling, given the gaffes, announcements predictably followed by denials, amateurishness and incompetence which have already marked the upcoming administration, whose supporters have renamed themselves the “Armada Bolsoleone” (“Bolsoleone army”).
The most disastrous moves so far have been in the field of foreign policy, threatening to lead the country down the path of international isolation: from thoughtless statements about China, Brazil’s number one trade partner, to the withdrawal of Brazil’s candidacy to host the UN COP25 Conference on climate change in 2019—including a possible withdrawal of the country from the Paris Agreement—all the way to the announcement of the intention to transfer the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a measure then partially denied, reconfirmed, denied again, and so on.
In particular, the choice of ministers for the new government makes the Brazilian people’s “sleep of reason” near-incomprehensible—starting with the Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araújo, who likes to talk about Trump as a sort of Messiah destined to save Western civilization from “globalist cultural Marxism,” and about Bolsonaro himself as someone anointed by God to bring an end to the country’s previous “corrupt and atheist” regime.
In fact, the whole composition of the new government shows, on one hand, full continuity with the ultra-neoliberal policies of the extremely unpopular Temer government (which can be seen, in particular, in the person of the Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, and the head of the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES), Joaquim Levy), and, on the other hand, the twin marks of political neo-fascism and religious fundamentalism, the defining traits of Team Bolsonaro.
These traits are clearly seen not only in the large group of military figures on his team—led by vice president elect Antônio Mourão, an unabashed supporter of the military dictatorship—but also in figures such as the Education Minister, Ricardo Velez, who is convinced that the 1964 military coup freed the country from Communism and that Brazilians are “hostages” to an educational system aimed at “imposing indoctrination rooted in the Marxist ideology on society.”
Not to mention the Evangelical pastor Damares Alves, who will be the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, and who, in addition to being against abortion even in cases of rape, has been the object of much mockery after she announced that she had seen Jesus at the foot of a guava tree.
To sum up, the new administration is a deadly mix of “authoritarianism, intolerance, amateurishness, ultra-neoliberalism, subordination to imperialist interests, and, above all, fanaticism,” in the words of the sociologist Marcelo Zero.
Nor can the Brazilians’ optimism towards the new government be justified by its supposed anti-corruption agenda: a substantial number of ministers are already under investigation, and the Bolsonaro family has been hit by a scandal which clearly looks to be major in scope, concerning the suspicious bank transactions made by Flávio Bolsonaro’s former driver, Fabrício Queiroz (a friend of the entire family of the president-elect), worth a total of 1.28 million reals (around $330,000), sums which cannot be justified from his modest income, and which include a transfer of 24,000 reals in favor of the president-elect’s wife.
The scandal will most likely be hushed up, given the fact that the judicial authorities have so far allowed Queiroz to delay his testimony indefinitely, because of alleged health reasons.
This is, in short, the climate in which Bolsonaro is preparing to assume the leadership of the country, in a ceremony that will have only 12 heads of states and governments attending. The list includes, in addition to Netanyahu, such distinguished representatives of the far right as Viktor Orbán, Ivan Duque, Sebastián Piñera and Juan Orlando Hernández, who will be joined by Tabaré Vázquez and—shockingly—Evo Morales.
Donald Trump, Bolsonaro’s idol, will not be there, represented instead by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Nor will his new friend Matteo Salvini, who, despite the mutual declarations of love between the two, has made it known that he will only support Bolsonaro “from a distance, in order to not be misunderstood by the Italian press.”
As expected, Miguel Diaz-Canel will be absent, as well as, most prominently, Nicolás Maduro, who had actually received an invitation from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry (a fact it later tried to deny), and whose government put out the following public statement in response: “The Socialist, Revolutionary and Free Government of Venezuela would never attend the inauguration of a president who is the expression of intolerance, of fascism and of surrender to interests contrary to Latin American and Caribbean integration.”
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.