BRASILIA: 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, was sworn in as Brazil’s president on Tuesday.
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.
Bolsonaro plans to realign Brazil internationally, moving away from developing nation allies and closer to the policies of Western leaders, particularly US President Donald Trump, who sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to his inauguration.
As a clear sign of that diplomatic shift, Bolsonaro plans 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.
Backed massively by conservative sectors of Brazil, including Christian evangelical churches, Bolsonaro would block moves to legalise 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 West Point, all outspoken backers of the country’s 1964-1985 military regime.
Bolsonaro, 63, has faced charges of inciting rape and for hate crimes because of comments about women, gays and racial minorities. Yet his law-and-order rhetoric and plans to ease gun controls have resonated with many voters, especially in Brazil’s booming farm country.
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.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2019