BRASILIA • Brazil entered a new chapter in its history yesterday, embracing a far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro (picture), whose determination to break with decades of centrist rule has raised both hopes and fears.
The former paratrooper and longtime lawmaker was starting his four-year mandate on Jan 1 as required by the constitution, after a night of New Year’s celebrations across the country.
He was taking office with a sky-high approval rating, fuelled by public expectations that he will be a new broom sweeping away chronic crime and corruption, and boosting an economy still limping after a record recession.
“I will bring in politics completely different from that which brought corruption and inefficiency to Brazil,” he said late on Monday in an interview with Record TV.
The 63-year-old comfortably won an October election against Fernando Haddad, a candidate from the leftwing Workers Party which was in power between 2003 and 2016, but ended up marred by a series of graft scandals.
The Workers Party icon, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is serving prison time for corruption.
And his chosen successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached for cooking the government’s books.
In a ceremony marked by pomp and high security, Bolsonaro will formally take over from centre-right Michel Temer, who succeeded Rousseff but made little headway with needed fiscal reform and ended up Brazil’s most unpopular leader ever. Bolsonaro voters hope their man will do better.
He has promised to govern for all of the country’s 210 million Brazilians, and campaigned on vows to eradicate graft, crack down on crime, open up Brazil’s protectionist economy to the free market, and put business interests ahead of environmental protection.
In his interview, he said “we will debureaucratise to the maximum possible” and “clean out” the government, so its “weight” is cut back.
But there has been no sign of him dropping the bluff, shoot-from-thelip style that has earned him comparisons with US President Donald Trump, whom he admires.
Even before taking office, Bolsonaro tweeted he will issue a decree easing gun laws, so “good” citizens can possess weapons to deter criminals.
He also said his education minister will stop “Marxist trash” being taught in schools and universities — a swipe at Workers Party ideology.
Bolsonaro’s track record of waxing nostalgic for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship has stirred some concerns, as have his past disparagements of women, gays and blacks.
A more forceful foreign policy could be on its way, with the new leader saying he will do all he can to challenge leftist-ruled Venezuela and Cuba.
The leaders of those countries, and their ally Nicaragua, were excluded from the guest list to Boslonaro’s inauguration, although Bolivia’s leftwing President Evo Morales did get invited.
Other foreign dignitaries attending include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Hungary’s national Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Bolsonaro and Netanyahu talked up their budding “brotherhood” ahead of the inauguration. And Netanyahu said Bolsonaro had assured him that it was a question of “when” and not “if” Brazil was to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital.
Bolsonaro has already said he will pull his country out of a United Nations global pact on migration, and he is considering whether to keep Brazil in the Paris climate accord.