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From homophobia to torture apologism – here’s a complete history of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s shady career

28 Aug 2019

Photography via Flickr

TW: Mentions of torture and homophobic, sexual and racial violence

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro was sworn into presidency on 1 January 2019. Since then, his leadership has seen him try to relax mining regulations in indigenous territory and loosen gun laws, saying in a news conference at the beginning of the year that it is an “individual right of the one who may want to have a firearm or seek the possession of a firearm.”

Despite thousands of people being brutalised and hundreds killed during Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship, the current president is notorious for praising that period of political rule from 1964 -1985. Military-man Jair Bolsonaro became popular amongst voters who were cynical of Brazil’s new civilian democratic government, eventually becoming a congressman in 1991.

The parallels between Bolsonaro and Donald Trump are uncanny, but not unexpected. Bolsonaro poses as the “everyman”, a key strategy of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. According to economist Rodrigo Sias who is close to the Bolsonaro family, the president inhabits “the mind of an average Brazilian.” Bolsonaro dresses his rhetoric in flagrant, anti-establishment scepticism, appealing to disenfranchised members of the community. With his political dealings corrupt at best, and pro-fascist at worst, we’ve collated a list of his most abhorrent activities.

Bolsonaro’s homophobic, sexist and racist campaign:

• In 2003, Bolsonaro was infamously caught on tape spewing hateful dialogue that is eerily resonant of Donald Trump’s misogyny. He fired at congresswoman Maria do Rosário after she criticised him for promoting violence, saying, “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it…Slut!” He responded to the footage saying he would not rape do Rosario because she is “ugly” and “not his type.”

• Not only has Bolsonaro compared homosexuality to pedophilia, but in 2011 Bolsonaro told Playboy Magazine that if he saw “two guys holding hands” in the street he would “beat them up.” His vicious homophobic vitriol only got worse when he said, “I’d be incapable of loving a homosexual son. I’d rather he die in an accident.”

• During his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro claimed that minorities, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community, indigenous people and black people, should “bow to the majority… or disappear.”

• Another of Bolsonaro’s campaign promises was to cut back on Brazil’s affirmative action policies. The then-presidential candidate said that he could not trust the achievements of those who had been granted university education through the country’s quota system. However, corroborated evidence shows that these students perform just as well as their non-beneficiary peers.

• In February 2014, Bolsonaro fervently spoke in favour of prisons, saying that they are “wonderful places.” He ranted, “Are we obliged to give these bastards [criminals] a good life? They spend their whole lives fucking us and those of us who work have to give them a good life in prison. They should fuck themselves, full stop. That’s it, dammit!”

• In a 2014 interview with Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora, Bolsonaro argued that women and men should not receive the same salaries, because women can become pregnant and therefore, legislation authorising paid maternity leave stunts work productivity.

• In July 2017, Bolsonaro made an unconvincing case against slavery reparations, claiming that Brazil’s population should not feel guilty about its past as the world’s largest slave importer. He said that the country “owes no debt” to black Brazilian people. He went on further: “What historical debt are you talking about? I didn’t send anyone into slavery.” He then claimed that Portuguese traders were not responsible for Brazil’s trans-Atlantic slave industry, but that black people “themselves handed over the slaves.”

• Bolsonaro made an inflammatory, xenophobic, racist speech at a social club in 2017. He demonstrated his vehement, anti-immigration attitudes by referring to refugees from Haiti, Africa and the Middle East as “the scum of humanity”, and saying they should be dealt with “by the army.” As if these statements weren’t diabolical enough, he said in the same speech that indigenous people living in reservations are “parasites”, and that quilombolas (black Brazilian people who are descendants of escaped slaves) “weren’t even fit for breeding.”

• During the same speech, Bolsonaro referred to his five children, four of which are boys. He said that his partner gave birth to a daughter out of a “moment of weakness.”

• In another diatribe that year, Bolsonaro claimed that quilombolas were draining natural resources. He didn’t stop there, saying that FUNAI (a national foundation establishing and maintaining policies that affect indigenous communities) purposely choose the “richest and most fertile” lands to “give away” to indigenous communities, whilst, he claims, taking away land from white people who had been living there for centuries (have you ever heard a more upended version of colonial history besides Britain and the US’ records?!).

• The president has reportedly called black activists “animals”, saying that they should “go back to the zoo.”

• During his campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to relax gun laws and even spoke of torture as a legitimate practise, framing himself as a torture apologist.

His presidency so far:
• Bolsonaro is very dismissive of indigenous communities. On the day of his inauguration, he issued an executive order to transfer the responsibilities of identifying and marking out indigenous tribal territories from the Justice Ministry, through FUNAI, to the Agriculture Ministry. He later tweeted, “Less than one million people live in those places isolated from the real Brazil. They are explored and manipulated by nonprofits. Together we will integrate those citizens and give value to all Brazilians.”

• Bolsonaro and Trump stood at a joint news conference this March outside the White House, with the Brazilian president bandying around the term “fake news” and aligning himself with Trump’s anti-press stance.

• In April this year, the president said that Brazil could open a reserve inside the Amazon rainforest for mining, a proposal that his predecessor Michel Temer redacted after global condemnation from environmentalists. “Let’s use the riches that God gave us for the wellbeing of our population,” he said in a speech. “You won’t get any trouble from the Environment Ministry, nor the Mines and Energy Ministry nor any other.”

• In a broadcast interview in early August, Bolsonaro said that those who break the law should be killed “in the street like cockroaches” by the police. The president said he plans to adjust the country’s penal code so that civilians and police officers could shoot alleged offenders without fear of legal prosecution. His proverb “a good criminal is a dead criminal” sums up his penchant for police brutality.

• He has faced accusations of nepotism after nominating his 35-year-old son and congressman to become his government’s US ambassador. Eduardo Bolsonaro, who currently advises his father on foreign-related affairs, remains optimistic, saying that he feels “confident and hopeful” that his father will give him the role.

• Most recently, Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for his role in the devastating forest fires in the Amazon rainforest – burning at an 85% increase compared to the fires that occurred this time last year. He has previously accused environmental NGOs of setting fires in an effort to deflect international criticism of his failure to protect the rainforest.

• On Friday, he said that he would send 43,000 troops to combat the natural disaster. Most recently, he refused a G7 aid offer from French president Emmanuel Macron on account of targeting Brazil as a “colony or no man’s land”, but accepted help from his buddy Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing Prime Minister of Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post.

This piece is a part of gal-dem’s Bad Politicians series.