You are on page 1of 7

21/09/2018 Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace - Brazil’s presidential election

Brazil’s presidential election

Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace


He would make a disastrous president

Print edition | Leaders Subscribe Log in or sign up


Sep 20th 2018 Manage subscription

“GOD is Brazilian,” goes a saying that became the title of a popular lm. Brazil’s
beauty, natural wealth and music often make it seem uniquely blessed. But these
days Brazilians must wonder whether, like the deity in the lm, God has gone on
holiday. The economy is a disaster, the public nances are under strain and politics
are thoroughly rotten. Street crime is rising, too. Seven Brazilian cities feature in
the world’s 20 most violent.

The national elections next month give Brazil the chance to start afresh. Yet if, as
seems all too possible, victory goes to Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, they
risk making everything worse. Mr Bolsonaro, whose middle name is Messias, or
Subscribe now
or sign up to enjoy 3 articles free

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatest… 1/7
21/09/2018 Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace - Brazil’s presidential election

“Messiah”, promises salvation; in fact, he is a menace to Brazil and to Latin


Get full access to The Economist via print,
America.
online and our apps or sign up to enjoy
3 articles free.

Get our daily newsletter


Subscribe now

Upgrade your inbox and get our


plusDaily
receive Dispatch and Editor's Picks.
a free notebook

Email address Sign up: 3 articles per week Sign up now

Latest stories

Democrats turn to female candidates in 2018


GRAPHIC DETAIL

Theresa May faces the nation after her Salzburg humiliation


BRITAIN

“Museo” revisits Mexico’s notorious museum robbery


PROSPERO

See more

Mr Bolsonaro is the latest in a parade of populists—from Donald Trump in America,


to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and a left-right coalition featuring Matteo
Salvini in Italy. In Latin America, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-wing
rebrand, will take o ce in Mexico in December. Mr Bolsonaro would be a
particularly nasty addition to the club (see Brie ng). Were he to win, it might put
the very survival of democracy in Latin America’s largest country at risk.

Brazilian bitterness
Populists draw on similar grievances. A failing economy is one—and in Brazil the
failure has been catastrophic. In the worst recession in its history, GDP per person
shrank by 10% in 2014-16 and has yet to recover. The unemployment rate is 12%.
The whi of elite self-dealing and corruption is another grievance—and in Brazil it
is a stench. The interlocking investigations known as Lava Jato (Car Wash) have
discredited the entire political class. Scores of politicians are under investigation.
Michel Temer, who became Brazil’s president in 2016 after his predecessor, Dilma
Rousse , was impeached on unrelated charges, has avoided trial by the supreme
court only because congress voted to spare him. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, another
former president, was jailed for corruption and disquali ed from running in the

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatest… 2/7
21/09/2018 Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace - Brazil’s presidential election

election. Brazilians tell pollsters that the words which best sum up their country
Get full access to The Economist via print,
are “corruption”, “shame” and “disappointment”.
online and our apps or sign up to enjoy
3 articles free.
Mr Bolsonaro has exploited their fury brilliantly. Until the Lava Jato scandals, he
was an undistinguished seven-termSubscribe
congressman
now from the state of Rio de Janeiro.
He has a long history of being grossly o ensive. He said he would not rape a
plus receive a free notebook
congresswoman because she was “very ugly”; he said he would prefer a dead son to
a gay one; and he suggested thatSign up: 3 articles
people who liveper week
in settlements founded by escaped
slaves are fat and lazy. Suddenly that willingness to break taboos is being taken as
evidence that he is di erent from the political hacks in the capital city, Brasília.

To Brazilians desperate to rid themselves of corrupt politicians and murderous


drug dealers, Mr Bolsonaro presents himself as a no-nonsense sheri . An
evangelical Christian, he mixes social conservatism with economic liberalism, to
which he has recently converted. His main economic adviser is Paulo Guedes, who
was educated at the University of Chicago, a bastion of free-market ideas. He
favours the privatisation of all Brazil’s state-owned companies and “brutal”
simpli cation of taxes. Mr Bolsonaro proposes to slash the number of ministries
from 29 to 15, and to put generals in charge of some of them.

His formula is winning support. Polls give him 28% of the vote and he is the clear
front-runner in a crowded eld for the rst round of the elections on October 7th.
This month he was stabbed in the stomach at a rally, which put him in hospital.
That only made him more popular—and shielded him from closer scrutiny by the
media and his opponents. If he faces Fernando Haddad, the nominee of Lula’s left-
wing Workers’ Party (PT) in the second round at the end of the month, many
middle- and upper-class voters, who blame Lula and the PT above all for Brazil’s
troubles, could be driven into his arms.

The Pinochet temptation


They should not be fooled. In addition to his illiberal social views, Mr Bolsonaro
has a worrying admiration for dictatorship. He dedicated his vote to impeach Ms
Rousse to the commander of a unit responsible for 500 cases of torture and 40
murders under the military regime, which governed Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Mr
Bolsonaro’s running-mate is Hamilton Mourão, a retired general, who last year,
while in uniform, mused that the army might intervene to solve Brazil’s problems.
Mr Bolsonaro’s answer to crime is, in e ect, to kill more criminals—though, in
2016, police killed over 4,000 people.

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatest… 3/7
21/09/2018 Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace - Brazil’s presidential election

Latin America has experimented before with mixing authoritarian politics and
Get full access to The Economist via print,
liberal economics. Augusto Pinochet, a brutal ruler of Chile between 1973 and 1990,
online and our apps or sign up to enjoy
was advised by the free-marketeer “Chicago boys”. They helped lay the ground for
3 articles free.
today’s relative prosperity in Chile, but at terrible human and social cost. Brazilians
Subscribe now
have a fatalism about corruption, summed up in the phrase “rouba, mas faz” (“he
steals, but he acts”). They shouldplus
not fall afor
receive freeMr Bolsonaro—whose dictum might be
notebook

“they tortured, but they acted”. Latin America has known all sorts of strongmen,
Sign up: 3 articles per week
most of them awful. For recent proof, look only to the disasters in Venezuela and
Nicaragua.

Mr Bolsonaro might not be able to convert his populism into Pinochet-style


dictatorship even if he wanted to. But Brazil’s democracy is still young. Even a
irtation with authoritarianism is worrying. All Brazilian presidents need a
coalition in congress to pass legislation. Mr Bolsonaro has few political friends. To
govern, he could be driven to degrade politics still further, potentially paving the
way for someone still worse.

Instead of falling for the vain promises of a dangerous politician in the hope that he
can solve all their problems, Brazilians should realise that the task of healing their
democracy and reforming their economy will be neither easy nor quick. Some
progress has been made—such as a ban on corporate donations to parties and a
freeze on federal spending. A lot more reform is needed. Mr Bolsonaro is not the
man to provide it.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Latin America’s latest
menace"

Want to read more?


Try The Economist for 12 weeks with our introductory offer, plus receive a free
notebook.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Print edition | Leaders


https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatest… 4/7
21/09/2018 Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace - Brazil’s presidential election
Print edition | Leaders
Sep 20th 2018 Get full access to The Economist via print,
online and our apps or sign up to enjoy
3 articles free.

Subscribe now
Reuse this content
plus receive a free notebook
About The Economist
Sign up: 3 articles per week

The Salzburg summit


EU leaders are united on Brexit but divided on migration
An informal meeting in Austria exposes the block’s faultlines

Brazil’s presidential election


Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest
menace

Lexington
Kavanaugh and #MeToo

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatest… 5/7
21/09/2018 Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace - Brazil’s presidential election

Get full access to The Economist via print,


The
online and our apps or Economist
sign explains
up to enjoy
3 articlesWhy
free. the weekend isn’t longer

Subscribe now

plus receive a free notebook

THE ECONOMIST EXPLAINS


Sign up: 3 articles per week

Tell us what you think of Economist.com

Leave feedback

Need assistance with your subscription?

Contact us

Subscribe Group subscriptions Contact us

Help

Keep updated

Sign up to get more from The Economist

Get 3 free articles per week, daily newsletters and more.

Email address Sign up

About The Economist

Advertise Reprints

Careers Media Centre

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatest… 6/7
21/09/2018 Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s latest menace - Brazil’s presidential election

Get full access to The Economist via print,


Terms of Use online and our appsPrivacy
or sign up to enjoy
3 articles free.
Cookie Policy Manage Cookies
Subscribe now
Accessibility Modern Slavery Statement
plus receive a free notebook

Sign up: 3 articles per week


Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/09/20/jair-bolsonaro-latin-americas-latest-menace?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/jairbolsonarolatinamericaslatest… 7/7