Staff Editorial: Election of Jair Bolsonaro

Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro is best summed up in his own words, “Minorities have to bend down to the majority… the minorities should either adapt or simply vanish.” Far-right extremist Bolsonaro won around 55% of the vote against Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad in a run-off election on Sunday, Oct. 27. The election results have been met with widespread fear and resistance throughout Brazil, due to Bolsonaro’s militaristic views and misogynistic and homophobic comments. Bolsonaro’s election is symptomatic of a shift in international politics toward a “new normal” of far-right extremism that is concerning and downright dangerous for those groups that are already marginalized.

Bolsonaro is a former army captain, and has served as a congressman for Rio de Janeiro since 1991. Over his career in politics, he has switched parties numerous times and has been largely ineffective in creating legislation — having had only two of his bills passed of the 170 he’s proposed. Bolsonaro has long been a divisive figure in politics in Brazil, having been criticized for countless comments about minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ community. Bolsonaro has claimed to be “proud to be homophobic.” In 2011 he said he would “be incapable of loving a homosexual son,” and “I won’t be a hypocrite: I prefer a son to die in an accident than show up with a mustachioed guy. He’d be dead to me anyway.” In 2014, he insulted a congresswoman, saying “she doesn’t deserve to be raped, because she’s very ugly.” Bolsonaro has also made numerous comments on racial minorities, describing Afro-Brazilians as “lazy and fat” and calling refugees from Haiti, Africa and the Middle East “the scum of humanity.”

Bolsonaro has also advocated for violent tactics in the field of politics, creating fear that Brazil may return to a dictatorship under him. These fears are not unfounded, as he has said that he supports a dictatorship in Brazil, and has defended the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. In 1993 he told congress, “Yes, I’m in favor of a dictatorship! We will never resolve the grave national problems with this irresponsible democracy.” Bolsonaro has also called for his political opponents to be shot, and has advocated for the use of torture, stating outright, “I am in favor of torture — you know that.” He has also threatened to increase the presence of the military in civilian government, grant more power to the police and loosen restrictions on guns, in order to allow citizens to “fight fire with fire.”

In addition to his inflammatory vitriol towards minority groups and women, Bolsonaro has promised to roll back efforts to protect both the environment and the land of indigenous peoples, and to pull Brazil from the Paris agreement. These actions would be detrimental not only for the future of Brazil and the Amazon, but for the global climate as a whole. In a time when the fate of the planet is at best uncertain, the election of Bolsonaro spells disaster for the environment.

In the days following the election, many in Brazil fear for their safety. The normalization of fascist ideology is incredibly dangerous for the world at large. In the same vein as a similar far-right South American leader, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, whom he believes “should have killed more people,” Bolsonaro has threatened professors, universities, and other sources of “indoctrination.” Universities in Brazil have recently engaged in large-scale protests against his suppressive ideology.

For those looking to help out in the aftermath of the election, there are a few things you can do. Look into donating money to nonprofits that work to protect Brazil’s natural resources, especially the rainforest. There are also organizations that work with indigenous people of the Amazon to help conserve and protect the land they inhabit. Consumers can also limit the products they use to products that are sustainably sourced and do not come from the rainforest. Concerned citizens can contact non-governmental organizations (NGO) like Greenpeace and the WWF to encourage them to resist Bolsonaro and to volunteer with them. One of the most important things Americans can do is to spread awareness as to the events that are happening in Brazil. The election wasn’t widely covered by our media, and it’s likely that many Americans do not know what is happening.

Bolsonaro’s rise to power is representative of a country that has lost faith in the establishment and is looking to a radical “outsider” to make sweeping changes, even if marginalized groups are trampled in the process. Some analysts have compared Bolsonaro’s hardcore followers to those of President Donald Trump in the 2016 US election, and newspapers have even nicknamed him the “Trump of the Tropics.” Bolsonaro has welcomed the comparison, and Trump himself called to congratulate the Brazilian president-elect following the election. While the election of Trump in 2016 was disheartening for many Americans, the fallout for Brazil after Bolsonaro’s election will likely be even more severe. As outsiders, we might feel helpless in the face of events occurring internationally, but it’s important to keep light shining on the injustices that will likely occur in Brazil in the coming years as Bolsonaro begins to act on his ideology. We must continue to be aware so that we don’t become numb to the dehumanization of those who are different than us.