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PostFirst 100 Days of Bolsonaro: the "Honeymoon that Never Was" (David Fleischer, Brazil, 04/09/19 4:04 am)
Yesterday, April 8, marked the first 100 days of the Jair Bolsonaro government.
The press and analysts have a habit of evaluating the first 100 days of Presidents as a "honeymoon period." In the case of Bolsonaro, this was a "Honeymoon that Never Was." The Datafolha poll released on April 7 showed Bolsonaro with a 32% approval rating, the lowest 100-day rating of all previous directly elected presidents since 1985--Fernando Collor (36%), Itamar Franco (34%), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (39%), Lula (43%) and Dilma Rousseff (47%). In October 2018, Bolsonaro polled 46% of the valid vote on the first round and 55% on the second round.
Bolsonaro was an unruly Army Captain who was put in the brig several times for publicly protesting against low salaries, but was finally absolved by the Superior Military Court and then was elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council and then elected to 7 consecutive terms as federal deputy under several party labels. He began his pre-election campaign for President in 2015 via "social media" and by early 2018 had some 30 million followers. In 2018, he took advantage of two strong currents of public opinion--1) Anti-Lula and Anti-PT; and 2) "All politicians are corrupt, I will vote for a new face with a clean slate."
In 2018, Lula was leading in the polls with Bolsonaro in second place. However, Lula was in jail (since 7 April 2018), although he (and his PT party) hoped that he would be released in time to run for President. That did not happen and so at the last minute (6 September 2018) the PT chose an alternate candidate--Fernando Haddad--who then had only 30 days to campaign. Once in the US, a person in jail ran for President--do you remember who? Eugene Debbs, the candidate of the American Socialist Party in 1920. He had been jailed because of "sedition," having opposed US participation in the Great War. Eventually, in 1921, President Harding issued a pardon and Debbs was released from jail.
Campaigning in the city of Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, on 6 September 2018, Bolsonaro suffered a nearly fatal knife attack to his lower abdomen and this prevented him from doing any more active public campaigning but his "social media"/networks sustained his campaign.
Bolsonaro's three sons--Flavio (elected Senator from Rio), Eduardo (elected federal deputy from São Paulo) and Carlos (member of the Rio city council) came under the influence of the self-proclaimed far right "philosopher," Olavo de Carvalho, a self-imposed exile in Richmond, Virginia (who does not even have a high school education). Olavo has exerted strong influence over these first 100 days--and "indicated" two cabinet ministers--Ricardo Vélez Rodrigues as Education Minister (born in Colombia and a naturalized Brazilian citizen) and Ernesto Araujo, a very junior diplomat as Foreign Minister.
Vélez affirmed that young Brazilians act as "cannibals" when they travel overseas and steal towels, etc. from hotels. Then, he tried to oblige all public schools to have students sing the national anthem and recite a key phrase from Bolsonaro's campaign. Finally, in March, he announced that a special committee would "review" high school history textbooks to "correct" narratives regarding the 1964 military coup--that was not really a "coup" but a "civic action." He appointed several Olavo followers to key positions in the Education Ministry. This was all too much for President Bolsonaro to bear, and so he marked the end of his 100-day period by sacking Vélez on 8 April 2019.
Ernesto Araujo has caused conflicts and confusion at the Foreign Ministry. Attending the second Lima Group meeting in Bogota (to deal with the Venezuela "problem"), he was prepared to announce that Brazil would send troops to help oust President Nicolás Maduro. However, Vice President Hamilton Mourão decided to head the Brazilian delegation and sidelined Araujo. He then announced that Brazil would not use troops against Venezuela but rather continue to use diplomacy and negotiations.
Mourão is a retired four-star general and a very competent, moderate person, who speaks English and Spanish fluently. Bolsonaro selected several other very competent generals for his cabinet who exert a "moderating" influence over public policy alternatives and try to diminish what they see as the "negative" influence of Olavo de Carvalho. Also, Bolsonaro recruited federal judge Sérgio Moro to be his Justice Minister. Moro is famous for leading the Lava Jato investigation that put many corrupt politicians (including Lula) and corrupt business leaders in jail.
In his first 100 days, Bolsonaro made four foreign trips--1) Attended the World Econimic Forum in Davos; 2) a visit to President Donald Trump in Washington; 3) a visit to Chile to help found the new organization to replace Unasul; and 4) a visit to Israel.
Israeli PM, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu had attended Bolsonaro's innauguration on 1st January 2019 and Bolsonaro promised to follow Trump's lead and transfer the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, after protests from Arab/Muslim nations and threats to cancel all imports from Brazil (including beef and chicken), Bolsonaro backed off and announced that Brazil would open a commercial contact office in Jersualem (with no diplomats). Bolsonaro received very heavy pressure from the "rural caucus" in Congress that feared the loss of these exports. Not that Brazil has a strong, important Jewish population, but rather the large "Evangelical" ("born-again Christians") population that elected many deputies and helped elect Bolsonaro in 2018. This group pushed strongly in favor of Jerusalem as they believe that Christ will return and make this city the "capital of the world." Bolsonaro was able to offend the Israeli population when he visited the Holocaust Memorial and was asked by a journalist if he agreed with his foreign minister's statement that "the Nazi party was a party of the Left" (straight from the mouth of Olavo de Carvalho). Bolsonaro replied, "Yes, of course, it was the "National Socialist Party, right?" When Bolsonaro visited Chile, he praised the Pinochet government that "had done many great things for Chile." Quickly, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera corrected him: "You are very mistaken."
Finally, two recent articles (in English) regarding Bolsonaro's first 100 days are available for WAISers to consult: 1) An article by Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker magazine https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/01/jair-bolsonaros-southern-strategy : and 2) an article by AFP correspondent in Rio, Allison Jackson https://rekordeast.co.za/afp/714919/bolsonaro-struggles-in-first-100-days-as-brazil-leader/
JE comments: Extremely informative report, David. It seems there are some moderating influences in the Bolsonaro government, in particular Mourão and Moro. Closer to home, Trump tends to sack his underlings for not being ideological enough. If Brazil is looking for a new Minister of Education, you can have ours.
What's the word in Brasília on Bolsonaro's war on corruption?
Finally, this is the first I've heard of Olavo de Carvalho. I'm intrigued. He reminds me of a Turkish exile in the Mid-Atlantic: Fethullah Gülen. There's a book to be written here, Eccentric Exile Prophets in the American Heartland. Can WAISers think of anyone else who deserves a chapter?