The authoritarian leaders taking power around the world share a vocabulary of intolerance, insult, and menace. Bolsonaro is sixty-four, tall and slim, with sharply parted dark hair and heroically bushy eyebrows. His third wife, Michelle, stood next to him, waving at the masses.
After the inaugural ceremony, Bolsonaro gave a speech outside Planalto, the Presidential palace; huge video screens magnified his image for tens of thousands of supporters. Over twenty-seven years, he delivered some fifteen hundred speeches and introduced more than a hundred and fifty bills, but only two passed—one exempting computer equipment from taxation and another approving a controversial cancer drug. Mostly, he spoke on behalf of the armed forces, even calling for a restoration of the repressive military dictatorship that governed Brazil from to He had run a low-budget campaign, consisting mostly of a social-media effort overseen by his son Carlos.
At events with supporters, he posed for selfies making a gesture as if he were shooting a machine gun. Afterward, Bolsonaro received a procession of foreign dignitaries, and as they stepped up to pay their respects the crowd greeted them with cheers or boos. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu , who is fending off charges of fraud and bribery, got a riotous cheer. As the seat of government, it is home to tens of thousands of middle-class bureaucrats and their families.
It is also a place where destitute people camp out in improvised shelters alongside highways and use grand fountains to wash their laundry. Violent crime is endemic. In , nearly sixty-four thousand Brazilians were murdered, an average of about a hundred and seventy-five every day. The economy, after several years of devastating recession, is virtually stagnant. Twenty-five per cent of the population lives below the poverty line of five dollars and fifty cents a day. A decade ago, Brazil was prospering, amid a boom in oil and other commodities.
In , his government finished paying off a fifteen-billion-dollar loan to the International Monetary Fund, a year ahead of schedule. But commodities prices were slipping, and in her second term a corruption scandal exploded around the state-run oil company, Petrobras. In , they began hearings to impeach her, on charges of improperly using loans from state banks to obscure a budget deficit.
The legislator who led the impeachment effort, Eduardo Cunha, was subsequently convicted of taking forty million dollars in bribes. But the bid to remove Rousseff worked.
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It also helped draw attention to Bolsonaro. During the proceedings, he dedicated his vote to Carlos Brillhante Ustra, who had commanded the military unit that captured and tortured Rousseff when she was a young guerrilla. For Brazilians watching the news in recent years, the country can appear to be perilously in decline.
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Two dams have collapsed at mine sites in the countryside, releasing millions of gallons of waste. Last September, an accidental fire broke out at the two-hundred-year-old National Museum , destroying an irreplaceable ethnographic collection. The military, despite a constitutional mandate to stay out of politics, backed him openly, as did a raft of wealthy business interests.
Still, Lula retained a large lead in the polls, and he appealed to the Supreme Court to allow him to remain free so that he could run in the election. The appeal was denied, a few days after the commander of the Brazilian Army suggested on Twitter that the armed forces wanted him in jail. This February, Lula, who is seventy-three, was given an additional thirteen-year sentence. He understands the problems of poor people, and he says what they want to hear.
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But both came in the moments that their countries needed them. His parents, who were of Italian and German descent, moved there when he was a boy, and his father, an itinerant dentist, set up a practice. One of six children—several of whom have never left Eldorado—Bolsonaro did not get along with his father, whom he has described as a heavy drinker who inspired discord in the family. In , during the first decade of military rule, a Brazilian Army unit descended on Eldorado in pursuit of Carlos Lamarca, an officer who had gone rogue and joined a Marxist guerrilla group.
As the soldiers ransacked houses and searched the woods for hideouts, Bolsonaro, who was fifteen, was enthralled; he offered to help them in their search. Thousands of Brazilians were detained in secret torture centers, and more than four hundred were killed, their bodies disappeared. In , Brazil returned to democratic rule, and the military returned to its barracks.
Soon afterward, Bolsonaro wrote an unauthorized magazine article in which he complained about the military hierarchy and argued for increased wages for the troops. Although he proclaimed his innocence, investigators found sketches for the bombing plan drawn in his hand. Bolsonaro was found guilty by a disciplinary committee but cleared in the Superior Military Court, where a majority of judges decided that there was insufficient evidence; he was allowed to enter the reserves as a captain, with a full pension.
In , he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, where he became known for intemperate behavior, registering more disciplinary proceedings than any of his peers.
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Nevertheless, he got more than half the female vote. When he was denounced, it often seemed only to strengthen his support. Last September, a month before the first round of voting, he visited the provincial city of Juiz de Fora. He was relaxed, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, as his supporters carried him through the streets on their shoulders. Suddenly, a man carrying a knife concealed in a plastic bag lurched forward and stabbed him in the stomach. The attack nearly killed Bolsonaro; his liver, lung, and intestines were punctured, and he lost a great deal of blood.
But it gave him a clear bounce in the polls. On October 7th, he won forty-six per cent of the vote.
His nearest opponent—Fernando Haddad, called in at the last minute to replace the imprisoned Lula—got twenty-nine per cent. In the second round, Bolsonaro beat Haddad again, and he began to speak of the attack in providential terms. The Brigade is stationed inside the Military Village, a fastidiously maintained complex on the run-down outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.
When Bolsonaro arrived, in a procession of black S. Bolsonaro stood at the podium, watching with satisfaction, as parachutists jumped from planes and descended onto a wide lawn. Later, Bolsonaro spoke to a group of reporters, who seemed unfazed by the habitual abuse that he directed at them. One asked about rumors that he was using a colostomy bag after the assault, and that he would have to undergo more surgery. He said yes, with a disdainful look.
He can have a place in the government if he so desires. Eduardo, the youngest, is possibly the most extreme of the brothers. In the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, he stood behind his father, mouthing along with his words as he cast his vote in the name of her torturer. Bolsonaro also has a fourth son, Renan, a law student, from his second marriage, and a young daughter, Laura, with his current wife. His ideas are informed by Olavo de Carvalho, a philosopher and a former astrologer who has attracted a following with eccentric interpretations of works by Machiavelli, Descartes, and others.
Fraga is appealing the decision. In office, Bolsonaro had moved quickly to loosen gun laws, and Fraga, who was a police officer for twenty-eight years, was pleased that more people would be able to own weapons. We need to get him to control that. In February, police officers in the Fallet-Fogueteiro favela killed thirteen young men, most of whom were reportedly executed after they had surrendered.
In March, , Franco, an openly bisexual black woman, was killed in downtown Rio. Because he has received many death threats, he lives in a closely guarded building, next to an Army base, and travels with armed guards provided by the state. Freixo surmised that her killers were hired by rival politicians. Steve Bannon dismissed the case as politically motivated—a witch hunt.
The investigation has produced no conclusions, but there has been some political fallout. Show some dignity. But some liberals have strained to understand the new order on its own terms. In the eighties, Gabeira gained additional celebrity by posing for seaside photographs wearing only a crocheted bikini bottom.
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