Jair Bolsonaro: Brazil’s Far-Right Version of Trump Leads the Presidential Race

We update our profile of Jair Bolsonaro, who is leading in the presidential race in opinion polls, now that Workers Party candidate Lula da Silva was forced out of the race on corruption charges. Michael Fox reports

Jair Bolsonaro: Brazil's Far-Right Version of Trump Leads the Presidential Race

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Story Transcript

MIKE FOX: This is Jair Bolsonaro. He’s been called the Donald Trump of Brazil. He is one of the country’s most controversial political figures, and he’s a shoo-in to make it to the 2nd round of the presidential elections.

Bolsonaro was stabbed at a rally in the state of Minas Gerais in the first week of September. He underwent surgery… twice. And he’s still recovering at a hospital in Sao Paulo.

But that hasn’t slowed him down. He’s continued his attack on the Workers Party from his hospital bed. His numbers continue to climb. He now leads his closest challenger, Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad, by 10 points, according to the latest polls.

Who is Jair Bolsonaro? Under the dictatorship, he served as a captain in the Brazilian military, and he’s been a congressional representative for the state of Rio de Janeiro since the early ‘90s. But mostly, he’s been known for his bombastic homophobic, xenophobic, racist and sexist rhetoric.

Sound familiar?

TALITA TANSCHEIT: He is in the extreme of the right-wing in Brazil. He belongs to a family that was in favor of the dictatorship and even now they are in favor of military intervention in Brazil, and stuff like that, they are in favor of torture. They are against the rights of women, LGBT people, Black people. All of these things together, you put this in a bag and you have Bolsonaro.

MIKE FOX: The Intercept published an article about him in 2014 titled “The most misogynistic, hateful elected official in the democratic world.” It highlighted a laundry list of his most egregious remarks, including telling a fellow lawmaker that “she didn’t deserve to be raped.” And that he would rather have his son die in a car accident than be gay.

He’s been fined for his comments. He’s defended the dictatorship, applauded the killing of landless workers, and carries a gun. He’s promised to fight violence with violence.

And his support is growing in the wake of the country’s worst financial recession ever and a massive on-going corruption investigation that has already taken down dozens of top political figures.

PROF. CELI PINTO: The Bolsonaro phenomenon isn’t that different from the Trump phenomenon or the Emmanuel Macron phenomenon. You have a crisis in the political system, a rejection of the political system, of the political parties, of the political elites — The Democratic Party with Hillary Clinton — and the appearance of an outsider. And the outsider is someone that doesn’t respect the politics. Trump disrespected every possible rule of the political norm in the United States.

MIKE FOX: Of course, Bolsonaro is no real estate tycoon. He’s also not new to Brazilian politics. But for most of his career he’s been on the fringe far-right, vehemently defending the military, security, and so-called ‘family values.’

JAIR BOLSONARO: We’re tired of the politically correct. We’re tired of disastrous human rights policies.

MIKE FOX: He’s admitted to knowing little about the economy, although he supports a neoliberal agenda of lower taxes and free trade.

Over the last 29 years, he’s been a member of 8 different minor political parties. He joined his latest, the Social Liberal Party, only this year. At the time, it controlled only 3 seats in the lower house. But he also belongs to the country’s powerful “bullets, beef and bible” caucus, uniting large landowners with evangelicals, and a growing gun lobby.

His prominence has grown with the rise of the conservative right that has washed over Brazil in the last five years, and which, in particular, hit the streets against president Dilma Rousseff in 2015.

PROF. CELI PINTO: Bolsonaro is dangerous, because he could be elected, not because Brazil has become a fascist country. It could turn into an extremely conservative country, but people’s attraction with Bolsonaro is that he is anti-political, anti-party, anti-corruption, and chauvinistic. He tries to be macho and violent. Bolsonaro is very dangerous, because he could become a very popular leader, particularly if Brazil’s only other popular leader, Lula, can’t run.

MIKE FOX: His supporters are fanatical, already calling him a legend.

He’s popular for the same reasons Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. election: He says what he wants to, has backed the use of violence, and he’s not afraid to stick it to the traditional political class, or anyone else.

This resonates with a reactionary population that is both fed up with the on-going corruption and rampant insecurity, and disgusted with a decade of Workers Party policies that sought to lift millions out of poverty and fight discrimination of traditionally marginalized communities.

Former Workers Party president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva led all of the polls for this year’s elections. But he was barred from running after he was convicted of corruption, and sent to jail. A move that many believe was just a means of blocking his return to power.

Could Bolsonaro win the 2018 elections?

Many analysts believe so. He’s poised to at least make it into the 2nd round.

Brazil’s ‘Donald Trump’ is both loved and despised for the same reasons: His complete disregard for ethics, respect for others, and the status quo.

The question is if Brazil’s elites, financial sector, and corporate media would allow it. And if grassroots movements on the Left can stop it.