Religion & Liberty Online

Bolsonaro’s first 6 months

Jair Bolsonaro has completed his first 6 months as the president of Brazil. After nearly being killed by a socialist militant during his campaign and a surprising victory in the 2018 elections, the conservative politician has, against the odds, accomplished what few people could have imagined. In fact, a year ago, few were those who could have predicted Bolsonaro’s presidency. Nonetheless, Bolsonaro faces a troubled political scenario, an inheritance left by 14 years of leftist government. 

Bolsonaro has, so far, kept promises he made during his campaign. As part of his platform, he promised to repair anti-market foreign policies, implemented by past presidents. On his first international trip as president, he met with President Trump in the White House to discuss trade, after which the United States gave support for Brazil’s entrance into the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). “Brazil and the United States have never been closer than they are right now,” President Trump declared after the meeting

June 28 marked yet another international victory, when Mercosul –the South American trade bloc consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay– reached the biggest agreement in its history with the European Union. Classified by Bolsonaro as “historic”, the agreement is predicted to generate an investment of $87.5 billion in Brazil in the next 15 years. This agreement has been deliberated on for 20 years, and was supported by the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araujo and the Minister of Economics Paulo Guedes, who, both appointed by Bolsonaro, played crucial roles in the execution of the agreement.

While Bolsonaro has considerable authority in dictating foreign policy, his sovereignty in domestic affairs differs greatly. In its first six months, it’s become obvious that the executive branch has a large obstacle to clear: Congress. Brazil’s Congress is firmly committed to barricading Bolsonaro’s executive agenda. 

Bolsonaro has a peculiar method of doing politics. He despises what he calls “old politics,” in which politicians form alliances to exchange favors that generate mutual benefit for the parties involved. Instead, Bolsonaro intends to create a transparent political scene where politicians act according to their preferences and ideologies. Unfortunately, this method is unworkable in Brazilian politics.

Brazil’s Congress is dominated by the group popularly called “centrão” (meaning, big center) which consists of politicians without a set principle of ideals, who are primarily motivated by gaining political power. The “centrão” does a disservice to Brazilian politics, only acting according to potential for personal gain. In this scenario, Bolsonaro’s abandonment of “old politics” leaves the government isolated, unable to gain the necessary support to pass their proposals. In reality, Bolsonaro has a very tense relationship with Congress, and heated debates with the House of Representatives President Rodrigo Maia— the face of the “centrão”—have become constant in the past few months. 

As a consequence, reforms proposed by the government get stuck in Congress. The most important of them is the Pension Reform bill, proposed by Paulo Guedes and expected to save billions of dollars in government spending. It is considered the main priority in the government’s agenda, seeking to fix an outdated policy that increases national debt. In short, the reform is suffering serious resistance by leftist and centrist politicians and will be highly modified from its original form before passed. The good news is that after 5 months of negotiation, the third version of the reform is being voted on in the House of Representatives this week. Optimistic congressmen expect it to be approved in the lower house and face its last stage of negotiation in the Senate.

The Pension Reform is not the only case in which Congress has served as a barrier to Bolsonaro’s proposals. On June 18, Brazil’s Senate suspended Bolsonaro’s decree signed in May which facilitated the acquisition of guns by truck drivers and landowners. Loosening gun laws was yet another commitment made by Bolsonaro during his campaign, which generated huge indignation by some of his electors. Lastly, the famous “anti crime package” formulated by the Minister of Justice Sergio Moro and inspired by United States legislation is slowly being processed in Congress. The package seeks to increase the enforcement of the rule of law, combating crime and corruption – two of the main problems faced in the country. 

As if Congress was not enough opposition for Bolsonaro, the Supreme Court has also been involved in controversy lately. Dominated by progressively leaning justices mainly appointed during the years of left wing government, the Supreme Court restricts Bolsonaro’s conservatism. In a very questionable string of events that occurred in early June, the Supreme Court decided to criminalize discrimination against gay and transgender individuals. In a 8-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that people suffering discrimination based on their sexual orientation will now be protected by anti-racism laws until Congress decides to pass rules specifically defending LGBT rights. Bolsonaro displayed his irritation with the decision, stating that the Supreme Court is overruling Congress and “legislating”, which is not the role of the judiciary. In reality, Bolsonaro’s view of the Supreme Court is so skeptical that he has debated increasing the number of justices to balance its political ideologies. 

Those who had imagined that Bolsonaro’s victory in the 2018 elections would drastically change the Brazilian political scenario by itself were mistaken. The problem is deeper than many people had thought. However, there is a reason to be optimistic: Bolsonaro is on the right path. His foreign policy demonstrates that he has the right intentions to make Brazil a prosperous country. Unfortunately, a nation that has been governed by leftist ideologies for 14 years does not change “from night to day” as the popular Brazilian saying goes. In the current moment, patience is key. Bolsonaro’s administration will have 4 years to promote the necessary changes. Instead of looking at Bolsonaro’s first 6 months as a frustrated attempt to reform the country, Brazilians should see this period as a light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in the century, Brazil has an active executive power dedicated to transforming the country. 

Featured image: Home page photo published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International:

During a state visit by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, several agreements were made, as well as the military agreements, which shortly after the visit, President Trump designated Brazil on the list of the major allies outside NATO

Rafael Junqueira

Rafael Junqueira is a intern at the Acton Institute. A native of São Paulo, Brazil, he is a senior at Northwest Nazarene University (ID), where he studies Economics and Political Sciences.