Brazil entered a new chapter in its history on Tuesday, embracing a far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose determination to break with decades of centrist rule has raised both hopes and fears.
The former paratrooper and longtime lawmaker was starting his four-year mandate on January 1 as required by the constitution, after a night of New Year’s celebrations across the country.
He was taking office with a sky-high approval rating, fueled by public expectations that he will be a new broom sweeping away chronic crime and corruption, and boosting an economy still limping after a record recession.
“I will bring in politics completely different from that which brought corruption and inefficiency to Brazil,” he said late Monday in an interview with Record TV.
The 63-year-old comfortably won an October election against Fernando Haddad, a candidate from the leftwing Workers Party that was in power between 2003 and 2016 but is now reviled after a series of graft scandals.
The Workers Party icon, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is serving prison time for corruption. And his chosen successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached for cooking the government’s books.
In a ceremony marked by pomp and high security, Bolsonaro will formally take over from center-right Michel Temer, who succeeded Rousseff but made little headway with needed fiscal reform and ended up Brazil’s most unpopular leader ever.
Bolsonaro voters hope their man will do better.
He has promised to govern for all of the country’s 210 million Brazilians, and campaigned on vows to eradicate graft, crack down on crime, open up Brazil’s protectionist economy to the free market, and put business interests ahead of environmental protection.
In his interview, he said “we will debureaucratize to the maximum possible” and “clean out” the government so its “weight” is cut back.
But there has been no sign of him dropping the bluff, shoot-from-the-lip style that has earned him comparisons with US President Donald Trump, whom he admires.
– Foreign policy –
Even before taking office Bolsonaro tweeted he will issue a decree easing gun laws so “good” citizens can possess weapons to deter criminals.
That worries many, who fear it could aggravate Brazil’s rampant violence. The country saw nearly 64,000 murders in 2017 — the highest number of any country. A poll by the Datafolha survey firm found 61 percent of Brazilians against Bolsonaro’s decree.
Bolsonaro also said his education minister will stop “Marxist trash” being taught in schools and universities — a swipe at Workers Party ideology.
Bolsonaro’s track record of waxing nostalgic for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship has stirred some concerns, as have his past disparagements of women, gays and blacks.
A more forceful foreign policy is on its way, with the new leader saying he will do all he can to challenge leftist-ruled Venezuela and Cuba.
The leaders of those countries, and their ally Nicaragua, were excluded from the guest list to Boslonaro’s inauguration, although Bolivia’s leftwing President Evo Morales did get invited.
Other foreign dignitaries attending include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Hungary’s national Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Bolsonaro and Netanyahu talked up their budding “brotherhood” ahead of the inauguration. And Netanyahu said Bolsonaro had assured him that it was a question of “when” and not “if” Brazili was to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital.
Bolsonaro has already said he will pull his country out of a UN global pact on migration, and he is considering whether to keep Brazil in the Paris climate accord.
But the new leader’s supporters, more than 250,000 of whom were expected in Brasilia on Tuesday, expressed full-throated backing for Bolsonaro.
“We are counting on him to free Brazil from the boot of the criminals. Today, criminals are freer to go about armed than good people who respect the law,” said one, Ze Ivan, a businessman from Brazil’s northern state of Para.
“This inauguration is a turning point,” said another, 36-year-old teacher Mauro Penna. “We are very optimistic — this time our country is going to change.”