The Bolsonaro Era Begins In Brazil

Jan 5, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And the new president of Brazil is finishing his first week on the job - Jair Bolsonaro, a retired army captain, member of his country's far-right. NPR's Philip Reeves has been following the first few days of his administration and joins us now from Rio. Phil, thanks so much for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: What are among the first notable moves Bolsonaro has made his first few days in power?

REEVES: Well, you know, he arrived in office, Scott, saying that he wanted to rid Brazil's government of socialist ideological bias. That's a reference, of course, to past leftist governments. Yet he and his ministers are very quickly imposing their own ideological stamp. Some of the evidence of this is wrapped up in the fine print. If you look at the way they're structuring new government departments, they appear to be downgrading the importance attached, for example, to climate change and to the promotion of gay rights and other issues, also. They've been kicking out large numbers of civil servants who are deemed to be leftists. And Bolsonaro's placed a government minister - a retired general - in charge of monitoring and supervising nongovernmental and international organizations, and that's causing some concern, too.

SIMON: What about his policies on Indigenous Brazilians?

REEVES: Well, this country has hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people who - under, you know, historical land rights, they own roughly 14 percent of the national territory. Like President Trump, Bolsonaro likes to tweet, and he's tweeted about how he wants them to integrate into the rest of Brazil. And he's making moves to make that happen. It's, again, fine-print stuff. There used to be a government agency in charge of demarcating Indigenous lands. Bolsonaro's transferred that task to the agricultural ministry. That's a ministry widely seen as under the sway of the powerful agribusiness lobby, which is, of course, hungry for land and for farming and mining and stuff.

SIMON: Same-sex marriage has been legal in Brazil since 2013. But there is a lot of concern among LGBT Brazilians about this government, isn't there?

REEVES: Yes, there is. There's a ministry here for women, family and human rights. And it turns out that LGBTQ Brazilians are not on the list of groups covered by that ministry's remit. That may not sound like that big a deal. But the minister in charge has said some stuff that's really setting alarm bells ringing here. She's a devout evangelical Christian and one of only two women, by the way, in the cabinet. And she has caused a stir by declaring that, henceforth in Brazil, boys wear blue, girls wear pink. That remark's aimed at the gay rights movement, obviously, which the Bolsonaro government sees as aligned to the left and accuses of undermining family values. People are having a lot of fun with this, by the way, on social media. And I imagine that, when Carnival comes, we'll see some entertainingly satirical costumes.

SIMON: Yeah. Any changes foreseen in foreign policy?

REEVES: Yeah, very much so. I mean, Bolsonaro is a big fan of Donald Trump. And in his first interview since being sworn in, Bolsonaro said he's open to hosting a U.S. base - a military base in Brazil, which, if that ever happened, would be the first time since World War II. That's obviously a big change, geopolitically, in a region that historically has regarded Washington, you know, with suspicion. He's also strongly pro-Israel and plans to move Brazil's embassy to Jerusalem.

SIMON: He was elected overwhelmingly. Remind us why so many Brazilians love him.

REEVES: Their expectations are very high. There are tens of thousands of homicides here, Scott, every year. Crime's rampant, and so is corruption. People are desperate for a leader who will fix that. And they think his plans to widen public access greatly to firearms and to give the cops more scope for the use of lethal force - you know, think it's good. The other area where this government's already winning plaudits concerns the economy. There are some sweeping privatization programs and plans to streamline taxes and lower them. And that's making the markets very happy.

SIMON: Philip Reeves in Rio. Thanks so much for being with us.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.