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Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. (Image: AP/Suamy Beydoun)

Unemployment, possible bankruptcy of the country, international mishaps, destruction of the education system, and an internal conflict punctuated by purges… The first few months of Brazil’s Bolsonaro administration will challenge future historians to truly understand the actions (and consequences) of a government comparable to Don Quixote fighting windmills. Except in Bolsonaro’s case the windmills are a global communist conspiracy.

Part of a global wave of fascism, Bolsonaro decided not to disappoint fans and critics alike. Brazil is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, which worsened during the second Dilma Rousseff administration (2015-2016). Due to the crisis and the political inability of the Workers’ Party at the time, Rousseff was eventually removed from office through an impeachment process. Her then vice-president, Michel Temer, did little to improve the country’s economy, handing over power with the country in a situation that is at the very least complicated, if not alarming.

In fact, Bolsonaro’s election is the result of the crisis, not only economic, but also social — a reflection of the unstoppable growth in violence and unemployment, but also of the spiral of victimisation in which the Workers’ Party has inserted itself since Rousseff’s impeachment.

The crisis is also political, of a population dissatisfied with the current model of representation and seeking alternatives — no matter how bad they may be. The parliament underwent one of the greatest processes of renewal in its history, leading the until-then tiny Social Liberal Party (PSL) to become one of the largest forces in the country. The problem is that “Bolsonarism” is nothing more than an occasional electoral alliance between absolutely different and, in many cases, divergent right-wing and extreme-right forces. The PSL itself is constantly shaken by internal, often public, conflicts between its members.

Due to the economic crisis, there was a consensus that spending cuts in several areas would be necessary — and soon they came, but disguised as ideological revenge, in particular in the Ministry of Education, where Minister Abraham Weintraub decided to make deep cuts at three specific federal universities for promoting “uproar” with public money, i.e. carrying out events and activities contrary to the ideological beliefs of the ruling party.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro announced his intention cut funds to the humanities, which, for him, focus only on teaching “cultural Marxism” and “gender ideology“.

Weintraub’s original announcement was followed by another, in which the spending cut was extended to all universities and federal institutes. On May 15 and May 30, millions took to the streets to demonstrate against the funding cuts in education.

While the government focuses on the ideological persecution of universities, the economy is showing signs of stagnation and is even heading towards recession, with unemployment reaching 12.7% (or 13.4 million unemployed).

On the international stage, Brazil has been subjected to constant embarrassment because of Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo, who thinks he is on a crusade to defend Christianity and whose role in the Venezuelan crisis has cost the country a possible negotiator and mediator position.

On a trip to Israel, both Bolsonaro and Araújo made disastrous statements about Nazism being a leftist ideology, as well as damaging years of relationship-building with Palestine — and potentially other Arab countries — after opening a commercial representation in Jerusalem (but retreating from the planned embassy relocation).

As the government shows signs of disintegration amidst internal conflicts, with Bolsonaro showing little to no ability to articulate politically with parliament, the country faces an unprecedented crisis, with unemployment reaching 12.7% (or 13.4 million unemployed), and without effective leadership governing the country. The government has blocked resources of diverse projects from ministries, virtually paralysing them. Bolsonaro plans to auction off several public companies as a way to get money to pay off debts and make cash for investments.

Bolsonaro also sought to strengthen ties with Donald Trump and sent one of his sons Eduardo to strengthen ties with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — there, he criticised George Soros — and Salvini’s Italy.

After six months of government, Bolsonaro has little or nothing positive to show. He hasn’t been able to carry out any of the promised reforms (particularly the pension reform), nor has he achieved any relevant commercial or diplomatic success. His main accomplishment is the ideological confrontation against anything he considers of left-wing ideology. Unsurprisingly, his popularity rates are falling.   

Peter Fray

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