Brazil’s Bolsonaro assumes presidency, promises big changes

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (L) and wife Michele (2-L) head to the Planalto Palace on a Rolls Royce, for a ceremony in which Bolsonaro received the presidential band from his predecessor, Michel Temer, in Brasilia, Brazil, 01 January 2019. EPA-Yonhap

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (L) and wife Michele (2-L) head to the Planalto Palace on a Rolls Royce, for a ceremony in which Bolsonaro received the presidential band from his predecessor, Michel Temer, in Brasilia, Brazil, 01 January 2019. EPA-Yonhap

|THE KOREA TIMES|AIWA! NO!|Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as Brazil’s president Tuesday, taking the reins of Latin America’s largest and most populous nation with promises to overhaul myriad aspects of daily life and put an end to business-as-usual governing. 

For the far-right former army captain, the New Year’s Day inauguration was the culmination of a journey from a marginalized and even ridiculed congressman to a leader who many Brazilians hope can combat endemic corruption as well as violence that routinely gives the nation the dubious distinction of being world leader in total homicides. 

A fan of U.S. President Donald Trump, the 63-year-old longtime congressman rose to power on an anti-corruption and pro-gun agenda that has energized conservatives and hard-right supporters after four consecutive presidential election wins by the left-leaning Workers’ Party.

Bolsonaro was the latest of several far-right leaders around the globe who have come to power by riding waves of anger at the establishment and promising to ditch the status quo.

“Congratulations to President (at)jairbolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech,” Trump tweeted. “The U.S.A. is with you!” 

Tuesday festivities in the capital of Brasilia began with a motorcade procession along the main road leading to Congress and other government buildings. Bolsonaro and his wife, Michelle, stood up in an open-top Rolls-Royce and waved to thousands of onlookers. 

They were surrounded by dozens of guards on horses and plain-clothes bodyguards who ran beside the car. 

Once inside Congress, Bolsonaro and his vice president, retired Gen. Hamilton Mourao, took the oath of office. Bolsonaro then read a short speech that included many of the far-right positions he staked out during the campaign. 

He promised to combat the “ideology of gender” teaching in schools, “respect our Judeo-Christian tradition” and “prepare children for the job market, not political militancy.”

“I call on all congressmen to help me rescue Brazil from corruption, criminality and ideological submission,” he said. 

A short time later, Bolsonaro spoke to thousands of supporters outside, promising to “free Brazil” from socialism and political correctness. 

As he spoke, supporters began to chant “Myth! Myth! Myth!” ― a nickname that began years ago with internet memes of Bolsonaro and became more common during last year’s campaign. Bolsonaro’s middle name is Messias, or Messiah in English, and many supporters believe he was chosen by God to lead Brazil, an assertion bolstered after Bolsonaro survived a stabbing during a campaign rally in September. 

During Tuesday’s speech, Bolsonaro stopped at one point, pulled out a Brazilian flag and wildly waved it, prompting roars from the crowd.

“Our flag will never be red,” Bolsonaro said, a reference to communism. “Our flag will only be red if blood is needed to keep it green and yellow.”

Brasilia was under tight security, with 3,000 police patrolling the event. Military tanks, fighter jets and even anti-aircraft missiles also were deployed. Journalists were made to arrive at locations seven hours before festivities began, and many complained on Twitter of officials confiscating food they had brought for the wait. 

The increased security came at Bolsonaro’s request. His intestine was pierced when a knife-wielding man stabbed and nearly killed him, and today Bolsonaro wears a colostomy bag. His sons, politicians themselves, had insisted their father could be targeted by radicals, but security officials have not spoken of threats.

Bolsonaro did little moderating since being elected in October, with progressives and liberals decrying stances that they say are homophobic, sexist and racist. 

The new president, who spent nearly three decades in Congress, has also drawn international criticism for his plans to roll back regulations in the Amazon and his disinterest in social programs in a country that is one of the world’s most unequal in terms of income.

On the economic front, where Bolsonaro will ultimately lead Latin America’s largest economy is unknown, as during the campaign he reversed course from previous statist stances with pledges to lead market-friendly reforms. He also promised to overhaul Brazil’s pension system and privatize several state-owned companies, which gave him wide support among financial players.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro reiterated his commitment to fighting crime in a nation that has long led the world in annual homicides. More than 63,000 people were killed last year. 

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