“Brasileiros e Brasileiras, primeiro quero agradecer a Deus por estar vivo” [Brazilians, I would like to commence by thanking God that I am alive]. These words mark the beginning of Jair Bolsonaro’s inaugural address on the 1st of January 2019 at the National Congress. While most voting citizens battled off a night of partying and maybe a couple million hangovers, in Brazil’s political capital, ministers, congressman, politicians and world representatives buttoned their suits to attend the president-elect’s inauguration in office.
For many, this was a day of celebration, since we were finally seeing a new candidate rise up against the corrupt system and make promises to change the status quo. For others, the beginning of this year was a sombre reminder of the right-wing, protectionist political wave that has surfaced in all five continents. However, regardless of your claims and memories of this day, one doubt prevails. Whenever a newly instated leader begins their term, citizens dubiously watch to see if the myriad of campaign proposals will actually happen or if they mere publicity stunts to attract more voters.
Whether we are talking about America’s Head of Government, Donald Trump, French President, Emmanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, or even Kenya’s fourth President, Uhuru Kenyatta, the real question when these men became their respective government’s front-runners was: what promises will lie in truth and what will be fulfilled during their term?
The Brazilian president has made claims to rid the country of socialism and political correctness and end the defence of “bandits”. However, how can we know what part of these promises will be kept and what will not? With that in mind, here are a few things Brazil’s current president has done during his first official month in office.
After seeing the immense disgust from Brazilians showed over the old system and conventional politicians, Bolsonaro made his nominations for the ministries unlike some of his predecessors. The President built a cabinet composed of military men, entrepreneurs, professors and several other representatives that are not part of the Brazilian political elite that has dominated national politics for over a century. However, it is still hard to predict how all these members will interact with each other as such distinct ideologies and divisive agendas may cause significant clashes in the unfolding of future decisions. Nevertheless, if the president is able to keep his executives in order, there might be a promising opportunity for smooth support of his proposed programmes.
An example of this appears both in the extinction of the ministry of culture and the President’s agenda to soften legislation on gun control.
Back in December 2018, when Bolsonaro was still President-elect, he announced that as of January, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture and Sports would be replaced by an all-encompassing Ministry of Citizenship, under the rule of Osmar Terra. These dis-heartening news might appear inconsequential to some but unfortunately, it now represents the termination of government investment and dedication to both culture and sports for Brazilian citizens. Many world renowned artists have been presenting in Brazil and these projects are controlled by the government through the Rouanet Law (which the President is firmly opposed to). These two branches of our government were so much more than mere State control on citizen’s social and cultural life. They were constant incentives to maintain these two markets alive and prospering. Which, inevitably, led to substantial incrementations to the country’s economy.
Moving back to 2019, where fifteen days into January, Mr Bolsonaro has signed a new act that makes it easier for civilians to get access to guns. The document ends the need for police discretion in determining who is allowed to possess firearms and other handheld weapons. Meaning that any citizen who fits the criteria and has filed a declaration is allowed, by the State, to buy and possess a firearm. The criteria are specified in the 2018 Violence Atlas whereas any citizen who lives in a rural area or in an area where there are more than 10 murderers per 100,000 citizens may file a request. Despite the limit of four (4) weapons per person (with leniency for more if justified), the new law allows the government to blindly assume that all citizens are being honest in their claims. This change is only part of the president’s larger scheme to soften gun control legislation, one of the President’s many promises during his campaign. However, any further change will require congressional approval and a date for the start of these discussions is yet to be determined.
Furthermore, on the International spectrum, the newly instated leader held his first meeting with the Argentinian Head of State, Mauricio Macri, on Wednesday (16/01) at the Palácio do Planalto (presidential palace). On the President’s schedule was an evaluation of the Mercosul, the South American trade bloc that establishes a common market between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (Venezuela was suspended in 2016) and the situation in Venezuela. According to the Brazilian State Department (Itamaraty), the governance of Nicolás Maduro has been deemed illegitimate by the State and the President hopes to discuss future plans to resolve the neighbouring country’s political duress. At the time of this article, the press is still awaiting more information on the result of the encounter which should be released briefly after a formal luncheon offered at the Presidential house for the Argentine representatives. However, Bolsonaro has stated to the press that “it is necessary to value tradition, with trade liberalization and reduction or elimination of bureaucratic processes” in regards to the Mercosul alliance.
What can be seen from all of Mr Bolsonaro’s hopes and decisions is that he plans to be a transformational president. However, his ability to attain significant results will depend excruciatingly in his capacity to reinforce the law instead of undermining it and dealing with controversial situations and strong opponents. The President must truly value the power of diplomatic discussion if he truly wishes to effect pragmatic modifications and achieve the economic reform proposed. The real challenge ahead is seeing whether the impulsive ex-military turned politician will be able to accept certain flexibility and display a willingness to listen to critics and supporters alike.