Meet Brazil’s Donald Trump: He’s Deliberately Outrageous and He Wants to Be President
By James Armour Young, on Vice News
Nothing about the pushing, shoving, and chanting that accompanied this month’s congressional vote in favor of impeaching Brazil’s president was very edifying — one man, however, threw all political protocol to the wind.
Legislator Jair Bolsonaro took to the podium to announce that he was dedicating his “yes” vote to the memory of Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who he described as, “the terror of Dilma Rousseff.”
It was a literal description.
In 2008 Ustra became the first member of the military to be formally condemned as a torturer during the Brazilian military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. At the hearing, the judge called the interrogation center he ran for four years in the 1970s a “house of horrors.” He was the center’s boss when Rousseff, then a left-wing guerrilla, was tortured there.
There was a mixture of boos and applause as Bolsonaro descended from the podium. The openly gay congressman Jean Wyllys spat at him. Brazilian media reported that President Rousseff was visibly affected by the comments as she watched the vote on TV.
Bolsonaro’s shocking outburst was a reflection of his longstanding contempt for Brazil’s current government.
“With this government, people have realized that we’re completely on the wrong track,” Bolsonaro had told VICE News in his office in Brasilia a few weeks earlier. “I want to show people that we are capable of getting out of this situation… I believe that a strong man makes a strong country.”
Bolsonaro has long been well-known for his ultra-conservative views, of which support for torture is just one. He also expresses nostalgia for the military government and demonstrates total disregard for the offense caused by his regular homophobic, sexist, and racist comments.
But if the former member of the military reserve was previously easy to dismiss as an irrelevant and absurd far-right popinjay merely out to seek attention, his message now seems to be finding a wider audience. Some of the many Brazilians incensed by the greed and dishonesty displayed in the multiple corruption scandals and power games currently dominating the headlines, are now even considering backing Bolsonaro’s presidential dreams.
A recent poll by the Datafolha statistics agency concluded that around 7 percent of the electorate would vote for him in the 2018 presidential elections, when he is expected to represent the Social Christian Party. The same survey found he is currently the top presidential choice among those who earn more than ten times the monthly minimum wage, were he polled between 20 and 23 percent, depending on the other candidates.
‘I like Trump’s position… the only difference is that I’m richer!’
The legislator’s name has also been highly visible on posters and badges at the anti-government demonstrations that have taken place in recent months. On trips around Brazil, Bolsonaro is regularly greeted at airports by giddy fans chanting Bolso-mito or Bolso-legend.
“He really is the man of the moment for these groups that are angry about everything,” Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist and professor of international relations at Rio de Janeiro State University, said a few days before the impeachment vote. “He has become a symbol, perhaps the most powerful symbol in Brazil right now, of the widespread anger people have with the political system.”
Bolsonaro himself compares his current ability to ride the wave of anti-systemic feeling in Brazil to the Donald Trump phenomenon thousands of miles north.
“I like Trump’s position… the only difference is that I’m richer!” Bolsonaro joked, releasing a barking laugh. “He’s not politically correct, and that’s why he’s massacred by the left-wing media.”
The garrulous, somewhat manic Bolsonaro defends his opinions with the unshakeable conviction of a man mystified as to why others do not feel the same way.
“Torture? What torture? Every prisoner in Brazil says he is tortured…it’s a victim culture…like in the US, and all that commotion over Guantanamo,” he argued, thumping his fist on the desk for emphasis.
He also explains his overt admiration for Brazil’s former military leaders as less about an assault on democracy, and more a desire to return to the family values and sense of order of the military regime. “In those days we had freedom to travel, good education, lots of good things, and today we don’t.”
Meanwhile, he explains his disdain for anything perceived as weak as defense of the truth.
“This idea of oh poor little black person, oh poor little poor person, oh poor little woman, oh poor little indigenous person, everybody’s a poor little something!” he declared, his voice crackling with excitement. “I don’t try and please everybody.”
In 2011, when asked on a TV show by the Afro-Brazilian entertainer Preta Gil what he would do if his son was to date a black woman, Bolsonaro responded by saying that he refused to discuss “promiscuity,” and that such a situation would never arise because his children were “brought up in an educated environment.”
‘No father would like to have a gay son… We Brazilians, don’t like homosexuals.’
Gil threatened legal action and a parliamentary enquiry into the case was opened, though later archived.
Perhaps his most notorious moment came in 2014 when he said he wouldn’t rape fellow politician Maria do Rosario “because she didn’t deserve it.” This repeated an insult he had used against the congresswoman in 2003 following a televised discussion on penal reform.
“I don’t regret anything,” he told VICE News, his voice rising again, insisting that he has never defended rape. “She called me a rapist first (during the 2003 interview), and I answered off the bat. I said I wouldn’t rape her.”
Bolsonaro has gotten the most international attention for his homophobia.
In 2013 he told the BBC program Out There — presented by British actor, broadcaster, and gay activist Stephen Fry — that “no father would like to have a gay son” and that “we, Brazilians, don’t like homosexuals.”
More recently he faced questions on his attitudes from American actress Ellen Page in an interview for her VICELAND program, Gaycation. The politician told Page that “if I was still a cadet and I saw you walking down the street, I’d whistle at you.”
Bolsonaro now claims that he is not homophobic, or sexist, and that all he wants to do is prevent primary school kids being exposed to sex education too early.
“You can’t not have gay friends. I have gay friends. The majority of gays vote for me!” he continued. “That Ellen Page business…she spoke to me for two hours in Rio de Janeiro just to produce a two-minute clip, then at the end she smiled and laughed. So did I massacre her for two hours? No. She was treated cordially.”
‘Imagine Bolsonaro as Minister of Defense. It sounds crazy, but anything could happen in Brazil these days.’
In the current Brazilian climate, Bolsonaro’s willingness to push the limits appears to be resonating more than it ever did before, however outrageous he gets.
“I don’t agree with lots of his opinions,” Paulo Santos, who is self-employed and was carrying a Bolsonaro Presidente at a recent anti-government rally in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city. “But at least he represents something different. He says he’s not corrupt, and he stands for discipline. That’s what this country needs.”
Bolsonaro himself says he doesn’t “have an obsession with being president.” Rather, he says, he want to be “a headache” for the establishment and see how far he gets.
Mauricio Santoro, the political analyst, says he doubts that Bolsonaro will ever get enough support to have a realistic shot at winning a presidential election, but, he adds, he could get a very respectable, and potentially influential, 10 percent.
“If he gets this kind of result, then in a second round run-off every candidate will look for his support, maybe by offering him ministries,” he said. “Imagine Bolsonaro as Minister of Defense. It sounds crazy, but anything could happen in Brazil these days.”