What Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is likely to change
Congressman Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s presidency Sunday on promises to overhaul several aspects of Latin America’s largest nation. A glance at the top issues that are likely to change in a Bolsonaro administration:
More than half of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil, and some environmentalists worry Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency will open it up to increased deforestation and mining.
Also, some observers believe Jair Bolsonaro’s strong ties to agribusiness leaders in Congress, part of the powerful “ruralist caucus,” will lead to a reduction in environmental protections as farming interests win out. Let’s see.
At the heart of Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign was his promise to crack down on Brazil’s soaring crime, including allowing police more leeway in the use of force.
Human rights activists worry that in a country where police violence is already rampant, officers could kill more innocent people with impunity. Jair Bolsonaro has argued that the current law is too restrictive and that police should be allowed more room to defend themselves against drug lords and heavily armed professional criminals.
Jair Bolsonaro also wants to make it easier for citizens to own firearms. Throughout his campaign, he has said that “good citizens” should be able to defend themselves and their property.
He has also promised to reduce the age at which defendants can be tried as adults to 16.
Brazil is recovering from its worst recession in decades, and investors and members of the business community are hoping Bolsonaro will jumpstart growth. He has said he does not understand much about economic matters and has instead promised to follow the lead of adviser Paulo Guedes, a banker and University of Chicago-trained economist.
Under Jair Bolsonaro, Latin America’s largest economy could see a reduction in the size of government, including a halving of the number of ministries, the privatization of many state-owned companies and the opening up of a closed economy through new trade agreements and lower import tariffs. These proposals have cheered markets about Brazil’s future.
After lame-duck President Michel Temer failed to pass his pension overhaul, all eyes are on Bolsonaro to see how he will restructure the country’s failing pension system and improve the government’s finances.
By international standards, the Brazilian system allows workers to retire far too early and get overly generous pensions, significantly contributing to the government’s unsustainable budget deficit. But any move to reduce benefits could be unpopular so Bolsonaro will have to build a broad coalition in Congress to get his proposal through. And he will probably have only a brief window when he first takes office to do so.
Jair Bolsonaro’s principal proposal on pensions is to create a system of private accounts, in which people save for their own retirement. It’s not clear how or how quickly he would transition to this new system.
In foreign policy, Jair Bolsonaro has also pledged to emulate some of Trump’s policies. He has said he will favor bilateral trade deals over multilateral ones, transfer Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and take a tougher line on neighboring Venezuela. It has been frequently said that Brazil could suffer an economic collapse similar to Venezuela’s if voters elected his left-wing rival.
Jair Bolsonaro has talked tough on China, Brazil’s biggest trade partner. In February, he visited Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory, and he has resisted talk of Chinese investment in strategic Brazilian state companies. He told a radio station that Brazil cannot “allow China or any other country to come and buy Brazil, instead of buying in Brazil.”
As a retired army captain, Jair Bolsonaro spent much of his 27 years in Congress prioritizing the military’s interests, and he promises to continue doing so as president.
He vowed to fill his Cabinet with military officers, already announcing former Gen. Augusto Heleno as his minister of defense.
“The nation is looking to the armed forces as a guarantee against barbarity,” he wrote in his government plan.
Conclusion: We believe given the failure of past left-wing governments to improve the economy or social conditions Jair Bolsonaro could well be the new broom to put Brazil back where it belongs as one of the worlds most important economies. Time will tell.
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