Jair Bolsonaro is the current President of Brazil. He is a former member of the Chamber of Deputies and a former city council member for Rio de Janeiro. Prior to his political career, Bolsonaro served as a paratrooper in the Brazilian military for 17 years. He then entered politics where his ultra-conservative policies and abrasive rhetoric has kept him in Brazil’s political peripheries for most of his career. Ultimately, his populist appeal mixed with historic political turmoil launched (and secured) his presidential campaign in 2018 to success.
Military Captain to Politician
Bolsonaro’s time as a paratrooper in the military was characterized by controversy. His criticism of the military’s wage system was published in a famous editorial, Veja magazine. In fact, after receiving detention for publishing his critical piece, Bolsonaro was tried for plotting to drop flash grenades in military barracks to pressure the military to raise wages. This led to his discharge from the military even after being found not guilty. He was given paid retirement with full benefits as a captain; essentially a reward for his controversial behavior. This incident drew public attention that gave Bolsonaro notoriety, driving him to join the Christian Democratic Party and become a Rio de Janeiro city councilman. From there he entered the Chamber of Deputies for 7 consecutive terms, 1991-2018.
The Conservative Campaign
In 2018, Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil after a runoff election, winning 55.13% of the votes. Prior to his election, Bolsonaro served 27 years as a representative in Brazil’s federal Chamber of Deputies for Rio de Janeiro. He operated within political peripheries in Brazil, wielding little notoriety other than a deep, conservative reputation. His record in the Chamber of Deputies is scarce with legislative victories but rather characterized by support for conservative bills and controversial comments about women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and indigenous communities. On a related note, Bolsonaro has consistently glorified the military dictatorship that governed Brazil from the 1960s until democratization in the 1980s. As President, Bolsonaro has made promises of business growth and structural change catalyzed by his “political outsider” perspective. His campaign was a severe departure from the political center in Brazil and completely ignored the political status-quo. All in all, Bolsonaro is a right-wing populist leader who prioritizes the growth of businesses, decreasing violence in Brazil, restoring traditional family values, and rooting out corruption.
Bolsonaro: Just another right-wing Populist?
Bolsonaro’s election in 2018 was another addition to the right-wing populist movement across the globe. He joined US President Donald Trump and Indian President Narendra Modi as staunch conservatives looking to operate outside international organizations. Bolsonaro; in tandem with Trump and Modi, has generated disdain towards globalism in his country. Examples of such include his pulling Brazil out of the UN Migration Pact and threatening to leave the Paris Climate Agreement. Moreover, Bolsonaro has attacked and criticized several international organizations for their ineffectiveness and has defended Brazil’s sovereignty; claiming globalization and multilateral agreements impede on his nation’s autonomy.
Due to his populist and authoritative tendencies, Bolsonaro has heavily aligned himself with Trump, Modi, and increasingly so, Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi. These alliances have kept him to his conservative rhetoric while separating Brazil from more progressive and democratic nations, such as those in Western Europe.