Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world. It makes up 8% of the world population but is responsible for one-third of global homicides; equating to approximately 146,000 homicides a year or 400 per day. Brazil is no exception to this extreme prevalence of violence in Latin America. As a result, crime was a major concern for voters in the 2018 election. Bolsonaro’s approach to this issue meant a hardline crackdown on violence. That said, international security has received a vastly different approach than domestic violence. Bolsonaro is relatively more passive in his policy regarding foreign threats than domestic ones. In several instances, he has followed the lead of the US on global security.
One of the World’s Most Dangerous Countries
Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Brazil currently has the most homicides by firearm in the world and is fifth globally for femicide. As President, Bolsonaro proposes that Brazil liberalize gun control and expand gun access similarly to the US system. In doing so, Brazil would permit adult citizens 25 and older to acquire up to four firearms. In addition, Bolsonaro’s administration intends to enhance immunity for those who kill in self-defense.
Bolsonaro’s approach is contradicted by numerous studies that claim more guns on the street ultimately lead to more homicides. In fact, the Brazilian government published a finding in 2013 that found a 1 percent increase in guns in an area corresponds with a 1 to 2 percent increase in the homicide rate of that area. Bolsonaro has not commented on the statistics regarding that issue of gun availability. A large part of this is due to his stance on guns acting as the intersection of his infatuation with US culture and his conservative ideology that aligns with US President Trump. Ever since Trump’s election in 2016, Bolsonaro has been a staunch supporter. His policy on guns comes as no surprise for he has hailed Trump’s policies on numerous occasions. This alliance over gun policy further displays the connection the two populist, conservative leaders share.
Dangerous Proximities: The Venezuelan Crisis
Due to Brazil’s proximity to Venezuela and the subsequent migration into Brazil, there are major concerns of security threats to Brazil resulting from the current state of Venezuela. Top advisor to Bolsonaro and retired General Augusto Heleno, has stated that the future of Venezuela is up to their own armed forces. Bolsonaro has formally recognized Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader to Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, as the official President of Venezuela amid their Presidential Crisis. Bolsonaro is politically motivated to recognize Guaidó as the de facto president because Maduro’s regime is far left and a stark contrast to Bolsonaro’s ideologies.
After a failed coup by the Venezuelan military called upon by Guaidó, the Brazilian military ruled out any intervention regarding presidential succession in Venezuela. General Heleno has echoed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the issue, stating that he wishes for a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela and would like to avoid anything that resembles a civil war. As such, Bolsonaro seems to be following the lead of the US on this issue; actively siding with Guaido politically but doing little to intervene militarily.
“The situation of the country would be better today if the dictatorship had killed more people.”
“Through the vote you will not change anything in this country, right? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!”
“You will only change, unfortunately, on the day when we begin a civil war here inside. And doing the job that the Military Regime didn’t do: killing thirty thousand!”
It is inherent in these statements that Bolsonaro feels a nostalgia for the military dictatorship that governed Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Moreover, as evident through numerous tweets and interviews, he supports torture and mass killing – both tactics used by governments conducting anti-subversion measures to remove opposition regimes and political parties. His affinity for the dictatorship dates to his time as a paratrooper in the Brazilian army during the 1970s. At that time, political correctness was not a thorn in the side of his rhetoric as it is today. Attempting to bring back this environment, Bolsonaro’s immediate surroundings reflect his dream for Brazil: predominantly white, Christian, heterosexual, conservative, and traditional. Bolsonaro believes that the military should take police action in order to combat domestic violence and supports replicating the brutal policing methods used during the dictatorship.
Opposingly, after the death of George Floyd in the U.S., protests against police brutality have emerged globally. Several cities in Brazil such as Recife, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro have had demonstrations calling for reform of police brutality and for justice for communities of color. Brazil, with nearly half its population identifying as people of color, relates greatly on all levels to the Black Lives Matter movement and the call to end police brutality.
Nevertheless, Bolsonaro continues to pursue brutal policing methods. For example, the AI-5 law; supported by both President Bolsonaro and his son Eduardo Bolsonaro, was a law used in the mid-twentieth century by the former military rule used to override government and constitutional orders in order to thwart left-wing insurgence. This law used military anti-subversion tactics (i.e. torture, death squads, forced disappearances) in order to eliminate any government resistance and possible subversion efforts. Bolsonaro’s and his son’s support for this law as well as threatening to enforce it, is telling of their position on policing military action and upholding democratic values.