Bolsonaro’s stance on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and his related pledge to protect traditional family values has helped him garner the increasingly powerful support of the Evangelical Church and lobby in Brazil. Furthermore, his position on immigration reflects his anti-globalization attitude and socially isolated vision for Brazil’s future. He also maintains a very conservative, traditional view of how Brazilian culture should look. For example, he believes in marriage being between one man and one woman. In this regard, Bolsonaro has made numerous statements condemning the queer community and has even claimed to be proudly homophobic. In addition to the lack of rights for the LGBTQ+ community, under Bolsonaro, indigenous rights have been consistently disregarded. Due to his religious background and aforesaid attitudes, Bolsonaro supports Zionist Israel and pushes the evangelical agenda that coincides with American foreign policy in the Middle East.
President Bolsonaro was raised in the Roman Catholic Church while his wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, is an evangelical. They were married in 2013 in la Asamblea de Dios Victoria en Cristo; a massively popular evangelical church, by one of the most radical evangelical priests in Brazil. Moreover, Bolsonaro was re-baptized by an evangelical pastor in the River Jordan during his trip to Jordan in 2016. The baptism was politically charged as Bolsonaro was preparing for the 2018 presidential race at the same time. In addition, his connection to the evangelical church in his personal life played into Bolsonaro’s campaign in that he garnered the support of the increasingly powerful evangelical lobby. A large part of this support stems from his anti-abortion stance and promise to defend traditional family values. During his bid for the Presidency in 2018, white (European descent) Protestant voter turnout can be credited as one of the main voter groups that helped award him the presidency. Ultimately, his pandering and conversion to the Evangelical Church played a large part in his election.
During the dictatorship in Brazil, evangelical participation in politics was negligible. However, after democratization, the number of evangelicals in Brazil began to rise. The percent of Brazilians who identify as evangelical tripled between 1980 and 2010. With an increase in membership, the Church began to recognize the influence it had in politics. As a result, the Assembly of God, a popular evangelical church with branches throughout Brazil, began endorsing candidates to run for office, including Bolsonaro.
During his presidency, Bolsonaro has continuously favored the Evangelical Church (and vice versa). Yet, the Evangelical Church in Brazil has enormous financial debt. As a result, Bolsonaro has made it a point of discussion for the Economic Ministry to “settle the matter,” asking them to consider a potential debt pardon. In this regard, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolsonaro has exempted evangelical churches from lockdown orders; classifying religious activity as an essential service per the request of evangelical leaders.
Bolsonaro’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is telling of how he wishes to act upon the religious sentiment in Brazil. His vision for Brazil’s culture includes a conservative sentiment towards relations with Arab nations. In addition to his own beliefs, the evangelical lobby has pushed Bolsonaro to support Israel over Palestine and, in 2020, commit to moving the Brazilian embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. Relatedly, Bolsonaro has expressed a distaste for dealing with Arab countries; another stance supported by the evangelical political agenda in Brazil. Further actions regarding his policy on Israel and Palestine can be seen in his support for similar US actions in the region. Bolsonaro has praised and aligned himself with both the US and Israel; specifically Trump and Netanyahu, in criticizing the ‘international left.’ As a result of Bolsonaro’s international relations, Ernesto Araújo, Brazil’s foreign minister, praised the president for acting to separate Brazil from what he describes as the “anti-Christian” system of “globalist ideology.”
President Bolsonaro’s stance on immigration has largely been characterized by a desire for Brazilian self-determination. His upbringing and early life give us key insights into this deep desire. Bolsonaro is the grandson of German and Italian immigrants, making both of his parents first-generation Brazilian. Raised in south-eastern Brazil; a majority white, European-descent area, Bolsonaro grew up relatively affluent. In this setting, racism is feasibly developed as little to no exposure to people of color with similar lifestyles can form a perception of racial superiority in oneself. In addition to the influence of his geographical origins, Bolsonaro’s developmental years as a child were in the 1950s and 60s. During this time, European, Arab, and Japanese immigrants were given special treatment by government programs to help them assimilate into urban life in Brazil. Those of African and indigenous descent were treated differently. Unfortunately, the treatment of most people of color, especially African Brazilians, is rooted in Brazil’s history with slaves. Portugal, Brazil’s former colonizer, was the first European power to import slaves to the New World. In fact, Portugal remained one of the top slave importers for centuries.. Bolsonaro’s upbringing and family have been beneficiaries of institutionalized racism that has characterized Brazil’s social structure. As such, his developmental years explain his rhetoric and attitude towards immigration.
Although Bolsonaro has stated that “not just anyone can come into our home,” Brazil has still been relatively accommodating to Venezuelan migrants escaping hardship. Thousands of Venezuelans have been resettled and relocated in Brazilian border towns and some major cities in recent months. In addition, in 2017, about 736,000 registered immigrants entered Brazil. Portuguese immigrants are coming into Brazil at the highest quantity and they are followed by Japan, Italy, Paraguay, and Bolivia. That said, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are estimated to come to Brazil undocumented, mostly originating from Venezuela who travel across the border.
Above all, Bolsonaro wants to decide how his administration handles immigration without any foreign influences, i.e. the UN. He claims Brazil, and only Brazil, shall be responsible for the immigrants coming into the country. Pulling out of the UN Migration Pact is Bolsonaro’s attempt to further emphasize Brazil’s national sovereignty on the matter while reflecting his disdain towards globalism and multinational cooperation. During the 2018 campaign, however, immigration was not a huge issue which meant Bolsonaro did not give it a lot of attention. Neglect of the issue also has to do with the fact that Bolsonaro’s constituent base was largely unaffected by his decision to pull Brazil from the UN Migration Pact. Notably, though, such a decision further aligned him with other global right-wing, anti-immigration leaders, i.e. Trump & Modi.
Profit over Protection
The social inequality in Brazil is also in the peripheries of Bolsonaro’s government. During his campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to weaken social protection programs, dismantle human rights policies, and weaken the land rights of indigenous people and communities in order to benefit business interests. With regards to the latter, indigenous communities have been targeted significantly by his policies that aim to benefit the beef, farming, and agricultural industries of Brazil. Bolsonaro has seethed over the fact that 13% of Brazil’s territory belongs to indigenous communities. He has mandated that the government take indigenous land in order to make room for ranchers and mining.
“How did they manage to get 13% of the national territory?”
“We’re going to rip up Raposa Serra do Sol [Indigenous Territory in Roraima, northern Brazil]. We are going to give all the ranchers guns”
If those actions and rhetoric weren’t enough, Bolsonaro has taken the responsibility of protecting indigenous rights from the indigenous affairs agency; FUNAI, and given it to the Agriculture Ministry; the biggest advocate for revoking indigenous land rights in order to expand agri-business. Since agri-business is the largest motor behind Brazil’s economy Bolsonaro has significant motivation to prioritize it over indigenous land protections.
“There is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians”
Targets on their backs: LGBTQ+ Rights in the Bolsonaro Era
Similar to indigenous communities, the LGBTQ+ community in Brazil is largely threatened by the Bolsonaro administration. On numerous occasions, the President has used homophobic slurs and hate speech when referring to LGBTQ+ Brazilians:
“Brazil can’t be a country of the gay world, of gay tourism. We have families.”
“I am homophobic yes, with a lot of pride.”
“I would rather have a dead son than a gay one.”
These hateful statements are not new as Bolsonaro has made clear his distain for the queer community since the beginning of his political career. His outright and admitted homophobia comes from an exceptionally conservative background. Bolsonaro grew up in the middle to late twentieth century, decades before any nation had legalized same-sex marriage. In addition, he was raised Catholic by two first-generation Brazilians whose parents emigrated from Europe. This background is commonly associated with conservatism and traditional family values where Bolsonaro is no exception. Claiming his own homophobia to be in defense of the Judeo-Christian concept of a traditional family, Bolsonaro continues to make reference and appeal to his evangelical base.
Specifically, his administration declined to add the LGBTQ+ community to the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights’ list of protected minority groups. Bolsonaro also fired the lead official on the HIV task force for creating a campaign intended to educate transgender Brazilians. Growing support amongst evangelical groups is pushing for a bill proposed by Bolsonaro that would define marriage between a man and a woman. Another bill proposed to Congress by Bolsonaro’s administration would compel people to use the bathroom of their assigned sex, threatening criminalization for using the other bathroom. The 2018 ruling that allowed transgender individuals to change their sex and name legally, has repeatedly been under threat since even before Bolsonaro took office. To demonstrate, a 75% increase in LGBTQ+ hate crimes was seen in the months leading up to the October, 2018 election. This increase notably coincides with Bolsonaro’s rise in the polls as he left the political fringe and entered the mainstream before his landslide election.
Several politicians in Brazil slammed Bolsonaro for his anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, claiming he is endangering the lives of queer Brazilians by stoking homophobic sentiments. Congressman and LGBTQ+ activist David Miranda stated that Bolsonaro was essentially “putting a target on their backs.” After his 2018 election, LGBTQ+ people felt that Bolsonaro had given the greenlight to those wishing to commit violence against the queer community. All in all, Bolsonaro essentially legitimised a new wave of homophobia and homophobic violence in Brazil.
Women’s (lack of) Rights
“I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it”
Bolsonaro delivered this statement in 2003 on the floor of the congressional chamber while he was still a congressman. He was speaking to fellow congresswoman Maria do Rosário after she accused him of promoting violence. Bolsonaro’s blunt statement gives tremendous insight into his perception of women, rape culture, and the struggles women face in Brazil. Most notably, he believes rape is something a woman can deserve. In 2003, Bolsonaro was simply marginalized in Brazilian politics as a far right politician, often disregarded for his rhetoric and beliefs. Now, in 2020, he is president and his manner of conducting politics has not only been legitimized, but normalized.
In Brazil, a woman is the victim of physical violence every 7.2 seconds. President Bolsonaro is credited with empowering those who commit such violence to continue to do so. Official state government data reported that femicide in Brazil saw a 12 point increase between 2018 and 2019; Bolsonaro’s first year in office. It must be stated though that there are many factors that have led to this increase, meaning Bolsonaro is not the sole contributor. For example, a state mandated differentiation between femicide and homicide in data recordings has led to more femicides being recorded. However, a lack of federal victim support and an increase in civilian gun ownership also large contribute to the femicide rate in Brazil. These are two factors that Bolsonaro’s administration is responsible for.