After putschist protests, Bolsonaro makes token gesture of moderation

temer bolsonaro retreat
Former President Michel Temer (left) wrote a letter for President Jair Bolsonaro to publish. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

Two days after threatening to disregard Supreme Court rulings he deems “unconstitutional,” President Jair Bolsonaro published a statement to the nation to “pacify” his relationship with the other branches of government.

In a 10-item list, Mr. Bolsonaro claims his declarations made during the September 7 protests were “said in the heat of the moment” and that he “never meant to attack the other branches of government.”

Addressing Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes — who on Tuesday the president called a scoundrel and an oppressor of the Brazilian people — Mr. Bolsonaro hailed his “qualities as a legal scholar” and mentioned only “divergences” regarding some of the measures taken by the justice of Brazil’s top court.

“That’s democracy: executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government working together in favor of the people, and all respecting the Constitution.”

The letter was published after Mr. Bolsonaro flew his predecessor Michel Temer to Brasília for a private meeting. Mr. Temer — a political fox with many connections in the capital — advised him to extend an olive branch to the Supreme Court justice he has been attacking for months.

Globo TV reported that the declaration was in fact penned by Mr. Temer, who has allegedly brokered a meeting between the president and Justice Moraes. Such claims cast doubt over whether or not Mr. Bolsonaro will stand by his declarations, and his position may become clearer later this evening when he addresses his followers in a weekly Facebook live broadcast. 

Financial markets reacted to the statement instantly. Stock index Ibovespa jumped from just over 112,600 points at 4:35 pm (Brasília time) to 114,400 five minutes later. By closing time, the index was up 1.2 percent, in stark contrast with yesterday’s plunge of almost 4 percent. The forex market also responded promptly, with the USD retreating to BRL 5.22, a drop of almost 2 percent. 

This apparent retreat from the president, however, is nothing new. In over two and a half years as president, Mr. Bolsonaro’s modus operandi involves a never-ending good cop-bad cop routine. After attacking institutions, he rolls back his statements a few days later, receiving plaudits from political pundits for a perceived “moderation.” The process then begins all over again, each time pushing the limits of what is acceptable even further.

It’s what columnist Benjamin Fogel defined as a mix of Groundhog Day and Friday the 13th.