Jair Bolsonaro has never been this popular

. Aug 14, 2020
approval rating bolsonaro President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR

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We’re covering today Jair Bolsonaro’s soaring approval ratings, the legal setbacks for the First Family, and a bill to ‘outlaw communism.’

Bolsonaro’s approval ratings go up … 

Just days after Brazil topped the mark of 100,000 coronavirus deaths (the second-worst in the world),

President Jair Bolsonaro posted the highest approval ratings he has ever had since he took office in January 2019. The rate of voters who consider his performance as either good or great jumped from 32 to 37 percent — while the group which rates him as bad or terrible shrunk from 44 to 34 percent, according to Brazil&#8217;s most-renowned pollster, Datafolha.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2609233" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2609233/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The institute claims that of the 5 percentage points Mr. Bolsonaro gained, at least 3 come from informal or unemployed workers with family incomes of up to BRL 3,000 (USD 559) per month. That&#8217;s the demographic eligible to receive the government&#8217;s BRL 600 monthly emergency salary.</p> <p><strong>Effects of the emergency salary.</strong> While BRL 600 does not go a particularly long way, it is a much heftier aid program than renowned cash transfer initiative Bolsa Família —&nbsp;and it is more money than millions of people in Brazil have ever seen within a single month. The benefit single-handedly <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/07/30/coronavirus-aid-brazil-poverty-rates-drop-lowest-level-since-2004/">pushed Brazil&#8217;s extreme poverty rates down</a> from 6.9 percent in 2019 to 3.3 percent in June.</p> <ul><li>Support for the president soared in the Northeast region (Brazil&#8217;s poorest), where Mr. Bolsonaro has always faced overwhelming rejection.</li><li>Polls from other institutes show a similar trend — and arrive at the same conclusion about the <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/07/15/the-economic-effects-of-the-pandemic-on-brazils-different-regions/">importance of the emergency salary</a> to the president&#8217;s approval rating. “Mr. Bolsonaro substituted his support from the urban middle class with [working-class] groups in small and medium-sized cities,” said Mauricio Moura, chief executive officer at polling company Ideia Big Data, speaking to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3468883" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3468883/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-map" data-src="visualisation/3186523" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3186523/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p><strong>Bolsonaro&#8217;s approval among elites.</strong> &#8220;[The president&#8217;s] softening of his authoritarian tone, with adaptation to his message, combined with the loosening of quarantine rules has provoked reflux in a negative trend with strategic segments, such as highly-educated voters with higher income and living in the Southeast. Approval for the president increased by 5 to 6 points after continuous drops since the start of the pandemic,&#8221; wrote Datafolha&#8217;s Mauro Paulino and Alessandro Janoni.</p> <p><strong>Urgency.</strong> The emergency salary costs the administration an astonishing BRL 50 billion per month, making it unsustainable in the long run. The government has said it plans to create a new, bigger cash-transfer program to replace Bolsa Família —&nbsp;but no proposals have been presented as of yet. That, however, might be <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2020/07/30/explaining-brazil-podcast-bolsonaros-ticket-to-re-election/">Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s ticket to re-election</a>.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>… but bad news keeps coming</h2> <p>Despite the rise in polls, things are not exactly rosy in the Bolsonaro camp. On Thursday, the Superior Court of Justice issued an order sending Fabrício Queiroz — a long-time friend of the president who worked as a fixer for his family —&nbsp;and his wife to return to jail after being transferred into house arrest. Mr. Queiroz is a key part in an investigation into a <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/08/12/corruption-case-against-jair-bolsonaro-son-fabricio-queiroz/">money-laundering scheme being operated within the office of Senator Flávio Bolsonaro</a>, the president&#8217;s eldest son, and linked to First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro.</p> <ul><li>Fabrício Queiroz had been <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/06/18/police-arrest-former-bolsonaro-aide-fabricio-queiroz-corruption-probe/">arrested in June</a>, but was placed under house arrest in a highly controversial decision by a judge who is friends with the president.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Investigators hope Mr. Queiroz will flip on the First Family and collaborate with the probe. The fact that his wife will have to do time adds more pressure to the equation.</p> <p><strong>The scheme.</strong> Investigators believe Mr. Queiroz helped Flávio Bolsonaro force his staff to surrender part of their paychecks to the lawmaker. This practice is not uncommon in Brazil, being known as a “rachid scheme.”</p> <ul><li>Monthly deposits into the bank account of Mr. Queiroz coincide with the paydays of public servants at the Rio de Janeiro legislative assembly. The former driver made a total of 176 cash withdrawals from his bank account in 2016.</li><li>The suspicious activities include the former aide signing 21 checks in the name of First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro between 2011 and 2016, with a total value of BRL 72,000 (USD 13,200).</li></ul> <p><strong>Not Willy Wonka.</strong> Flávio Bolsonaro is suspected of using real estate operations and a chocolate store as fronts to launder money. Brazil&#8217;s leading evening television news show Jornal Nacional ran a deposition of the man who sold the store to the now-senator, saying he sold candy for prices below those imposed on franchisers of mega chocolate-chain Kopenhagen — making up the difference in accounts by using embezzled money.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Congresswoman proposes outlawing communism</h2> <p>Carla Zambelli — one of the most staunchly pro-Bolsonaro lawmakers in Congress — submitted a bill that would outlaw communism in Brazil, equating it to Nazism. She proposes that those who propagate, sell, distribute, or bear Nazi and communist symbols should be incarcerated for two years.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> This bill has zero chance of passing. Still, it offers a glimpse at the cultural war strategy of the far-right for the coming electoral cycles —&nbsp;continued fear-mongering about a non-existent &#8220;red scare&#8221; in Brazil.</p> <p><strong>Inspiration.</strong> Ms. Zambelli says her proposal comes from a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/21/ukraine-bans-soviet-symbols-criminalises-sympathy-for-communism">2015 Ukrainian law</a> criminalizing Soviet symbols and sympathy for communism.</p> <p><strong>Brazil-maidan. </strong>As Brasília correspondent Renato Alves showed back in May, one faction of Bolsonaro-supporting politicians and digital influencers have decided to galvanize their far-right followers, <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/05/07/bolsonaro-far-right-wants-turn-brazil-into-2013-ukraine/">urging them “to Ukraine” Brazil</a> — a reference to the Euromaidan protests in 2013.</p> <ul><li>This group staged demonstrations in Brasília that were inspired by the U.S. Ku Klux Klan and called for the shutdown of Congress —&nbsp;even suggesting that the daughters of Supreme Court Justices should be raped and murdered. Six leaders of this movement were briefly arrested in June.</li></ul> <p><strong>Radicalization.</strong> This movement only highlights an ongoing process of intense radicalization in Brazil. Political violence has become more frequent, with high-profile crimes in 2018, such as the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/14/two-years-marielle-franco-murder-struggle-lives-family/">assassination of Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Marielle Franco</a>, shots being fired at a campsite where former President Lula was campaigning — and, of course, the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/09/06/bolsonaro-stabbed-rally/">assassination attempt</a> against Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Lebanon.</strong> A Brazilian diplomatic mission arrived in Beirut on Thursday afternoon, carrying roughly 6 tons of medicines and food. &#8220;Another 4,000 tons of rice will arrive in the short term,&#8221; said former President Michel Temer, who heads the delegation. </li><li><strong>Telecoms. </strong>After drawing several bidders for its mobile operations, Oi Telecom has announced a new version of its recovery plan — which now includes selling part of its pay-TV business. Plus, the company reported in a securities filing that, &#8220;due to widespread demand&#8221; by at least ten companies, it is elevating the minimum bid for its fiber-optic subsidiary from BRL 6.5 billion to 20 billion. </li><li><strong>Aviation.</strong> Azul Airlines, Brazil&#8217;s third-largest carrier, posted BRL 2.9 billion in losses for Q2. Due to the pandemic, Azul&#8217;s revenue dropped 85 percent — forcing the company to renegotiate debts. According to CEO John Rodgerson, Azul managed to get 98 percent of lessors to agree with the postponement of payments. </li><li><strong>Coronavirus 1.</strong> The Chinese municipality of Shenzhen announced they have found <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/08/13/chinese-authorities-say-coronavirus-found-chicken-brazilian-poultry/">traces of the coronavirus in frozen chicken wings</a> imported from Brazil. Despite no public indication of bans of Brazilian animal products, the report causes concern in local authorities. Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry is treating the case as an “alleged contamination,” adding that the country hasn’t received any official warning. In a statement, Brazilian authorities say they are “looking for official information to clarify the circumstances of the alleged contamination.”</li><li><strong>Coronavirus 2.</strong> Brazilian scientists announced a potential breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19 today at the National Academy of Medicine. Horses injected with the Sars CoV-2 protein — responsible for the infection of human cells — developed neutralizing antibodies that were 20 to 50 times more potent against the coronavirus. The next step will be the approval of clinical studies and tests on humans, in order to ascertain the safety of this potential treatment for Covid-19.</li><li><strong>Rio de Janeiro. </strong>The political crisis in Rio could reach new heights. Former State Health Secretary Edmar Santos — arrested in July for heading a corruption scheme that embezzled over BRL 1 billion in funds for coronavirus projects — reportedly recorded conversations with <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/06/11/impeachment-process-against-rio-governor-wilson-witzel/">Governor Wilson Witzel</a> and Pastor Everaldo, chairman of Mr. Witzel&#8217;s Social Christian Party. Mr. Santos is willing to turn the conversations over to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain agreement. (In Brazil, everyone is legally allowed to record their own conversations, even when other parties are not aware).

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