Once again, Brazil has made the front cover of The Economist. Back in 2009, the country was flattered to see the liberal British magazine emblazon its front page with the Christ the Redeemer statue blasting off like a rocket, depicting Brazil’s economic boom. Brazilians were less happy four years later, as the magazine used the same cover, with Christ now flailing and set to fall to earth, asking “Has Brazil blown it?”
The focus of Brazil’s latest Economist cover is far-right presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, whom the magazine calls “Latin America’s latest menace.” The coverage is evident in its opinion that Mr. Bolsonaro would make a terrible president and, paraphrasing the cover story: if God really is Brazilian, then he must be away on holiday.
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) 20 de setembro de 2018
The Economist piece discusses Bolsonaro’s antidemocratic leanings, comparing him to Augusto Pinochet, and his “illiberal social views” (including his remark that he would rather his son was dead than be gay, or that he wouldn’t rape a congresswoman colleague because she was “very ugly”). However, looking at policy alone, we can still see the potential for disaster of a Jair Bolsonaro presidency.
Here at The Brazilian Report, we have selected five of Mr. Bolsonaro’s most controversial proposals and consulted experts to find out precisely what effects they would have on the country.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s government program defends the privatization or closure of the majority of Brazil’s state-owned companies. While the exact companies are not specified, the manifesto states that of Brazil’s 141 state-owned enterprises, “some will be made extinct, others will be privatized, and a minority, for their strategic nature, will be preserved.” Mr. Bolsonaro has already admitted the possibility of privatizing oil and gas giant Petrobras, and the candidate’s economic guru, libertarian Chicago boy Paulo Guedes, is in favor of privatizing everything.
Camila de Caso, economist from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo: “The most worrying part of this proposal is that it states the privatizations and concessions would be an effort to stimulate the distribution of income, which doesn’t make sense. According to the logic behind private property, the private sector is geared solely towards generating profit; it’s not going to create any welfare for society.
There is also a mention of privatizations being used to pay public debts, which is awful. During a crisis, it is to be expected that state-owned companies suffer. However, when you privatize them, during a crisis, purely to generate cash flow, it’s as if you were shielding yourself from the sun by using a pasta strainer. It could bring short-term benefits, but once Brazil gets out of this crisis, these companies will start becoming profitable again, and those are funds the state would miss out on over the long term.”
Expanding the Supreme Court
Jair Bolsonaro has promised to alter the Constitution to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court – from 11 to 21. Were this to be successful, Mr. Bolsonaro then intends to nominate the majority of the magistrates himself, a move he describes as being to “balance” trials of Brazil’s highest court.
Maurício Santoro, political scientist and The Brazilian Report columnist: “This would be very bad for many reasons. It is a transparent maneuver to ensure a majority of Supreme Court justices with political leanings similar to those of Mr. Bolsonaro.
A measure such as this would be terrible under any president, but it’s particularly worrying in the case of Jair Bolsonaro, who has a history of hate speech, attacking ethnic minorities and so on. One of the main purposes of the judiciary is to act as a brake against this type of politics and guarantee the constitutional rights of all Brazilians. If Mr. Bolsonaro were to win the election, the role of the judiciary would be extremely important in protecting the most vulnerable groups in society.”
Alteration of labor legislation
Mr. Bolsonaro’s program promises to create a new, voluntary social security card for new workers. Youngsters who choose the new card, which will be colored green and yellow as opposed to the traditional blue, will enter into employment relationships where individual agreements between employer and employee prevail over the existing labor legislation.
Ms. De Caso: “This proposal is terrifying. Much of the discussion around “modernizing” Brazil’s labor legislation simply comes down to the insecurity of the employment market. Workers would be offered two options of social-security cards, but in reality, employers are more likely only to give new workers the option of this new green-and-yellow card, which reduces employee rights. In this landscape of high unemployment, people will accept anything if it means they will be able to earn a minimal income.”
Lower age of legal majority
Jair Bolsonaro intends on reducing the age of legal majority from 18 to 16, meaning that 16 and 17-year-olds would then be tried as adults. Mr. Bolsonaro believes the limit should be lowered to 12 years old, but recognizes that Congress would almost certainly not approve such a dramatic change.
Mr. Santoro: “This is a proposal which always reappears in the Brazilian political debate, usually after the news of a particularly violent and shocking crime involving minors. Public security professionals are typically reluctant to this kind of proposal, as it would mean a further increase to the number of people in jail in Brazil, we already have a huge prison population, which, in fact, caused the emergence of organized crime groups, such as the PCC.
We do have to think about ways to improve the current social education system, principally when we are talking about teenagers being arrested for homicide, rape or other violent crimes, but without reducing the age of legal majority, which would only make the situation worse.”
Right to carry firearms
One of Mr. Bolsonaro’s most famous campaign promises is to give the entire Brazilian population the right to bear arms, reformulating the Disarmament Act in the process.
Mr. Santoro: “This is a similar discussion to that of the reduction of the age of legal majority. There are groups in Brazil who defend the liberation of guns as some sort of magical solution to the country’s public security problems. It would aggravate many violent situations in Brazil, for example, cases of domestic violence, road rage, and so on. It wouldn’t make the country any safer.
Of course, it is an attractive policy for many Brazilians, particularly at a time when people feel very vulnerable, afraid and mistrusting of the State. However, this proposal would be a way to make it seem as if security is being discussed and debated, without actually thinking of any public policies for the area.”