One of the main topics of discussion in the past four presidential elections has been Bolsa Família, the conditional cash-transfer program created in 2003 by the Workers’ Party. Bolsa Família came about after the unification of several programs elaborated by the previous Social Democracy Party administration. Over the years, the program became the biggest political symbol of former President Lula and his party, while adversaries have been ambivalent toward it.
It is often criticized for creating dependent citizens, as “it gives the fish [to people], instead of teaching them how to catch fish for themselves.” However, the same critics have repeatedly promised to keep – and even increase – Bolsa Família in a bid to win votes. Jair Bolsonaro, the frontrunner in the 2018 presidential race, epitomizes that contradiction.
In February 2011, he pondered the possibility of ending the program altogether, saying that “Bolsa Família is nothing more than taking money from those who produce and hand it to those who are lazy, so people would keep the status quo.” Now, Mr. Bolsonaro defends keeping it – and even creating a Christmas bonus, similar to what regular workers receive by law.