In his first year in office, the bulk of the work done by President Jair Bolsonaro and his new administration is likely to be done around March, April, and May. The first few months of the year are still transitional; the Congress decides on its new speakers and distributes its permanent committees among political parties and doesn’t get much else done.
Equally, Mr. Bolsonaro’s cabinet reshuffle will slow down productivity in these early weeks. Yesterday’s ministerial meetings showed just how much adjustment will have to be done, with all of Mr. Bolsonaro’s ministries taking on new responsibilities while striving to cut costs and become more streamlined.
That said, however, this does not mean the government will be left twiddling its thumbs for the foreseeable future, waiting for the structures around it and within it to settle back into work. On January 1, just after being sworn into office, new president Jair Bolsonaro already issued a series of decrees, making a series of changes to how his administration will be run.
Here are some of the most notable changes in the new government:
Indigenous rights in jeopardy
Among sections of Brazilian society, the area which had the most fear of Jair Bolsonaro becoming president was that of indigenous rights groups and advocates. A staunch opponent to the demarcation of traditional indigenous lands, Mr. Bolsonaro pledged to stop the process completely and instead seek to give indigenous people the deeds to said property, a move which would see these communities coerced into selling their land on the cheap to rural landowners.
The first alarm bells sounded in December when Mr. Bolsonaro decided he would transfer Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency Funai from the Ministry of Justice to the purview of the Ministry of Human Rights. Representatives of Funai complained that the move would leave indigenous communities vulnerable, without the support of the Federal Police, and that Funai would lose any legal clout it once had.
After taking office, the new president has gone one step further, taking the power to identify, evaluate and demarcate indigenous territory away from Funai, and handing it to the Ministry of Agriculture. The human rights ministry will still be responsible for indigenous affairs, as announced in December, but it will not be able to interfere in the duties of Agriculture when it comes to demarcation.
The significance of demarcation being put under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture is overwhelming, as the ministry is led by the lobby of rich farmers and landowners who are the most opposed to demarcation, and have often entered into conflict with indigenous communities over land rights.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Agriculture has also been given the same powers to determine the demarcation of quilombolas, which are rural communities made up of the descendants of freed slaves, protected by the Constitution.
The Brazilian Forestry Service—the agency responsible for issuing environmental licenses for rural properties in order to combat illegal deforestation and promote conservation—has also been moved to the Ministry of Agriculture.
LGBTQ people overlooked
Another early change from the new president, which very nearly went by unnoticed, was his removal of the LGBTQ population from the country’s guidelines on human rights. In defining the duties and powers of the Ministry of Human Rights, Jair Bolsonaro made no mention of the LGBTQ community, establishing that the ministry should promote the rights of women, families, youths, the elderly, people with disabilities, black people, ethnic minorities, social minorities, and the indigenous community.
The previous incarnation of the government’s human rights apparatus (previously in the form of the National Secretariat of the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) foresaw “ensuring the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBTQ) population,” and created a department with that sole focus. With this alteration to the ministry’s statute, it is unclear which (if any) department will be in charge of LGBTQ human rights.
The Superminister of the Economy
Paulo Guedes, one of Jair Bolsonaro’s so-called “superministers,” was sworn in as the new Minister of the Economy and gave clear indications about how he will conduct the government’s economic agenda over the next four years.
His liberal platform will be based on five main fronts: a reform of the pension system, simplification of the tax system, privatizations, the decentralization of the government’s revenue, and the opening of Brazil’s economy to the international market.
Underlining his priority to pass a pensions reform as quickly as possible, Mr. Guedes claimed the changes would allow for “10 years of sustained growth.” The government’s plan is to reuse the failed proposal put forward by former president Michel Temer, before changing the pension system to an individual capitalization model, in which workers save for their own pensions by contributing to their own accounts, instead of the active workforce paying for pensioners.
One of the structural changes put in place since Mr. Bolsonaro’s inauguration has been the alteration to the National Monetary Council, in a way that guarantees Paulo Guedes vast control over the board’s decisions. Previously made up of the president of the Central Bank and the ministers of Finance and Planning, Paulo Guedes will now hold “two seats” on the council: one for himself, and another for the Treasury Secretary, one of Mr. Guedes’ subordinates.