The other president

. Jan 28, 2019
Mourão vice president Bolsonaro General Mourão (L) and President Bolsonaro. Photo: ABr

During Jair Bolsonaro’s election campaign, the figure of his vice president drew all sorts of consternation, even from Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters. Army Reserve General Hamilton Mourão, of the fancifully named far-right Brazilian Labor Renewal Party, spent most of 2018 being judged as a liability. Perceived as a prejudiced motor-mouth, constantly spouting shocking sound bytes to flabbergasted reporters, and advocating for the hardline military which backed the Jair Bolsonaro campaign (he even backed the idea of a military coup in 2017), Gen. Mourão represented as good of a reason as any not to vote for Mr. Bolsonaro.

However, since Jair Bolsonaro’s election victory, a quite incredible shift has taken place. While the nascent government has been shrouded in crisis, Gen. Mourão has been treated as a moderate force within the administration. Whereas previously the Bolsonaro campaign tried its best to keep the general away from journalists’ microphones, since taking power he has successfully been able to soften the government’s image.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">During <a href="">Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s trip to Davos</a>, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, Hamilton Mourão held the fort in Brasilia as acting president—a title he did not take lightly. He now <a href="">holds the post</a> once more, as Mr. Bolsonaro undergoes surgery to remove a colostomy bag.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The most noticeable difference between the interim president and Jair Bolsonaro was the way in which Gen. Mourão dealt with the press. While the elected president canceled several press conferences at the last minute in Davos, the acting president spoke to reporters every day in Brasilia.</span></p> <div id="attachment_13612" style="width: 1034px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-13612" loading="lazy" class="size-large wp-image-13612" src="" alt="mourão bike bolsonaro" width="1024" height="627" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1984w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><p id="caption-attachment-13612" class="wp-caption-text">VP Hamilton Mourão and his wife ride a bike to the presidential palace. Photo: ABr</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In one particularly contrasting behavior, Gen. Mourão took to social media to thank the press for their &#8220;attention, dedication, enthusiasm, and professional spirit&#8221; in following him around on his first day as acting president. He signed off the tweet by wishing the journalists &#8220;good luck&#8221; in their articles.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s treatment with the press could not be more different. He and his sons often refer to a large part of Brazil&#8217;s mainstream media outlets as &#8220;fake news,&#8221; and will routinely restrict access to journalists from newspapers or websites that he does not like. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is precisely this brash, curt, and often rude image of the Bolsonaro government that Gen. Mourão is seeking to smooth out. As the president left for Davos, he commented that Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s speech in Switzerland was to show that he &#8220;isn&#8217;t Attila the Hun, that he is just another Brazilian like us.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Mourão&#8217;s self-promotion</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Besides trying to make the administration as a whole seem more palatable, Gen. Mourão&#8217;s time in the spotlight has also helped boost his own image, which was somewhat tarnished during the electoral campaign. By the end of his week as a stand-in, it was common to hear pundits refer to the general as being &#8220;more presidential&#8221; than Jair Bolsonaro, particularly in his statements after important news developments.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When Brazil became one of the first countries to declare their recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, renouncing Nicolás Maduro, Jair Bolsonaro remained reasonably quiet about what exactly would Brazil&#8217;s role be in a potential ouster.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the president&#8217;s sons took to social media to fan the flames and call the Venezuelan people to the streets, Gen. Mourão released a measured statement to allay fears of any involvement of Brazil&#8217;s military in removing Mr. Maduro. &#8220;Brazil will not be a part of any intervention,&#8221; he said. &#8220;Our foreign policy is not to intervene in internal matters of other countries.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Gen. Mourão also commented on Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s decision to recognize Nicolás Maduro&#8217;s opponent, showing a certain degree of mistrust. &#8220;The president made a decision alongside other American presidents (&#8230;) let&#8217;s wait and see what the consequences of this act will be.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When left-wing and openly gay congressman Jean Wyllys declared he was abandoning his term and leaving the country due to threats made against his life, once again Jair Bolsonaro and his family reacted in an &#8220;unpresidential&#8221; manner on social media, with Mr. Bolsonaro himself publishing a series of celebratory emoji.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Gen. Mourão, in his final day as acting president, provided the only government statement on the matter with a modicum of respect for the severity of the situation. While suggesting that Mr. Wyllys should give evidence of the threats he received, Gen. Mourão categorically stated that &#8220;whoever threatens a politician is committing a crime against democracy.&#8221; He added that &#8220;one of the most important things is having an opinion and being free to express that opinion.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Mourão, Mr. Armed Forces</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One of the most defining features of the Jair Bolsonaro government and his cabinet is the overwhelming presence of members of the Armed Forces. Not since the dictatorship period (1964-1985) have there been so many members of the Brazilian military in positions of power—an estimated 45 across all levels of government, according to newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Folha de S.Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Hamilton Mourão—a thoroughly respected four-star general and the vice president of the country—is their spokesman.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There are many things you could say about vice-president Mourão, but &#8220;decorative&#8221; is not one of them. He has quickly become the main link between the presidency and the business community, and his experience in diplomacy (and fluency in languages) has seen him effectively usurp the job of foreign minister Ernesto Araújo.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Having met with ambassadors and consuls from around the world, without the knowledge of Mr. Araújo, Gen. Mourão has publicly rubbished the capabilities of Brazil&#8217;s chancellor. Speaking to </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Época</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> magazine, he pondered whether Mr. Araujo &#8220;is capable of saying what Brazil&#8217;s foreign policy is.&#8221;

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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