At the center of a huge government crisis, who is Gustavo Bebianno?

. Feb 15, 2019
gustavo bebianno brazil president jair bolsonaro Gustavo Bebianno

The first genuine political crisis of the still-incipient Jair Bolsonaro government has a face and a name: Secretary-General of the Presidency, Gustavo Bebianno.

Having served as the temporary leader of Jair Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) during last year’s elections, Mr. Bebianno is accused of sponsoring a scheme of dummy candidates, by which ersatz runners were given vast amounts of campaign funds, only to have that money channeled into companies connected to PSL members. The candidates themselves ended up with tiny voting numbers.

Mr. Bebianno was quick to deflect any blame for the scheme, claiming he did not know anything about the dummy candidates and pointing the finger at PSL founder and kingpin Luciano Bivar—who retook the party presidency in the wake of the election.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">What was once a potentially controllable scandal turned into a ticking time bomb, thanks to the involvement of one of the president&#8217;s sons, Carlos Bolsonaro. After Mr. Bebianno told the press that things had been smoothed out with the government and he had spoken &#8220;three times&#8221; to Jair Bolsonaro that day, Carlos took to social media and inadvertently dropped a flaming rag close to this powder keg of a crisis.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He accused Gustavo Bebianno of being a liar, saying that he spent the entire day with his father and Mr. Bebianno had not conversed with Jair Bolsonaro &#8220;three times,&#8221; as he told the media. By a simple tweet, Carlos Bolsonaro, a city councilor in Rio de Janeiro and not a formal part of the government, may have caused the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">first cabinet firing</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> of his father&#8217;s administration.</span></p> <div id="attachment_14109" style="width: 758px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-14109" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-14109" src="" alt="gustavo bebianno" width="748" height="410" srcset=" 748w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 748px) 100vw, 748px" /><p id="caption-attachment-14109" class="wp-caption-text">Mr. Bebianno has warned: he will not go down without a fight.</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The matter has become very delicate for the government. Mr. Bebianno claims he will not resign, and the indication behind the scenes is that Jair Bolsonaro will freeze him out of official business until he does. No easy task for a minister who works inside the president&#8217;s office.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Latest reports suggest the president has issued Mr. Bebianno an ultimatum: either he steps down from his post before Monday, or he will be fired.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, what works in the government&#8217;s favor is that Gustavo Bebianno is still a relative unknown. He was not on anyone&#8217;s radar until mid-2018, and he has no supporters of his own—outside party colleagues—nor does his cabinet ministry hold any particular importance. The problem is what Mr. Bebianno would do, or say, after being thrown to the wolves.</span></p> <h2>Where did Gustavo Bebianno come from?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Until this week, Gustavo Bebianno was seen as one of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">closest advisors</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. He orchestrated much of the former Army captain&#8217;s campaign and enjoyed access to the president that no-one else, outside the Bolsonaro family, has.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, he has only been in politics for a year. Starting as a fierce admirer of Jair Bolsonaro, he eventually gained his trust and became responsible for bringing the now-president to the Social Liberal Party.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bebianno barely left Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s side from that moment on. When his father died in hospital, Mr. Bebianno was out campaigning for the presidential candidate. However, when </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro was stabbed</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> on September 6 of last year, his trusted advisor moved out of his Rio de Janeiro apartment and into a São Paulo hotel room, to be as close to the candidate as possible.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Before the 2018 elections, Gustavo Bebianno&#8217;s biggest passion was </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian jiu-jitsu</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, easily given away by his imposing physique and cauliflower ears.</span></p> <div id="attachment_14112" style="width: 613px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-14112" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-14112" src="" alt="bebianno" width="603" height="367" srcset=" 603w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 603px) 100vw, 603px" /><p id="caption-attachment-14112" class="wp-caption-text">During the campaign, few were as close to Mr. Bolsonaro (C) as Mr. Bebianno (R)</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A black belt in the martial art, Mr. Bebianno abandoned his budding law career in Brazil to move to Miami and open a jiu-jitsu gym. His dream was less successful than he had hoped, and he returned to Brazil four years later. He always remained in contact with the sport, however, becoming a partner of close friend Rilion Gracie (of the famed Gracie family of fighters) and investing money in opening the Rilion Gracie Jiu-Jitsu gym in downtown Miami.</span></p> <h2>The Man Who Knew Too Much</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Like any good jiu-jitsu fighter, Gustavo Bebianno knows the importance of remaining in control, even when he&#8217;s on his back. The fact that he refused to resign and has yet to be fired by Jair Bolsonaro is telling, as in all of these months the two have been side-by-side, Mr. Bebianno is sure to have information that could compromise the government.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bebianno oversaw the accounts for the entire presidential campaign, which was fraught with scandal connected to alleged illegal financing. A source from inside the administration, linked to the military wing, told newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Valor</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that the party accounts &#8220;almost definitely&#8221; included errors and potential crimes. If he is sent down, Gustavo Bebianno will &#8220;almost definitely&#8221; spill the beans on any misconduct concerning the president.

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