Bolsonaro puts his foot in it (again) with Armed Forces speech

. Mar 07, 2019
bolsonaro military armed forces

As the saying goes, Brazil’s new year doesn’t really get underway until the end of the Carnival holiday. Judging by the de facto start of 2019 for President Jair Bolsonaro, we are in for one wild ride. Since Ash Wednesday—the official end of Carnival—the head of state is two for two: two days, two monumental screw-ups.

Still damp from the golden shower episode not 24 hours previous, Mr. Bolsonaro has managed to get himself into even more trouble. During a speech at a ceremony for the 211th anniversary of the Naval Fusiliers Corps, the sitting president declared that “democracy and freedom only exist when the Armed Forces want them to.”

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The speech was intended to be perfunctory and complimentary of the Armed Forces, while at the same time signaling that the military will need to make sacrifices in the government&#8217;s incoming pension reform. Instead, Jair Bolsonaro has managed to inadvertently start another fire.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Our mission will be completed alongside the good people of Brazil, those who love their motherland, those who respect family, those who seek rapprochement with countries which have ideologies similar to ours, those who love democracy and freedom. And these, democracy and freedom, only exist when the respective Armed Forces want them to,&#8221; he </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">said</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, during the event in Rio de Janeiro.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s intention to gesture towards the Armed Forces would be understandable after the events of earlier this week, when the president posted a pornographic video on his official Twitter page, infuriating the military wing of his government.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, the content of his words constituted a direct violation of the Brazilian Constitution, which defines the role of the Armed Forces and the protection of democracy.</span></p> <h2>Backup from General Mourão</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a rare stroke of solidarity, Vice President (and four-star Army General) Hamilton Mourão came to Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s defense, saying the president&#8217;s words were misinterpreted. After weeks of going against his superior on almost everything, General Mourão backed up Jair Bolsonaro on this case, claiming the line was a reference to the situation in Venezuela.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;[The president] is being misinterpreted. The president spoke about when the Armed Forces are not committed with democracy and freedom these values die,&#8221; said the vice-president. &#8220;This is what happens in Venezuela.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Poorly phrased or not, Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s comments are worrying in a country which now has the largest Armed Forces presence in government since the end of the military dictatorship (1964-1985)—and a long history of coups and revolutions.</span></p> <h2>A comedy of errors</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Whether is it dummy candidates, pornography on social media, or today&#8217;s latest impropriety, the Jair Bolsonaro government is quickly turning into a series of blunders and missteps, despite having only spent a little over two months in office. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">International observers have adopted a &#8220;wait-and-see&#8221; approach with the current administration. Put off by his </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">disappointing showing at the World Economic Forum in Davos</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> but buoyed by the economic team backing him up, his nascent administration was initially handed the benefit of the doubt.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But now, with the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Carnival holiday</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> out of the way and the government racing against time to approve deep reforms, foreign market operators are set to become more and more impatient with Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s gaffes. The irritation is less with the content of his screw-ups and more with their </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">practical implications</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. In order to pass a deeply unpopular pension reform bill, the government needs all the support it can get, from both the political class and the general public. Posting pornography on social media and conditioning democracy to the whim of the military is not a good way to appease either.

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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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