New Brazil President Bolsonaro takes aim at crime, corruption

From left, Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro, his wife Michelle Bolsonaro and Brazil's new Vice-President Hamilton Mourao are welcomed by outgoing Brazilian president Michel Temer upon arriving at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. Picture: Sergio LIMA / AFP

From left, Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro, his wife Michelle Bolsonaro and Brazil's new Vice-President Hamilton Mourao are welcomed by outgoing Brazilian president Michel Temer upon arriving at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. Picture: Sergio LIMA / AFP

While he was taking power with sky-high approval ratings, many in Brazil feared his stated nostalgia for the country’s military dictatorship.

Brazil’s new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro declared a crusade against crime, corruption and leftwing ideology as he took office today for a four-year term at the helm of Latin America’s biggest nation.

The 63-year-old former paratrooper and veteran lawmaker received swift congratulations via Twitter from US President Donald Trump, with whom he shares a similar, brash style and outlook.

“Congratulations to President @jairbolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech – the U.S.A. is with you!” Trump wrote.

Bolsonaro responded by saying: “I truly appreciate your words of encouragement. Together, under God’s protection, we shall bring prosperity and progress to our people!”

In his inauguration speech before Brazil’s Congress, Bolsonaro called for “a true national pact between society and the executive, legislative and judicial powers” to restore the lackluster economy — “without ideological bias.”

While he was taking power with sky-high approval ratings, many in Brazil feared his stated nostalgia for the country’s military dictatorship that ruled 1964 to 1985, his hardline approach to fighting crime and his record of disparaging women and minorities.

Even before being sworn in, Bolsonaro tweeted he would issue a decree easing gun laws to let “good” citizens own firearms to counter armed criminals — a measure opposed by 61 percent of Brazilians, according to a Datafolha survey.

His promise to extend immunity to security forces who use lethal force against suspected wrongdoers has also sparked unease in a country where about 5,000 people a year are already killed by police.

In his speech, Bolsonaro repeatedly hammered leftwing “ideology” that he said had brought Brazil low.

His past remarks made it clear he was referring to policies implemented by the Workers Party, which governed between 2003 and 2016 but ended up reviled for a string of corruption scandals.

Brazil “will return to be a country free of ideological bonds,” he said.

“We need to create a virtuous cycle for the economy that brings the necessary confidence to open our markets, for international trade, to stimulate competition, productivity and efficiency without ideological bias,” he said.

Bolsonaro has already said he will do all he can to challenge the leftist governments of Venezuela and Cuba.

In a sign of his leanings, Bolsonaro warmly welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Brazil for his inauguration, and both leaders spoke of their “brotherhood.” Netanyahu said Bolsonaro assured him Brazil’s embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.

Bolsonaro has also said he admires Trump, with whom he shares nationalist instincts and a disdain of multilateral organizations. He has vowed to pull Brazil out of a UN global migration pact, and is considering doing the same with the Paris climate accord.

The new leader’s open hostility to the left prompted leftwing deputies to spurn his investiture.

Bolsonaro took over the presidency from a center-right figure, Michel Temer, who succeeded the Workers Party Dilma Rousseff — impeached in 2016 — but made little headway with needed fiscal reforms. Temer, Brazil’s most unpopular leader ever, faces a number of corruption accusation on leaving office.

Bolsonaro supporters hope their man will do better.

He has promised to govern for all of the country’s 210 million Brazilians, though his initial declaration suggests it will be on his terms, as he seeks to remake the country around his agenda.

While his government, which takes over on Wednesday, features a US-trained free market advocate as economy minister, and a star anti-corruption judge as justice minister, nearly a third of the 22 ministerial posts are held by ex-military men.

There are also concerns for Brazil’s extensive and diverse environment, with Bolsonaro’s pro-business push being made at the expense of preservation — especially in the Amazon, sometimes called “the lungs of the planet” and at risk from increasing deforestation.

Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has said his education ministry will stop “Marxist trash” being taught in schools and universities — another swipe at the Workers Party, which greatly boosted access to education for the poor and blacks.

Tens of thousands of people attended Bolsonaro’s inauguration ceremony in Brasilia, which was held under tight security that included warplane patrols, anti-drone technology and multiple crowd barriers.

The precautions were more stringent than in years past, in part because Bolsonaro survived a stabbing attack by a mentally unstable man when he was campaigning for the presidency in September.

“We are counting on him to free Brazil from the boot of the criminals. Today, criminals are freer to go about armed than good people who respect the law,” said Ze Ivan, a businessman from Brazil’s northern state of Para who had turned out to see his new president.

“This inauguration is a turning point,” said another, 36-year-old teacher Mauro Penna. “We are very optimistic — this time our country is going to change.”

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