Observations of an expat: Tropical Trump

They call him “The Trump of the Tropics.” The parallels between Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump are legion, with one big difference – Bolsonaro is better placed to overturn his country’s democracy.

Presidential elections are scheduled for 2 October and far-right Bolsonaro is trailing well behind his socialist rival Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. So what does he do? He pulls a Trump. The elections will be a fraud, Bolsonaro claims months before the polls open. The electronic voting machines, he says, have been hacked.

Rubbish, counters the electoral authority, who maintain that there have been no incidences of widespread fraud in any elections since the system was introduced in 1996, including the election which put Bolsonaro in office in 2018.

But Bolsonaro persists. This week, the Brazilian leader summoned diplomats to the presidential place to listen to an hour-long televised harangue in which he claimed – without evidence – that a military investigation into a voting system which the country has successfully used for 25 years was fraudulent. The investigators, by the way, were appointed by Bolsonaro.

The US embassy in Brazil immediately issued a statement describing Brazil’s election machinery “as a model for the world.” Last month, Joe Biden dispatched CIA Director William Burns to tell Bolsonaro to change his story. The US president is clearly worried that a successful Bolsonaro coup in October will give encouragement to the supporters of Trump’s “Big Lie.” Bolsonaro has gone on record to say that Biden’s election was “suspicious.”

Trump said: “Brazil is lucky to have a man such as Jair Bolsonaro working for them. He is a great president and will never let the people of his great country down.”

Bolsonaro is by general consensus a far-right populist president. He opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, gays in general, immigrants, drug liberalisation, gun control, land reforms, secularism and affirmative action. He has rolled back legislation to protect the indigenous people of the Amazon and 1,330 square miles of the vital Amazon rain forest has been lost to development during his presidency. Bolsonaro’s supporters are the military, big business and gun-toting evangelical Christians who represent a solid base of roughly 25 percent of the population.

The former Captain in the Brazilian army claims that the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985 was a “glorious period” in his country’s history and has described the former regime’s chief torturer as a “national hero.”

But none of the above is the reason for his dramatic drop in the opinion polls. That is the result of his complete mishandling of the covid pandemic. At 600,000 bodies Brazil has the second-highest death rate in the world (America is tops). Bolsonaro consistently played down the threat; fired two health ministers who opposed him; blocked state governors who tried to circumvent his non-action policies; refused to wear a mask; promoted debunked drugs and opposed a vaccination programme.

His performance was so appalling that a committee of the Brazilian Senate has called for him to be charged with crimes against humanity and an interesting allegation of “charlatanism.”

Bolsonaro claims he was standing up against the forces of “political correctness.”

The Brazilian leader’s performance in opinion polls—and the October elections—is likely to be immaterial. He has the military behind him. Bolsonaro has made a point of raising the army to the pedestal from which it fell in 1986. Military figures have been appointed to key cabinet posts and his running mate is army general Walter Bragge Netto.

Donald Trump had the support of a motley crew of gun-toting White Supremacists to fight for his big election lie. Bolsonaro has the backing of the Brazilian equivalent of the Proud Boys but behind them is the 334,500-strong army.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • “Charlatanism” is an interesting allegation. If it means a person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge of skill it is hard to see how that could apply to an elected President as the main skill required for the post is the ability to get elected.
    The world is in a sorry state when these kind of pathological leaders can hold on to the reins of power and set about destroying the entire planet to maintain their ability to dispense patronage.
    The philosophy of post-modernism (that denies the existence of any objective natural reality and hence any such thing as objective truth) has led us to a blind acceptance of Aristotelian contradictions or propaganda and; an Orwellian world where “War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.”

  • At 600,000 bodies Brazil has the second-highest [Covid] death rate in the world (America is tops).

    That was the number of reported Covid deaths rather than the rate (per 100,000 population).

    The most comprehensive comparative study of excess deaths due to Covid-19 is this one…

    ‘Estimating excess mortality due to the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic analysis of COVID-19-related mortality, 2020–21’ [March 2022]:

    Measured by estimated excess deaths, Brazil has the fifth highest count at 792,000 behind Mexico (798,000), Russia (1,070,000), USA (1,130,000), and India (4,070,000). Brazil’s count is relatively accurate with a ratio between excess mortality rate and reported COVID-19 mortality rate of 1.28.

    For a fair comparison, these are the “Estimated excess mortality rate (per 100 000)” for a selection of countries…

    Norway: 7.2, Finland: 80.8, Sweden: 91.2, Denmark: 94.1, Germany 120.5, France: 124.2, UK: 126.8, Netherlands: 140.0, Belgium: 146.6, India: 152.5, USA: 179.3, Spain: 186.7, Brazil: 186.9, Portugal: 202.2, Italy: 227.4, Mexico: 325.1, Russia: 374.6, Bulgaria: 647.3, Bolivia: 734.9.

  • “At 600,000 bodies Brazil has the second-highest death rate in the world”

    Peru has had a higher per capita death rate than Brazil despite having one of the world’s most brutally strict lock downs.

    As in the US, public health in Brazil is controlled mainly at state level not federal level and Bolsonaro has limited powers over it. You could not really lock down the favelas anyway as the effect of the economic hardship caused would outweigh any health gains.

    I would say by far Bolsonaro’s biggest failure is in not protecting the Amazon. He should have seen himself as the custodian of what is really a world resource not a national one.

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