MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Brazil’s new political era.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country. It has a population of more than 200 million and vast natural resources, and it could be become one of the world’s leading economies.
But political corruption and bad economic policy has led to a stunted economy and rising poverty. The country also logged a record high murder rate in 2017.
REICHARD: Brazil’s inability to tap its potential has created the saying, “Brazil is the country of the future and always will be.”
But late last year, Brazilians elected a new president many hope will lead the nation to a better future.
Here is WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: On Tuesday, Jair Bolsonaro officially became the 42nd president of Brazil.
AUDIO: [Sound of inauguration parade]
Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets of the nation’s capital, Brasilia, to celebrate Bolsonaro’s inauguration. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the ceremony.
AUDIO: [Sound of Bosonaro speaking Portuguese]
In his inauguration speech to the Brazilian Congress, Bolsonaro said “Brazil will return to being a country free of ideological constrictions.” He also vowed to divide power in a “progressive, conscientious, and responsible way.”
Many hope Bolsonaro will begin a new era in Brazilian politics. Several high-profile political corruption scandals have roiled the country over the past five years. Former leftist President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.
Then, in 2016, Lula’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff was impeached for budgetary misconduct.
And to boot, Brazil is just coming out of the longest and deepest recession in its history, which many experts attribute to Brazil’s socialist economic policies.
Anna Prusa, an expert on Brazil at the Wilson Center, says Jair Bolsonaro represents a major change for the country.
PRUSA: He is definitely a sharp turn to the right for Brazil. Um, and I think represents something new for Brazilian politics.
63-year-old Jair Bolsonaro started his career in Brazil’s military, where he was a paratrooper and rose to the rank of captain. He then served seven terms in Brazil’s lower house of Congress.
Bolsonaro ran on a platform of fighting corruption, driving down crime, expanding gun rights, defending traditional values and reforming economic policies. He also made direct appeals to Christian voters. Prusa says these promises struck a chord with Brazilians. Bolsonaro won by a wide margin against left-wing candidate Fernando Haddad.
PRUSA: So he has the support of evangelicals in Brazil. He has done very well among the agribusiness sector, people who support development and support expanding the agricultural frontier in Brazil. He’s done well among the military, kind of the pro public security folks.
The new president’s candor and savvy use of social media to get his message out has earned him the nickname the Trump of the Tropics.
PRUSA: They both want to speak directly to the people. They have kind of this anti-establishment rhetoric.
Also similar to President Trump, Bolsonaro’s election has polarized parts of the country.
The new president has endorsed changing the education system and removing curriculums he says teach liberal gender ideology. On Wednesday, Bolsonaro removed LGBT concerns from the responsibilities of Brazil’s Human Rights Ministry. He did not name another agency that would oversee them.
In another executive order on Wednesday, Bolsonaro made identifying and demarcating new lands for indigenous people much more difficult. The Wilson Center’s Anya Prusa says advocates fear he will continue to roll back protections for Brazil’s indigenous communities.
PRUSA: A lot of his talk about, you know, supporting development and agricultural expansion has led to fears that he will prioritize that over preserving the territories of indigenous group.
Despite division over these social issues, a recent poll found 65 percent of Brazilians think the Bolsonaro government will be either “great” or “good.”
Many see him already fighting corruption by appointing famous anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro as Justice Minister. Moro was the judge who sent President Lula to prison.
PRUSA: So if Moro is given free reign, I think there’s a real possibility that we could see new measures and new laws aimed at curbing corruption.
Brazilians also see their economic prospects rising with the economy coming out of its recession. Prusa says if Bolsonaro’s new government focuses on following through with economic and financial reforms, Brazil could start becoming the country of the future… now.
PRUSA: If they can reassure Brazilians that their goal is to bring prosperity rather than double down on partisan divisions. And if they can kind of leverage economic growth, I could see Brazil becoming a more prominent actor once again on the international stage. It remains to be seen whether this new government can actually do it.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.