Brazil’s political system was shaken on Sunday, October 28, 2018 when right-wing congressman Jair Bolsonaro won the country’s presidential election. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, ran on a campaign promising to quell Brazil’s rising unemployment, crime, and corruption rates. In particular, Brazilians are hoping Bolsonaro’s presidency will propel them out of one of the worst economic crises in recent history.
Brazil is in the midst of its worst recession in 100 years. According to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo Brazil’s average GDP growth between 2011 and 2020 will be under 1%. In comparison to another BRICS country, India’s average GDP growth from 2012-2022 approximates 7%, according to the IMF. “We are living in an unprecedented moment in Brazilian history: and economic catastrophe,” explains Professor David Kupfer of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Confidence in Brazil’s public institutions also dwindled in March 2018 as the country’s Federal Police uncovered one of the biggest corruption scandals in Latin American history. Dubbed Operation Carwash, the scandal involved bribery of state officials, including executives of Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras. According to Al Jazeera, some of the largest companies in Latin America, including Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest construction company, were implicated. In total, over 150 public officials, including former Brazilian president Lula and corporate executives have been prosecuted since 2014.
Violence has also risen in many Brazilian cities. In fact, seven Brazilian cities took spots in a list of the top 20 most violent cities in the world. Unlike his opponent, former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad, Bolsonaro vowed to crack down on crime, taking an extremely hard-line approach. Upon his victory, Bolsonaro stated, “The laws are for everyone; this is how it will be during our constitutional and democratic government.”
Critics of Bolsonaro worry that his presidency will threaten human rights. Bolsonaro himself has made a slew of derogatory comments towards minorities, including women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. However, proponents argue that he will deliver on his promises.
In particular, many argue that Bolsonaro will be good for businesses and the economy. According to Bloomberg, Bolsonaro’s energy team is already looking to auction off Brazilian crude oil deposits in mid-2019 to help reduce the size of Brazil’s federal deficit. The sale is estimated to raise about $27 billion USD. Bolsonaro’s election also saw a 13% rise in Brazilian stocks, according to BBC. Analysts have dubbed this the “Bullsonaro wave,” and are optimistic about the country’s economic outlook. On Bolsonaro’s team is Paulo Guedes, a successful banker with deep knowledge of the financial markets. Guedes has proposed a multitude of free market reforms, including privatization and tax reform.
However, Brazil’s economy is widely considered one of the most closed off in the world, and resistance to free market reforms is expected from several industries.
Bolsonaro will assume office on January 1, 2019. Whether he truly will ride the “Bullsonaro wave” remains to be seen.