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Tracking the First 100 Days of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro

Jair Bolsonaro. (AP)

March 19, 2019

On October 28, Jair Bolsonaro’s decisive victory shifted Brazil to the right when he broke the Workers’ Party electoral winning streak. A pro-gun former army captain and Social Liberal Party (PSL) congressman, he won with pledges to crack down on crime and corruption, a rejection of the status quo, and nostalgia for the country’s military rule.

Before taking office, Bolsonaro signaled what’s to come by selecting key members of his cabinet, including Lava Jato judge Sergio Moro for the Justice Ministry, University of Chicago-trained Paulo Guedes for the Economy Ministry, and an evangelical pastor to head the Women, Family, and Human Rights Ministry, Damares Alves. Bolsonaro’s cabinet contains the largest number of former members of the military since the country’s return to democracy.

AS/COA Online tracks the first 100 days of the Bolsonaro presidency, with regular updates of the big stories defining the new government’s path in Latin America’s largest country.

Note: This article was initially published on January 4, 2019. It has been updated as news becomes available.


Day 78: March 19 – Translating the Bolsonaro-Trump bromance into policy

Today, Bolsonaro met with President Donald Trump at the White House, after which they held a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. “Brazil’s relationship with the United States, because of our friendship, is probably better than it’s ever been, by far,” remarked Trump, highlighting how the leaders connect and intend to work together on everything from expanding trade and business ties to restoring democracy in Venezuela. The countries will resurface the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum, the last of which took place in 2015, and will institute a new bilateral energy forum. “The president’s vision for freeing the private sector and opening the economy is the right way for Brazil to achieve economic growth,” said Trump, “and our great [U.S.] companies are ready to go when the table is flat and free.” The U.S. president also said he is supporting Brazil’s efforts to join the OECD and possibly become “a major non-NATO ally” in the region.

For his part, Bolsonaro described himself as the first Brazilian president to not be anti-American in decades, and that his government was committed to changing the country’s business environment. When pressed by journalists to discuss military cooperation vis-a-vis Venezuela, Bolsonaro noted it would not be strategic to reveal plans. Of note: earlier in the day Bolsonaro met with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro about the situation in Venezuela and combatting corruption across the region.

But bringing Brazil effectively closer to the United States in policy might prove harder than the presidents’ exchange of soccer jerseys suggests. In a dinner with investors at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday night, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said Brazil will not take part in the U.S.-China trade war as the Bolsonaro administration wants to “radically open the country’s markets” to as many partners as possible—China included. The minister noted that the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also told him support to join the OECD would have to come with Brazil waiving its privileges at the World Trade Organization. Guedes said Lighthizer was tough on Brazil in making that demand and not justified, given that his country has a trade deficit with the United States.

Fighting terrorism, money laundering, socialism, and fake news are also all points Bolsonaro promised to work on with the United States. He said the removal of visa requirements for Americans visiting Brazil—which will go into effect starting June 17—is a gesture of good will. In an interview with Fox News aired this morning, Bolsonaro said he agreed with Trump’s wall, as “most immigrants do not have good intentions.” Moreover, Brazilian president denied having links to the former policemen arrested for Marielle Franco’s murder (see Day 71).

Bolsonaro will visit Arlington National Cemetery and meet with U.S. religious leaders Tuesday afternoon, before returning to Brasilia tomorrow. He has two more foreign trips scheduled for the month, paying his first visit to Chile to attend a March 22 regional forum and then on to Israel March 31


Day 77: March 18 – Touchdown in Washington

Today, Bolsonaro pays a visit to the CIA on his second day in the U.S. capital, a stop that was not originally included in the president’s itinerary. Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, one of the seven ministers in Bolsonaro’s delegation, will take part in the CIA meeting, along with one of the president’s sons, São Paulo Congressman Eduardo, who confirmed the visit this morning via Twitter. Afterwards Bolsonaro will meet with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and then deliver remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

While Bolsonaro won’t meet with President Donald Trump until Tuesday, the Brazilian president has been busy drumming up business interest and talking up a new phase of bilateral cooperation since arriving Sunday afternoon. At last night’s dinner with conservative thought leaders like Steve Bannon, Bolsonaro discussed putting an end to leftist ideologies in his country and compared his vision to Trump’s, saying, “I want a great Brazil just as he wants a great U.S.A.” U.S. Security Advisor John Bolton told a Globo reporter that Trump is very excited to welcome Bolsonaro in Washington tomorrow, which will be the first encounter between the two presidents. Just as Bolsonaro is proud to be called the Trump of the Tropics, Bolton said: “Trump is the Bolsonaro of North America.” Meanwhile, the Bolsonaro administration could well announce that it will drop visa requirements for Americans visiting Brazil (see Day 74).

In other news, the era of combatting corruption in Brazil reached a milestone yesterday when Lava Jato marked its five-year anniversary. Since the widespread corruption investigations into state-owned oil company Petrobras started in 2014, there have been 285 convictions amounting to a cumulative 3,000 years of prison sentences. Another 300 cases remain open in the Federal Supreme Court. 


Day 74: March 15 — Bolsonaro’s first public auction  

The Bolsonaro administration held its first auction today, with concessions to 12 airports yielding nearly $630 million for the government, an average premium of 986 percent. The airports will be managed by foreign groups and were auctioned in three regional blocks. Nearly 20 million passengers a year pass through the airports, representing 9.5 percent of the domestic market.

But government auctions didn’t rock the country this week like did gun policy debate. In the wake of Wednesday’s massive shooting in Suzano near São Paulo—counting eight deaths, including the two shooters who were former students trying to mimic the U.S. Columbine massacre—congressmen debated Bolsonaro’s gun policy (See Day 15) and the government’s intention to pass legislation allowing people to carry guns in public. One senator from PSL, Major Olímpio, said that if teachers and staff were armed while working the massacre would be avoided. Bolsonaro was criticized for taking nearly seven hours to say something about the shooting, but the president offered condolences to the victms' families on a Facebook Live Thursday evening.

In other news, the president is preparing to travel to the United States on Sunday, when he plans to consolidate his government’s ties to the country. Bolsonaro is set to announce that American citizens no longer need a visa to travel to Brazil, and Foreign Policy Ministry Ernesto Araújo said the government also wants to negotiate the end of visa requirements to Brazilians going to the United States. Bolsonaro and Trump are expected to discuss topics such as Venezuela, trade, China, and who will fill embassy posts in both countries. Also on the agenda are Brazil-U.S. technology partnerships, in particular a new agreement reached on the Alcântara satellite launch base, which was finally concluded this month after decades in the making.  


Day 72: March 13 — Moro’s crime package and Brazil’s electoral courts 

Brazil’s Supreme Court rules today on a portion of Sérgio Moro’s anti-crime law. (See Days 35 and 50). The court is discussing if common crimes connected with elections should be judged by the country’s electoral court or not. In his legislation package, Moro asks for illegal operations such as embezzlement, money laundry, and corruption to be judged as regular crimes, outside Brazil’s electoral court jurisdiction, even when they occur in connection with a political campaign. Brazil’s electoral court also organizes the country’s votes, investigates campaign financing violations, and enforces the Clean Record Law
 
Why is this important now? In case the Supreme Court decision goes against Moro’s proposal, it could be the end of Lava Jato investigations in Curitiba, prosecutors say. Moro said the electoral court does excellent job during elections but that it "is not well structured to handle complex crimes such as money laundry and corruption." Folha de S. Paulo reported today the electoral prosecutors’ offices and court are overloaded and did not move on “caixa dois” campaign finance violation cases brought up by Lava Jato last year. 
 
In other news, Education Minister Ricardo Vélez fired his top secretary and several other officials in the Education Ministry after public critiques from Olavo de Carvalho, the president’s self-entitled-philosopher guru. In spite of the upheaval, Bolsonaro reiterated his support of Vélez this week.

Day 71: March 12 — A breakthrough in the Marielle Franco case

Authorities arrested and charged two former policemen in connection with the 2018 murder of opposition Councilwoman Marielle Franco. The arrests took place in Rio de Janeiro days before the one-year anniversary of her death. While in office, Franco was vocal about police killings and pushed for a legislative investigation into Rio-based militias, many formed by police officers.

The Guardian reports one of the detained officers lives in the same gated community where Bolsonaro has a home and lived before  being elected. Police say the daughter of one of the suspects dated one of Bolsonaro’s sons. When questioned about a photo with one of the former officers, Bolsonaro said he has many photos with millions of police officers across the country. The president said he hoped authorities found the guilty ones for the crime, “including the ones ordering her killing.” In Brasília, the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) announced today that it will request a parliamentary inquiry  committee—Brazil’s legislative investigation mechanism, requiring 171 signatures to be carried out—to investigate all militia activity in the country.

In other news, Bolsonaro’s relationship with the press has been bumpy since his campaign but this week it went a step further when he tweeted that a journalist was trying to “ruin his life.” The tweet linked to a post from a website that supports the president and denounced the Estado de S. Paulo reporter. The paper later said the audio had been altered. The investigative journalism group Abraji and the country’s lawyers bar association condemned the press attack.  

Brazil’s top fact-checking website Aos Fatos reported today that—after analzying 149 statements in social media, speeches, and interviews—Bolsonaro made 82 fake or distorted statements in 68 days in the government. Estadão, the website of Estado de S. Paulo, reported today that the president uses Twitter to criticize the press once every three days on average, mostly by retweeting his sons’ messages.

On the economic front, there was some good news in recent days. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes gave a lengthy interview to Estado de S. Paulo published Sunday in which he said the government needs 48 votes to approve pension reform.

He also said the government will propose a change in how the country builds its budget, giving officials “100 percent control” of the money they manage. “We want to develop leadership on the budget with the political class,” Guedes said. The proposal, which should hit Congress in the coming weeks, changes Brazil’s “federal pact”—a law that determines the destiny of most public funds—and gives more freedom to states, cities, and the federal government to choose how to invest tax funds. Brazil’s Ibovespa responded with a 2.64 percent gain on Monday afternoon and the real rose against the dollar.


Day 67: March 8 — Culture wars continue on International Women’s Day

In a message about International Women’s Day on Twitter, Bolsonaro promised to increase women’s representation in Brazil. The president didn’t explain how, but said that proposals should always “respect women’s feelings” and that his government is going to do everything they can for women—which he called “rare jewels”—to feel more represented at the end of his term.

Brazil does not rank high on women’s participation in politics nor in business. Today’s IBGE survey shows that Brazilian women in leadership positions make one third of the salary in relation to men doing the same job. Yet during an official celebration for the date in Brasília, Bolsonaro said the number of women in his cabinet (two of 22 ministers) is well balanced.

Bolsonaro shared a video of Women, Family, and Human Rights Minister Damares Alves promising to address violence against women in the country. A woman is killed every two hours in Brazil and cases denouncing femicide in the country increased 12 percent in the last year.

Today, Alves argued that schools need to teach boys to give flowers to women and open the door for them. “If our boys see themselves as equal to girls, as some ideologies preached in the past,” said Alves referring to feminism, “then some will think girls can equally take a beating.” She explained the lessons would show women are physically different and therefore need to be loved and treated differently.

Anatomical differences between men and women were also one of the topics of Bolsonaro’s first weekly Facebook Live videos, published on Thursday. The president said the government will recall public health materials containing drawings of the human body and sex education for teenagers.

Besides cultural wars, Bolsonaro spent the greatest part of the video explaining a statement from early Thursday morning. While giving a speech at a naval event in Rio de Janeiro, he said that “democracy and liberty only exist when your armed forces want them to.” The affirmation caused outrage from the opposition, so Bolsonaro—standing between former generals Otávio Rêgo Barros, his spokesperson, and Minister of Institutional Security Augusto Heleno—explained he believed the military is the guardian of democracy. 


Day 65: March 6 — Will culture wars help or hurt Bolsonaro?

After Carnaval showcased samba schools and foliões—the ones enjoying the party in the streets—opposing Bolsonaro asking for justice for the 2018 murder of opposition Councilwoman Marielle Franco, Bolsonaro wowed the world with a tweet containing an explicit scene of one man urinating on another while he condemned Brazil's largest tourist attraction by saying: “This is what many street parties during Carnival have turned into.”

The whole scenario sparked outrage among Brazilians who both support and oppose the president, and #ImpeachmentBolsonaro became a Twitter top trending topic today. Many politicians condemned the president’s tweet and Brazilians have called for his impeachment based on a constitutional law prohibiting a lack of decorum on the part of the president.

Culture wars have been a theme of Bolsonaro’s first days in power, given that the president ran his campaign stressing conservative ideals and Women, Family, and Human Rights Minister Damares Alves called out “ideological indoctrination of children and teenagers” in Brazil’s education system, pushing for home schooling and the end of sex education.

But other things were happening in Brazil this Ash Wednesday aside from Bolsonaro’s polemic tweets. Brazil public banks such as Caixa and BNDES will not be responsible for rescuing the country’s states’ coffers this year. States such as Rio de Janeiro—which has nearly $10.4 billion in debt with the federal government—got authorization from the government to get financial relief from foreign banks, through loans or by securing banks with their debt roster and oil royalties. Brazil’s public banks, besides trying to decrease federal expenses, are not allowed to pay for salaries or monthly expenses when loaning money to states. The federal government said it will make $2.6 billion available to relieve states’ debts but the amount isn’t enough to solve local administrations’ problems. Even after negotiating their debt with the federal governmentin 2016, half of Brazil’s states ended last year in a worse financial situation then how they started.

The presidency has increased its first two months own expenses by 16 percent in relation to the average of what other presidencies expend in the same period in the last four years. Bolsonaro’s campaign criticized the use of “corporate” presidency credit cards and Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni defended ending the practice for the government during the transition; however, the presidency kept the perk and has a statement bill of $290,000, mostly with undisclosed items. The presidency’s credit card bill for January and February 2019 is is the second highest in four years, behind only 2014, when Dilma Rousseff’s administration spent $364,000.

In other news, Brazil’s Mining and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque said the government is studying loosening regulations around mining in indigenous territory. Brazil’s Constitution says mining in indigenous land can happen only after regulation specified by Congress and popular prior consultation with local communities. Albuquerque said the consultations are in the making, and described these restrictions as contributing to illegal activities and disturbing development.


Day 59: February 28 — What to do on Venezuela

Today, Bolsonaro hosts Juan Guaidó—recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president—to discuss next steps on Brazil’s participation in Venezuela’s power transition. Bolsonaro’s presidency has meant a change to Brazil’s previous position in relation to Nicolás Maduro, joining the countries recognizing his reelection as fraudulent. The federal government called the meeting a “personal” one, meaning Guaidó is not being officially received as a head of state. But the Venezuelan leader had access to Brazil’s federal police security and a presidential suite in a Brasília hotel. 

In the meeting, Guaidó and Bolsonaro were to discuss the failed attempt to deliver 178 tons of humanitarian aid across the Brazilian border between the cities of Pacaraima and Santa Elena de Uairén this past weekend (see Day 52). Venezuelan opposition leaders told Estado de S. Paulo that Brazil’s help was disorganized. The government had only two trucks available to deliver the aid and one of them broke down during operations. In addition, Brazil’s demand that only Venezuelan citizens work on the delivery made the transfer more difficult. The food and medicine that was supposed to be delivered only managed to advance a few meters into Venezuelan territory before violence broke out. Maduro’s forces closed the road and repressed protesters and aid convoys, killing at least seven people and injuring more than 100 at Venezuela’s border with both Brazil and Colombia.

Same-day update: After the meeting, Bolsonaro said in a press conference alongside Guaidó that Brazil will help efforts to bring “clean and trustworthy elections” to the Andean country. He also blamed two former Brazilian presidents—alluding to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff’s warm ties with deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor—for that country’s current crisis. He concluded by calling Guaidó a brother and saying: “God is Brazilian, and Venezuelan.”

In other news, the numbers are in on Brazil’s 2018 GDP growth, which was only 1.1 percent—the same number registered in 2017. Economists say the elections and a national truckers strike in the first half of the year slowed the country’s recovery. The number heightens a sense of urgency for pension reform (see Day 52), but Economy Minister Paulo Guedes is now facing resistance from groups such as military, civil, and road police forces who supported Bolsonaro during the elections. After communicating with voters on Twitter about the proposed reform and asking for support, the president’s son, Rio de Janeiro Councilman Carlos Bolsonaro, was flooded with messages saying the president himself retired—and transferred to the paid military reserve—at 33 years of age and was never backed a constitutional amendment for pensions while a legislator.

Another problem for the president was a letter Minister of Education Ricardo Vélez sent Tuesday to all school directors ordering children, teachers, and school staff to line up and sing the national anthem. Vélez’s letter asked schools to film the salute including Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone,” and then send the videos to the Ministry of Education. Meeting resistance, Velez apologized for his “mistake," removing the slogan from his request. Today, the minister is sending his third version of the letter, suspending the request for videos as well.


Day 57: February 26 — The first verdict

The first poll numbers are in since Brazil’s new president took office, evaluating his performance thus far and citizen’s perceptions over various legislative packages introduced to Congress, from last week’s pension reform (see Day 52) to Sergio Moro’s anti-crime project (see Day 50). The MDA poll commissioned by Brazil’s CNT transportation lobby found 38.9 percent see the Bolsonaro administration as “positive,” 29 percent see it as regular, and 19 percent consider it negative. The president’s personal approval ratings stand at 57.5 percent, the highest of any Brazilian president in a CNT poll since September 2013, Dilma Roussef’s first term, and in stark contrast to Michel Temer, who left office with 7 percent approval. 

Editor's note: This update originally and erroneously reported that 82.7 percent of CNT poll respondents voted for Bolsonaro in 2018. However, 82.7 percent of respondents cast a ballot for a presidential candidate, although not necessarily for Bolsonaro. 

 

Day 52: February 21 — Game on: Pension reform gets introduced to Congress

After delivering pension reform to Congress on Wednesday, the Bolsonaro government announced plans today for extra funding for districts of freshmen members of Congress. By funneling resources to local projects, the government hopes to gain support for the pension reform among the 118 new legislators.

On Wednesday night, the president said the “just” pension reform proposal will “demand more from each [Brazilian].” Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said the measure will save $320 billion over the next decade.

The constitutional reform process won’t begin until March, after Carnaval, as the lower house rules set the pace for the committee discussing the bill. On Twitter, Senate Leader Rodrigo Maia said Congress is ready to work with the president on a reform that will “change the history of our country.” Since pension reform requires a constitutional change, the government’s proposal needs approval by a three-fifths majority in two votes in each house (see Day 32). Folha de São Paulo reported that support for the bill in the Chamber of Deputies is weak, and that the text will likely need to be amended to pass, with several party leaders expressing displeasure with the bill. According to O Globo, Capitão Augusto, leader of the bullet caucus” that generally backs Bolsonaro, said challenges lie ahead.

If the reform gains approval, it would take 10 to 12 years for all changes to be implemented. Current rules allow for workers to receive full social security benefits if they’ve made 35 years of contributions, regardless of retirement age. But the reform sets retirement ages of 65 for men and 62 for women. The bill includes similar changes for teachers and public servants but does not mention the military. Changes to pension rules for members of the military will be implemented through a separate bill to be introduced in early March, per Bolsonaro.

In other news, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro ordered the border with Brazil closed today to prevent foreign aid from entering his country. In coordination with the United States, Brazil’s federal government announced this week that it would allow use of its territory for international aid to be delivered to Venezuela.

Fernanda Nunes wrote this Day 51 update.


Day 50: February 19 — A revised anti-crime bill enters Congress and a minister is out

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro sent a new anti-crime bill drafted by Justice and Security Minister Sergio Moro to Congress. The bill (see Day 35), which also aims to fight corruption, includes penalties for “Caixa 2,” or political campaign money that is not officially declared. Caixa 2 will not be criminalized and treated as seriously as corruption, as Moro previously proposed, amounting to a compromise with other members of the administration and Congress. Moro delivered the legislative package to the Chamber of Deputies, which plans to debate the new policy proposals alongside the pension reform expected later this week.

In the meantime, the president is dealing with fallout from his first cabinet firing. After a weekend of tweet bashing from the president’s son Carlos, Minister of the General Secretariat of the Presidency Gustavo Bebianno was fired by the president. Bolsonaro’s stated motive was disagreement over the minister’s communications strategy. Bebianno leaked to O Globo that he had spoken to the president multiple times during his hospitalization, against doctor’s orders and which the president denied. "I need to apologize to Brazil for making Bolsonaro a viable presidential candidate. I never imagined that he would be such a weak president," Bebianno, Bolsonaro’s former campaign head, said Sunday, referring to the influence the president’s sons have had on the executive’s decisions.

In other news, Brazil’s National Mining Agency (ANM) banned upstream dams similar to the one that burst and killed 169 people in Brumadinho on January 25 (see Day 28). There are 84 dams of this model currently in operation in Brazil and 43 of them are considered to be of “high potential damage.” ANM is requiring all dam owners to decommission such dams by 2021 and reinforce existing downstream dams.


Day 45: February 14 — When is that pension reform coming? 

Brazil’s stock market woke to a 0.7 percent drop Thursday morning, despite the president’s release from the hospital after a 17-day stay (see Day 28). With a draft of pension reform ready for Bolsonaro’s attention, investors remain wary that there will be additional delays in passing new legislation needed to make Brazil’s social security system more sustainable.

In a TV interview last night, Bolsonaro said he was expecting to come to a decision during a Thursday meeting with Minister Guedes as to whether to send the reform draft to Congress. Meanwhile, the government is considering different ways to ensure legislators will support the bill. Even though Bolsonaro promised to end the habit of buying votes in Congress, the administration is discussing offering legislators the ability to fill some 1,000 lower, state-level government posts in exchange for support of the bill.

In other news, the Supreme Court entered its second day hearing a pair of cases that would create temporary rules criminalizing homophobia, given the Congress’ delay on passing legislation. Brought to the court by Brazilian rights group ABGLT and the Popular Socialist Party, the cases ask that the court acknowledge the “unconstitutional delay” of the congressional bill first presented in 2001 and to set a deadline for the Congress to make moves to ban discrimination and violence against LGBTQ persons. Criminalization would give legal certainties to Brazil’s LGBTQ community at a time when the president has made statements that put their rights in doubt and as his evangelical supporters argue such laws restrict religious liberty.


Day 43: February 12 — Guedes’ warm-up starts 

Economy Minister Paulo Guedesinterview with the Financial Times shows him preparing to send a pension reform to Congress without worrying much about the political debate it could set off. Guedes said his pension package would bring savings of $350 billion over 10 years and would be submitted to Congress “as soon as the president gets out of the hospital bed.” He promised the bill will pass within five months and would be followed by tax reform and a privatization program. The minister dismissed Bolsonaro’s nationalism when it comes to Brazil’s industry and focused on what unites him with the president: freeing the country from the Workers' Party “socialist burden.” He is focusing on his own technical skills as an economist to promise “a market-driven economy instead of the failed dirigiste economy that corrupted the political order.” 

Guedes has the support of congressional leaders but it’s still unclear how many votes he’s got secured. Details of his proposal pleased the market, but also raised questions from legislators. Valor Econômico says the leak of the pension reform bill (see Day 38) was a strategy to tweak points of disagreements ahead of the vote and gain support. 

In other news, the president’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) is being investigated by Brazil’s federal police for registering fake candidates to receive public campaign funds. Maria de Lourdes Paixão, a PSL congressional candidate who received over $100,000 from the government for her campaign and said the money was used for printing materials, only got 274 votes.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux suspended two lawsuits against Bolsonaro because of presidential immunity. The accusations involve inciting rape and insulting representative Maria do Rosario during a congressional session when he was a deputy in the lower house.  


Day 38: February 7 — More time at the hospital, more time until pension reform 

After suffering fevers, nausea, and other complications in the wake of his surgery to remove a colostomy bag (see Day 28), Bolsonaro’s planned February 6 discharge was cancelled and today doctors revealed the president has pneumonia. Bolsonaro’s departure “will happen when he feels physically and emotionally able to walk through the hospital doors,” his spokesperson Otávio do Rêgo Barros said.

While Bolsonaro and his constituency await his return to Brasília, Congress awaits the government’s bill on pension reform—something Barros says will only happen after the president is discharged. A draft version of the bill leaked this week and Estadão listed some of the measures inside, including increasing the minimum retiring age to 65 for both men and women, a minimum of 40 years of contributions be able to fully receive social security, and the creation of an individual capitalization pension system for Brazil. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said today that retirement rules for the military—a source of internal debate that generated speculation over how quickly the proposal will hit Congress—should happen at the same time as pension reform, but not as part of the same bill. The military is responsible for nearly half of Brazil’s pension deficit. Between 2017 and 2018, the pension expenses that grew the most among the country’s public servants was that of the military, reaching nearly $11 billion. 

In other news, Women, Family, and Human Rights Minister Damares Alves indicated the need for review of the system of compensation, which was created in 2002 and set up for victims of the country’s military dictatorship. The new government is hesitating on distributing over $2 billion to the more than 12,700 people—including former President Dilma Rousseff—who are waiting to find out whether they will receive reparations. Nearly 40,000 cases were granted reparations during the Lula and Rousseff presidencies.  


Day 35: February 4 – Redefining crime and securing support in Congress 

On Monday, Justice Minister Sérgio Moro presented a package of proposals to governors and security officials in Brasilia that should hit Congress in the coming days. Named the Anti-Crime Law, the package changes at least 14 pieces of legislation that focus on fighting corruption, criminal organizations, and violent crimes. “It’s a simple but robust project, with objective measures,” said Moro in a video released on social media, explaining that organized crime “feeds more corruption, which generates more violent crimes.”

One change is that a convicted person who loses an initial appeal can begin serving a sentence while pursing further appeals—a decision that would impact imprisoned former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Other measures include making grand jury sentences effective immediately in case of heinous crimes such as homicides, jail time for crimes such as using illegal campaign funds and embezzlement, and harsher sentences for crimes involving firearms.

In other news, after this weekend the president should feel more optimistic about sending legislative proposals to Congress. The election to pick the head of the Senate lasted from Friday into Saturday, but had a result that might be the Bolsonaro administration’s most significant victory yet. Davi Alcolumbre, a first-time senator from Amapá state representing the right-wing Democratas party, which is allied with the executive, will take charge of the Senate. But while his win helps the presidency, it could also stoke strife in the Senate, as the former leader, veteran Renan Calheiros, might deposit his influence with the opposition. The level of turbulence around Saturday’s election leading to Alcolumbre’s victory shows Bolsonaro’s Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni might have unconventional strategies to get it done in Congress, says Folha de S. Paulo’s Celso Rocha de Barros. One major issue that could get caught in the crossfire is pension reform.


Day 32: February 1 – Dealing with the new and the old in Congress 

Brazil’s Congress gets installed today with the strongest representation of the president’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) to date. But with 6 out of 81 senators and 56 out of 513, the Worker’s Party (PT) continues to have a stronger presence than the PSL’s 4 senators and 52 deputies. These numbers could change once representatives take office and are allowed to change their party affiliation.

Bolsonaro served in the legislature for years but, as president, he has no coalition that guarantees him a majority. Meanwhile, the PT has formed an opposition alliance with center and left-leaning parties such as the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) and the Sustainability Network (Rede).

Whether Bolsonaro can stitch up enough support among the 30 parties in Congress and usher through key reforms will have much to do with the leadership of the upper and lower houses, to be elected during today’s session. The top candidates on the shortlist for each are old faces in Congress. If elected, Renan Calheiros would start his fifth mandate as Senate leader, while Rodrigo Maia of ex-President Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) could take the helm in the Chamber. Though both represent politics as usual rather than Bolsonaro’s “new Brazil,” investors are counting on them to support pension reform. Maia has been in favor of pension reform before, though Calheiros remains a question mark.

Will the other legislators support the executive? Estadão’s Marcelo de Moraes says that they know the importance of pension reform for Bolsonaro’s government and could use it as a bargaining chip. Passing pension reform requires a constitutional change and, therefore, two votes have to take place in each house with three-fifths in all cases. In a document debriefing the first 30 days of the administration, the government says it expects a reform to pass in this year’s first semester, though it has yet to detail the proposal it is sending to Congress or whether the bill will include pension reform for the military—a point of friction in Bolsonaro’s military-heavy cabinet.

Besides convincing the traditional cohorts in Congress, the government also has to deal with the arrival of Bolsonaro’s son Flávio, who faces corruptions allegations, to the Senate. (See Day 17.)

The number of congressional newcomers is higher than usual, amounting to over half of all the Chamber of Deputies and 85 percent of the 54 seats that were up for election in the Senate. When it comes to gender parity, the Chamber of Deputies now has 77 women, or 51 percent more than before, though that amounts to a mere 15 percent of the lower house seats. The Senate, similarly, is now 15 percent female. 


Day 28: January 28 – The military in power and dealing with disaster 

On January 28, Bolsonaro went through a planned surgery to remove a colostomy bag put into place after he was stabbed in September during the presidential campaign. He is expected to step down for two days but the plan is to retake the presidency at the hospital, where he’ll be in recovery for 10 days.

Who’s in charge while the president goes under? Vice President Hamilton Mourão, and it’s not the first time the former general serves as Brazil’s interim president. Brazil’s Constitution determines the vice president takes over in case the president is incapacitated, suspended, or abroad. To that end, while Bolsonaro was in Davos, Mourão signed a decree expanding which public servants can designate information as “ultra-secret,” a measure that makes information classified for 25 years, and “secret,” which does the same for 15 years. The decree changes Brazil’s 2011 transparency law and raises concerns among civil society groups that say it will make it more difficult to hold the public sector accountable.

Bolsonaro admitted himself to the hospital after a January 26 visit to see the extent of the damage caused by a collapsed dam in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais that has left at least 58 dead. The presidency created a special council to oversee search and rescue and the reestablishment of basic services in the region. Bolsonaro also recorded a message from the hospital saying the government will help victims’ families. 

Environmental experts raised concerns that the Brumadinho dam collapse—as well as another dam that burst in 2015—were certified as “stable” by independent auditors. There are more than 400 dams in the state of Minas Gerais. Meanwhile, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles described Brazil’s environmental regulation by saying it’s “complex and doesn’t work.” Bolsonaro promised to ease environmental laws claiming they are “an industry of fines.” (See Day 7).

Search-and-rescue efforts got a boost on Monday when Israel sent 130 soldiers to Minas Gerais. The country is among the first to help Brazil with the disaster.


Day 22: January 22 – Six minutes in Davos

In his first official trip abroad as president, Bolsonaro spoke for only six minutes at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) flagship conference in Davos. Usually, keynote speakers have half an hour at the forum—surprising observers and disappointing investors who were eager for details on measures the new Brazilian administration has in the works, such as fiscal reform. 

This year, WEF’s focus is “Globalization 4.0: Shaping a New Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” and organizers have emphasized the need for reforming institutions in a time of protectionism and nationalism, recognizing for the first time that people’s discontent with democracy and the status quo around the world can be a threat. In his short speech, Bolsonaro tried to sell “a new Brazil” and promised to open the country’s economy, mentioning privatizations and tax cuts without explaining how he’ll work on these promises. The lack of detailed information to the Davos audience was not the only missed opportunity: Bolsonaro had lunch alone after arriving at the forum, which 70 heads of states are attending. 

While leaving investors wanting more, other attendants at WEF were open about their discontent with Brazil’s new leader. Robert Shiller, the Nobel laureate who predicted 2009’s global economic crisis, said Brazil deserved a better leader. Environmental experts also expressed concern with Bolsonaro’s plan to balance environmental protections with agribusiness, given the president’s remarks that his government is working to reconcile Brazil’s biodiversity and forest abundance with economic development. On January 18, Brazil’s agriculture minister cleared 131 pesticides for sale, in addition to 28 chemicals that were officially allowed in the country as of January 10. Experts told El País Brasil that the movement to increase the use of pesticides in the country has been growing exponentially since the previous government.

Although the president also claimed he’s giving Justice Minister Sergio Moro (who’s also in Davos) the tools to tackle corruption, the Bolsonaro family, meanwhile, faced more complications with the law at home. On January 19, Brazil’s Council for Financial Activities Control added more information to the corruption investigation in connection with Flávio Bolsonaro, saying the senator-elect’s financial operations included an atypical payment of nearly $265,000, and has made other payments similar to the ones found in Fabricio Queiroz’s bank account (see Day 17). O Globo reported today that the president’s son employed the mother and wife of one of the police captains suspected of killing the activist and city councilmember, Marielle Franco, during Flávio’s term in Rio’s state assembly. Flávio denies wrongdoing and claims he’s a victim of a defamation campaign.


Day 18: January 18 – Bolsonaro’s BNDES “black box”

“Make your own conclusions,” said Bolsonaro in a tweet this Friday about Brazilian Development Bank’s (BNDES) 50 top clients, a list aggregated by the state development bank and published online January 18. The webpage shows BNDES’ biggest beneficiaries in the last 15 years and lists companies, states, and foreign countries. 

During his campaign, Bolsonaro promised to “open the BNDES black box.” In his first week on the job, he said many contracts were already cancelled and vowed for more transparency from the institution, which is overseen by the Finance and Planning ministries. Joaquim Levy, who heads the bank, also promised greater transparency when he was sworn in.

The data published on the webpage was previously available “but hard to find,” according to the lending institution. Folha de S. Paulo shows the bank has been releasing details about its operations since 2015 when it faced pressure related to Lava Jato investigations into large construction companies that grew exponentially and had received BNDES funds. Folha’s Ricardo Balthazar points out how the new packaging of the data is a mere “recycling of information” rather than an improvement in transparency. Nonetheless, the bank released additional information about exports of capital goods such as Embraer airplanes and operations in other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, México, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. 

The largest BNDES beneficiary is Petrobras: it took in over $16.6 billion between 2004 and 2018. The oil company at the epicenter of the Lava Jato corruption scandal also has several subsidiaries on the BNDES top-50 list, alongside other companies involved in corruption investigations. This celebration of greater transparency comes a day after Bolsonaro supporters started to question the family fight against corruption on WhatsApp groups because of the request to suspend an investigation into irregular cash flows involving the president's son, Flávio Bolsonaro. (see Day 17).


Day 17: January 17 – Bolsonaro’s son requests suspension of corruption investigation

A Supreme Court judge suspended an investigation into irregular cash flows through the driver and bodyguard of Bolsonaro’s son, Rio de Janeiro Senator-elect Flávio Bolsonaro. Brazil’s Council for Financial Activities Control found that unusual payments worth $305,000 passed through the Fabricio Queiroz’s bank account between 2016 and 2017, news Folha de São Paulo broke in December, after which Rio state prosecutors launched an investigation. A portion of the payments made their way to now-first lady Michelle Bolsonaro.

The president, his son, and the driver have all denied wrongdoing, claiming the investigation was meant to tarnish the new administration. While the injunction was sealed under conditions of secrecy by Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux, Brazilian media is reporting that Flavio made the request to stop the investigation.

A pillar of Bolsonaro’s campaign, corruption was a top concern for voters ahead of the election, with investigations plaguing half of the outgoing Brazilian Congress. (The new Congress will be installed February 1.) Even before taking office, the president moved quickly to appoint Judge Sergio Moro, who has spearheaded the Lava Jato cases, to head the Justice Ministry. In a 2019 poll by Ideia Big Data, 78 percent of Brazilians said they believe corruption will go down under the new administration. 


Day 15: January 15 – Easing gun ownership

Bolsonaro delivered on a campaign promise Tuesday when he signed a decree easing restrictions on gun possession in Brazil. Citing a 2005 referendum in which Brazilians rejected forbidding gun sales, the president said that he was taking the step to “guarantee people’s rights to self-defense.”

The decree modifies Brazil’s Disarmament Statute, passed in 2003. The law established rules for gun purchases, with 25 as the minimum age to have a license. It prohibited civilians from carrying guns, requiring authorized gun owners—such as members of law enforcement—to prove why they need them outside their homes. The legislation also established a national gun registry with periodic license renewal. One year after the statute, the murder rate in Brazil dropped by 8 percent and studies show the average growth of violent deaths in the country fell considerably.

Now, the decree modifies the statute to allow civilians who live in rural areas and violent cities to own a gun and keep it in their homes or business they own. It increases the period for a gun license from 5 to 10 years and forgives expired licenses.

Citizens still face restrictions and psychological tests, but there is no longer a requirement to prove the need for a gun. People living in cities with murder rates higher than 10 per 100,000 people are now allowed to buy up to four firearms. All states in Brazil surpass that murder rate.

A group of Brazilian legislators called the “bullet caucus” joined Bolsonaro when he signed the decree. Congress already took steps to ease gun ownership in recent years, but, during his campaign, Bolsonaro framed loosened gun control as a measure to combat crime, a top concern in the country. The country’s homicide rate rose 3 percent from 2016 to 2017, when there were an average 175 homicides per day. According to a Global Burden of Disease ranking, Brazil is the world leader in deaths by firearm.

When signing the decree, Bolsonaro said more changes could be proposed by legislators. A poll by Datafolha showed on January 14 that 89 percent of Bolsonaro supporters are also in favor of reducing Brazil’s criminal responsibility age from 18 down to 16 years old. 


Day 14: January 14 – Setting a course on foreign policy

“[Bolsonaro] is a great new leader,” U.S. President Donald Trump said at an event of the American Farm Bureau Federation on Monday, music to the ears of the new Brazilian administration. Just days before, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry outlined six foreign policy objectives for the administration’s first three months, and at the top of the list was Bolsonaro’s visit to Washington. Foreign Minister Araújo wants to launch a Brazil-U.S. partnership agreement, which will cover issues from commerce to defense and technology. Though the two countries have signed a number of bilateral cooperation agreements over the years, keeping up ties has generally faded from both country’s foreign policy goals. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced a commitment to revitalizing those ties when he visited Bolsonaro for the inauguration.

Some U.S. legislators have already raised a red flag, criticizing Pompeo for boosting ties with Bolsonaro, who has a record of far-right rhetoric and recent measures diminishing human rights. (Learn about Bolsonaro’s decrees in Day 2.)

Bolsonaro, often called the “Trump of the Tropics” is likely to get along with his U.S. counterpart, and Foreign Minister Araújo is certainly counting on it. Araújo has praised Trump’s nationalist and anti-globalist views and voiced plans to follow in Washington’s footsteps by moving Brazil’s Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem.

To what extent Brazil pursues a similar anti-globalist foreign policy is unclear, given the diverging voices in the administration, political scientist Mauricio Santoro points out. Araújo’s views may end up clashing with the open-economy agenda of Bolsonaro’s economic team, he notes. Then again, there may not be a conflict after all. “Brazil will show that you can increase your share in international trade and investment flows even as you confidently step onto the world stage to defend freedom, speaking with your nation’s own voice,” wrote Araújo in a Bloomberg op-ed.

The ministry is also making it easier for U.S. tourists to visit the country, departing from Brazil’s visa reciprocity policy requiring U.S. and Canadian citizens to obtain visas to enter the country—a move tested during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Another item on the foreign ministry’s objectives list: Reviewing Mercosur, a South American trading bloc consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, and formerly Venezuela as well until it was suspended in 2016. Bolsonaro, averse to multilateral deals, has shown interest in reforming Mercosur rules to allow individual member countries to sign bilateral trade deals. If such a reform comes to fruition, The Cohen Group’s Fernando Cutz advises Brazil to pursue a free-trade deal with the United States and take advantage of a proven track record of successful U.S. FTAs in Latin America.


Day 9: January 9 – A move on migration and a test of security policy

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro pulled out of a UN Migration accord Temer had signed in December after two years of diplomatic negotiations. “Not just anyone is allowed to enter into our house, just like not just anyone will enter Brazil thanks to a pact adopted by third parties,” said the president.

His decision is symbolic and unlikely to have legal ramifications; the accord, with 160 country signatories, seeks a global and humane approach to addressing waves of migration worldwide but is not legally binding. Political Scientist Mauricio Santoro notes that, while Bolsonaro’s decision is insignificant to his base, it falls in line with his position against signing multilateral deals and aligns the president with other conservative leaders around the world who have won power on similar platforms.

But while the portion of Bolsonaro’s electorate fed up with Brazil’s open arms approach to immigration may be small, it did give him traction in parts of the Northeast, which has typically backed left-leaning presidents. In the presidential runoff, Bolsonaro won both of the states bordering Venezuela, where as many as 900 refugees were crossing the border daily last summer. Bolsonaro has also taken a hardline stance against Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, who will begin a second term as president January 10 that at least 12 Latin American countries, including Brazil, won’t recognize. A clash between the two leaders is a “conflict foretold,” argues former Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castañeda, who believes military action by the Brazilian and Colombian conservative governments, backed by the United States, “is increasingly conceivable.”

Meanwhile in the Northeast, the president has tried to quell more than a week of violent gang attacks and explosions that prompted Justice Minister Sergio Moro to dispatch some 500 federal security forces to the state of Ceará after Bolsonaro’s inauguration. The attacks are said to be organized in response to the new president’s proposal to combat gang activities in prisons

See Day 4 for more on the president’s security proposals.


Day 7: January 7 – A win for the ruralistas

Brazil’s head of the of environmental protection agency Ibama resigned after Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles questioned a budget item. Suely Araujo, appointed by President Temer in 2016 to head the Environment Ministry’s enforcement arm, stepped down after Salles criticized the agency for signing a car rental contract worth $7.7 million. Araujo says that total was negotiated down and covers a wide range of services, including the costs and fuel for nearly 400 trucks used for surveillance, forest firefighting, and environmental emergencies.

To take Araujo’s place, Salles has picked Eduardo Fortunato Bim, a lawyer who worked five years in the Attorney General’s Office. Bim favors reducing bureaucracy when it comes to environmental licenses, a position in line with Bolsonaro’s campaign pledges to cut the fines Ibama imposes on landowners and businesses that break the law in the Amazon—fines the president deems “ideological.”

Scaling back legal enforcement in the Amazon is welcome news to Brazil’s ruralistas who seek to expand their crops in the world’s largest rainforest and thereby boost exports. This agribusiness lobby already has tight links to the Environmental Ministry, with the President of the Rural Democratic Union, Luiz Antônio Nabhan Garcia, hailing Salles’ role in the administration as “the end of the police state…over who works and produces in the country.”

In his appointment of Salles, Bolsonaro sidestepped a court ruling banning the former São Paulo state’s environment secretary from the political arena for three years. During his time working for the state government from 2016 to 2017, Salles allegedly altered maps to clear the way for factories and mining operations along the protected areas around the Tietê, São Paulo’s most important river. 


Day 4: January 4 – A proposal to pave the way for gun ownership

In an early morning tweet, Bolsonaro urged all three government branches to commit to giving security forces the guarantees they need in their work to reduce crime. Bolsonaro wants to facilitate the crimefighting in a country with soaring homicide rates. He is also working on making it easier for people to acquire weapons with an executive order he pledged by the end of the month.

Currently, 8 of every 100 civilians possesses fireams, though weapons are widespread on the black market. Brazil’s 15-year-old gun law gives the federal police the ability to veto any permit. Bolsonaro has proposed removing this veto power, lowering the age requirement from 25 to 21, allowing for weapons to be carried in public, and making permits permanent.

But most Brazilians may not be on board with such changes. While the portion who think possessing guns should be a legal right rose 11 points over the past five years, an October 2018 Datafolha poll found that just 41 percent support that right. The same pollster registered an uptickin the portion of Brazilians who think that possessing arms should be illegal, from 55 percent in October to 61 percent in December


Day 3: January 3 – Purges and pensions

The cabinet hosted its first meeting at the Planalto Palace and began purging the government of contractors—mostly part-time employees—who do not share the new administration’s ideology. Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni said he has already fired 300 contractors in his ministry in an effort to “clean house” and that other ministries will likely follow suit. He also reported that the administration’s privatization plans were “still under consideration,” alluding to an early morning tweet by the president that noted the potential $1.85 billion in investments Brazil could attract with the privatization of airports and ports. 

Bolsonaro gave his first interview as president to SBT TV, declaring his intention to build on the current pension reform proposed by the previous administration. But the new president has some of his own changes to submit, such as cutting the minimum retirement age from 65 to 62 years old for men and from 60 to 57 for women by 2022, after which “it will be up to the next president to reassess the situation.” Lowering the retirement age, however, is contrary to what economists and financial analysts like J.P. Morgan’s Emy Shayo would advise Brazil to do to manage its bloated fiscal deficit. The current pension system consumes 50 percent of the country’s public spending.


Day 2: January 2 – Decrees on the minimum wage, LGBTQ rights, indigenous territory

Bolsonaro arrived at the Planalto Palace with a number of presidential decrees, which could expire after 120 days unless the Congress approves them. Among them was a 4.6 percent hike to the minimum wage, which fell below what was accounted for in the federal budget passed by the Temer government. A second decree ordered the office of the Government Secretary to coordinate and monitor international NGOs in Brazil. Human Rights Watch’s Jose Miguel Vivanco noted the measure could be used to either increase collaboration or restrain the independent nature of these entities.

Another executive order allows the Agriculture Ministry, headed by Tereza Cristina, to delineate indigenous territory. Previously a responsibility of the national indigenous agency FUNAI, the change limits concessions made to native Brazilians and slave-descendants known as quilombolas while boosting agribusiness. In a tweet, Bolsonaro said 15 percent of the national territory is currently categorized this way despite having less than 1 million people, and that “together we will integrate these citizens.”

Bolsonaro also removed LGBT concerns from the purview of the Human Rights Ministry, which is now headed by evangelical pastor Damares Alves. No specific agency is now responsible for handling LGBT issues and policies, though Alves clarified that the Secretariat of Global Protection under her ministry will have a board that will address all discrimination issues. The community fears it will now have less protections from the government, especially in light of Bolsonaro’s homophobic comments throughout the campaign and Alves’ own view that “diversity politics threatens the Brazilian family.” She and Cristina are the only two women in the 22-member cabinet, which also includes seven former military men.

During his swearing in, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes reaffirmed his promise to cut taxes, public spending, and reform the pension system. Markets responded positively, strengthening the real 2.4 percent and the Bovespa stock index by 3.6 percent. 

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro also met with Mike Pompeo, each stating their commitment to a new era of stronger U.S.-Brazil ties.


Day 1: January 1 – The inauguration

Brazil kicked off 2019 with the inauguration of a new president. Bolsonaro’s speech struck a nationalistic tone, with calls for “Brazil above everything, and God above everyone,” as well as that the country would start to “free itself of socialism” and “political correctness.”

The inauguration counted the lowest number of international delegations in 30 years, with just 46 foreign delegations traveling to Brasilia and 10 heads of state among them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban were among the foreign leaders present. Donald Trump sent Secretary Mike Pompeo in his stead, though the U.S. president tweeted a congratulatory message.

When it comes to Latin American heads of state, five attended: Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Chile’s Sebastián Piñera, Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernández, Paraguay’s Mario Abdo Benítez, and Uruguay’s Tabaré Vázquez. Peru’s Martín Vizcarra canceled last minute and Colombia sent Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez. Bolsonaro disinvited the Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan presidents, while Argentina’s Mauricio Macri was vacationing and notably absent, though he’s scheduled to meet with Bolsonaro on January 16