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Focus Politics

Jair Bolsonaro Stirs Uncertainty for Brazil’s Minority Populations

Pearl Joslyn December 18, 2018

Jair Bolsonaro, the President-Elect of Brazil, is know for his radical far-right views and inflammatory statements. He was accused of racism multiple times before and during his campaign, and holds deeply troubling views about Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous groups. Bolsonaro’s statements about Afro-Brazilians have prompted renewed discussions of the legacy of slavery in Brazil, and the use of quota systems in universities. How Bolsonaro was able to rise to power in a country where the majority of citizens are people of color highlights some of the other issues plaguing Brazil. Concerns about corruption, and a candidate with little name recognition drove voters away from Labor Party candidate Fernando Haddad. Mirroring Donald Trump’s campaign in many ways, Bolsonaro exploited people’s fears, and successfully turned many Brazilians against their own interests.

Brazil’s Afro-Brazilian population has roots in Brazil’s long history of slavery, with Brazil not abolishing slavery until 1888. Today about half of the country identifies as black or having dark skin, with Afro-Brazilians making up about eight percent of Brazil’s population. In the last few decades, the Brazilian government has implemented a series of reforms including university quotas, and infrastructure improvements in the historically black communities known as quilombas. Many reforms came about under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president and Labor Party leader. Now, however, Lula is serving a twelve-year prison sentence for corruption. The Labor Party corruption scandal swept across Brazil, resulting in widespread investigations of government officials, the impeachment of the previous president, and the filing of criminal charges against the current president. The corruption scandal, coupled with economic instability and rising violent crime rates has led many Brazilians to disavow the Labor Party. Lula remains one of the most popular presidents in Brazilian history, especially among people of color and minority groups, but his replacement Francisco Haddad lacked the same name recognition and public trust.

While white Brazilians, and especially white men, were ultimately responsible for Bolsonaro’s election, Bolsonaro did successfully gain the support of some non-white Brazilians. For many Brazilians, Bolsonaro represents a departure from current political norms. Additionally, Bolsonaro has promised to rid the government of corruption and strengthen the Brazilian economy. Simultaneously, however, he has pledged to increase policing in majority black areas, increasing concerns about Brazil’s already extremely lethal police force, and has called for extrajudicial killings. Bolsonaro has also pledged to take land from quilomba communities, many of which do not hold the deeds to their land, and supports birth control based in eugenics. He has made openly racist statements about refugees from Africa and Afro-Brazilians.

Bolsonaro’s positions reflect a disturbing global rise in far-right populism and nationalism, but are simultaneously uniquely Brazilian. His election has forced many Brazilians to reassess their country’s history of racism and slavery, and think more critically about their position in society. At the same time, his election has opened the door for a rising tide of white nationalism as evidenced by the increased attacks on minority groups during the election. With Bolsonaro as president, Brazil’s Afro-Brazilian, black, and mixed-race communities will be under greater threat of being stripped of their rights, and being the victims of violent attacks.