Opinion: Brazil′s Bolsonaro sworn in but still campaigning | Opinion | DW | 02.01.2019
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Opinion

Opinion: Brazil's Bolsonaro sworn in but still campaigning

Brazil's new president has yet to act presidential. At his inauguration, Jair Bolsonaro resorted instead to the well-known "us against them" rhetoric — an approach Brazil cannot afford, says DW's Thomas Milz.

At the swearing in ceremony as the 38th president of Brazil, Jair Messias Bolsonaro confirmed his promise to create a society without discrimination or division. One should not be dazzled by his words, however. The far-right former military and longtime backbencher in parliament who won more than 55 percent of the vote in the October presidential elections hasn't turned into a mature statesman overnight.

To the contrary: Speaking to the members of Congress who had assembled in his honor, foreign heads of government and about 100,000 supporters, Bolsonaro slipped right back into his well-known election campaign mode. Starting that very day, Brazilians were liberating themselves from Socialism, he said. According to his way of thinking, everyone is a Socialist, a Communist or a Marxist who doesn't agree with him and whom he feels he needs to, with the help of God, stop from bringing down Christianity.

Read more: Bolsonaro aims to unite the right

Predatory capitalism and patronage

Such ominous powers have never, however, ruled Brazil. Even the leftist PT workers' party that led the country from 2003 to 2016 didn't dare touch the centuries-old privileges of the elite.

Due to a mix of predatory capitalism and patronage, Brazil remains to be one of the most unequal countries in the world. Bolsonaro's two enthusiastically received inauguration speeches on Tuesday left up in the air whether he is even aware of the social deviations and whether he, the president, plans to do something about them.

Bolsonaro is Brazil's first president after the country's return to democracy in the mid-1980s who is politically even more conservative than the already very conservative Congress. Observers expected him to temper his words and shift to the political center.

There are, however, no indications of this happening. Perhaps he is following the lead of his political role model Donald Trump, prepared to take the chance of a confrontation with Congress. It was alarming to see that numerous lawmakers appear to have stayed away from the inauguration ceremony.

Brazil cannot afford blockades; the federal government, the states and municipalities are on the brink of financial collapse. Bolsonaro needs to act quickly. In Brazil, the old adage "It's the economy, stupid" holds — if the economy does well, so will his presidency, and vice versa. Despite the budget deficits, Bolsonaro pledged to take some of the burden off entrepreneurs and workers. But it is unclear how that is supposed to work.

Read more: Understanding the populist narrative

DW's Brazil correspondent Thomas Milz (Privat)

DW's Brazil correspondent Thomas Milz

Reconciliation not in sight

He also lashed out at his political opponents, blaming shady "foes of the fatherland, order and freedom" for the attack on his life in early September. So far, investigators say the attacker was a single deranged individual; there are no indications the attack was politically motivated or planned by masterminds in the opposition's camp.

However, Bolsonaro does not seem to be interested in reconciling with the opposition. As so often before, he invoked the motto "our flag will never be red," referring to the color of the leftist camp's banners. On Tuesday, he ended his speech with a sentence that will have political observers in Brasilia racking their brains for a while to come: " It will only turn red if our blood is needed to keep it green and yellow," he said.

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