Buenos Aires Times

What’s on Bolsonaro’s agenda for the coming months

Here are five things the far-right leader will likely move on soon.

Saturday 5 January, 2019
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro smiles during a Cabinet meeing in Brasilia.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro smiles during a Cabinet meeing in Brasilia. Foto:AP/ /ERALDO PERES

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Jair Bolsonaro was elected on promises to overhaul many aspects of Latin America’s largest nation, from changing its international alliances to cracking down on endemic corruption and street crime. Here are five things the far-right leader will likely move on soon:

LIBERALISING GUN OWNERSHIP

Last week, the former Army captain said that upon taking office he would issue a decree guaranteeing Brazilians without a criminal history the ability to possess firearms. During the campaign, Bolsonaro argued that one way to confront street crime would be to arm more citizens. Possession of firearms is currently tightly restricted in Brazil, though drug-traffickers and other criminal gangs are heavily armed with automatic weapons. Brazil is the annual world leader in total homicides — there were more than 63,000 in 2017 — and a majority are from firearms.

PROTECTING THE POLICE

Bolsonaro has frequently argued that police who fatally shoot criminals during operations should be decorated, not prosecuted. To that end, he has said they should be shielded from prosecution, possibly by having such cases be investigated in a separate process outside the criminal justice system. Such ideas terrify human rights groups and people who live in poor areas, where shoot-outs between police and traffickers often leave criminals, officers and innocent bystanders dead. Some Brazilian police forces, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, are already among the most lethal in the world.

PENSION SYSTEM OVERHAUL

For decades, Brazilian politicians and international economists have advocated revising the pension system, which now allows many public workers to retire in their early 50s and takes up an increasingly large portion of public expenditures. But many attempts, including by outgoing President Michel Temer, have failed. Bolsonaro has promised this time will be different, though he has been light on details. His party will have the second- -argest bloc in Congress, and many politicians across the spectrum agree changes must be made. Still, he will likely face stiff resistance.

AMAZON RAINFOREST

Bolsonaro said during the campaign he would pull Brazil from the Paris agreement on climate change, then backpedalled after winning the election. Whether Brazil formally stays in the accord may be all but irrelevant: scientists say the country won’t meet its targets on emissions reductions if Bolsonaro does what he has promised. Those promises are wide-ranging: roll back environmental regulations, promote increased mining and farming, cease demarcation of indigenous lands and allow indigenous tribes to sell their lands. These changes will likely come via various methods, from presidential decrees to privatisations.

SHIFTING ALLIANCES

Bolsonaro has frequently expressed adoration for US President Donald Trump, and he is poised to follow him in foreign policy. He has promised to move the Brazilian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; push back on China, Brazil’s largest foreign investor; ditch regional trade treaties he thinks are bad deals for Brazil; and take a hard line on leftist governments, especially Venezuela.Each one of these changes could present large risks. For example, Middle Eastern countries are some of Brazil’s biggest customers of meats. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem will likely anger many in that region and jeopardise future business. Still, Bolsonaro will come under intense pressure from evangelicals, one of his largest sectors of support, to make good on this promise.

Finally, there’s the not-so-small issue of relations with Argentina and the Mercosur trade bloc, with the latter on hold as it awaits to see which route Bolsonaro will take. With regards to the new president’s relationship with Buenos Aires and specifically President Mauricio Macri, who missed the inauguration ceremony, Bolsonaro posted on Twitter that “Brazil and Argentina are going to walk together in different directions to the past by the last governments.”

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