In Venezuela, self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó is failing to ignite a military revolution. As a result, 25 Venezuelan soldiers who side with him fled. They now seek asylum in the Brazilian Embassy in Caracas. Knowing that their lives are at risk for defecting, they had few options. After all, betraying Maduro can carry a life sentence.
By Daniel Szewc | Poland
Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of the Brazilian Federation is, above all else, controversial. What is it that this man truly supports? More importantly, is it compatible with the Western vision of liberty and libertarianism?
A divisive figure, Bolsonaro managed to garner 55% of the vote by capturing two things: A stark reaction to the corrupt socialist government before him, and sympathy support from his being stabbed during a rally.
Trump of the Tropics?
Many people equate Bolsonaro to the American President, calling him “the Trump of the tropics”. At first glance, this is plausible: first and foremost, he used populist rhetoric to gain traction. Secondly, he played on the fact that he wanted to get rid of corruption, calling himself a non-corruptible person. This, of course, is just like Trump, who said that he would “Drain the swamp”.
Moreover, the political and the media mainstream gave both mainly negative attention. In the case of Bolsonaro, they often attributed him with racist views. For example, a news station edited an interview with him to make it seem like he said that his son wouldn’t marry a black woman because of his good upbringing. Bolsonaro actually said that his son wouldn’t marry a man for that reason. Of course, that also is a highly incendiary comment and this is not a defense of his often brash statements. Instead, it merely points out that the media often mischaracterizes both figures. The last similarity is the appeal to better times. In fact, this was a strong tool, for times now in Brazil are dire.
In contrast to Trump, Jair Bolsonaro’s pro-gun standpoint does not come from conservatism or legal values, but instead from libertarian ethics of freedom. Moreover, his idea to radically liberalize gun laws was his own idea, not one to please crowds. He wants to do it as a means to reduce gun violence by arming the weak. To do this, Bolsonaro would remove the Statute of Disarmament, a 2003 law that heavily limited civilian firearm use. Often seen shooting guns himself, the new president is likely to fulfill this promise.
Bolsonaro and Liberty: Mixed Signals
Before his campaign, Bolsonaro posted a video in which he claimed that democracy was a failure. Thus, his authoritarian position will make it unlikely that he cedes power to interest groups. However, Bolsonaro often spoke with sympathy towards the military dictatorship from decades ago. In fact, he only had one objection to it: they didn’t kill enough communists. A reactionary en masse, he claims that “Pinochet did what had to be done”.
Despite this, he has also said, “As long as you don’t rape, kidnap, you don’t commit armed robbery, you won’t go to jail- that’s all, damn it!” In saying so, he appears to be, in some ways, an advocate for a very small state with few laws. Famously, he has sentiments that oppose state programs that show very young children the nature of homosexuality. In a non-elegant fashion, he states that people can be gay wherever they want, as long as they do not indoctrinate the youth.
Contrary to his libertarian view on laws is his support of torture for violent criminals. Bolsonaro believes that they do not have the same rights as nonviolent individuals.
Above all, Bolsonaro believes in the right to private property. He emphasizes such heavily in many speeches, including his inaugural address. In fact, he proposes enormous tax cuts and curbing spending. The exception, in his case, is military spending. A captain parachutist, Bolsonaro has long been a supporter of a large military, which runs contrary to libertarian values. Despite this, he generally wants to end state industrial complexes and enterprises. A supporter of a relatively free market, he wants to increase private enterprise and deconstruct bureaucracy.
An Unknown Foreign Policy
When it comes to foreign relations, we only know a few vague ideas. Bolsonaro wants to end strong relations with the leftist states in the region, including Venezuela and Cuba. In exchange, he hopes to pursue strong ties with countries that can trade more with Brazil. Social media can actually give a good clue as to where Brasilia may be looking to for foreign relations. The day of the election, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, congratulated the new leader. Just one day later, Bolsonaro met with the ambassador to Israel. The president-elect, even during his campaign, said that Palestine is not a country and should not have an embassy.
Matteo Salvini, the right-wing vice prime minister of Italy, was also happy to congratulate Bolsonaro. However, it is unclear whether this was for strategic or ideological reasons. The strong rivalry of America and Israel against China and its client states is getting stronger globally. It is very possible that Brazil could play a key role in tipping the scales one way or another. This is especially true if Bolsonaro compromises the political system and commits a coup, which he has hinted at. In such a case, no internal political powers could force him to re-establish the current system. Thus, befriending the authoritarian leader could be very beneficial to smaller nations like Italy.
Brazil is most capable of effectively ousting Venezuela’s Maduro through the means of military intervention. America could, but it would severely hurt their relations with China. All of this, thus, lies at the feet of Bolsonaro. He has the potential to take the country towards or away from liberty, and only time will tell which route he prefers.
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