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Bolsonaro rushes through changes as reshaping of Brazil begins

The quick reshaping of politics in Argentina's giant neighbour spoke to Bolsonaro's desire to reform Latin America's biggest economy while in his initial electoral honeymoon phase.

Thursday 3 January, 2019
Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, speaks at the handover of his new Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva in Brasilia on January 2, 2018.
Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, speaks at the handover of his new Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva in Brasilia on January 2, 2018. Foto:AFP/Sergio LIMA

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The new government of Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, hit the ground running on its first day of business, rushing through changes to put a strongly conservative stamp on the country by trashing progressive achievements of past administrations.

The quick reshaping of politics in Argentina's giant neighbour spoke to Bolsonaro's desire to reform Latin America's biggest economy while in his initial electoral honeymoon phase, before fractures might appear in his atypical cabinet or his ad-hoc legislative alliances.

Brazil's new 22-minister Cabinet, staffed with seven ex-military officers, a former anti-corruption judge and a free-market economist, held its first meeting Thursday.

Measures taken

The measures passed so far have been by temporary decree, pending approval by the incoming Congress that starts its new session next month.

They include:

  • Stripping the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI of the power to define native land. Bolsonaro tweeted that fewer than a million people out of Brazil's population of 210 million lived in territories set aside for indigenous communities and those descended from slaves. "Together we will integrate these citizens," he said.
  • Removing Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender issues from the remit of the Human Rights Ministry. A lawyer active in the LGBT community, Juliana Maggi, told AFP that move was "an affront," though she added that constitutional changes would be needed to overturn gay rights to recognized partnerships and family.
  • Tasking the government secretary with the monitoring of international organisations and non-governmental organisations in Brazil. The Americas division of Human Rights Watch expressed concern, saying it showed a misunderstanding of "the independent role these entities have in an open and democratic society."
  • Removing fishing from the responsibility of the Environment Ministry.

Other areas Bolsonaro has said he wants to tackle is removing "Marxist garbage" from educational curricula, and setting Brazil on a collision course in Latin America with the leftist-ruled regimes of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

They all align with Bolsonaro's stated aim, voiced on Tuesday when he took office, to "free Brazil from Socialism" – to do away with decades of centre-left policies brought in between 2003 and 2016 when the Workers' Party (PT) ruled the country.

The icon of the PT, popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is currently in prison serving time for corruption. Bolsonaro has said he hopes Lula will "rot" behind bars. 

Economic reforms

In terms of the economy, which is still fragile after exiting a record-busting recession two years ago, Bolsonaro has handed much of the control over to his new economy minister, Paulo Guedes, a US-trained free-market advocate and 'Chicago boy.'

Guedes on Wednesday reaffirmed his determination to cut Brazil's public spending and debt, with reform of the unsustainable pension system a priority.

Markets reacted favorably to the new government, propelling the ãao Paulo stock market index to a record high on Wednesday, though one day later it was treading water. 

Bolsonaro said Thursday he expected allowing private control of rail lines, airports and ports would "quickly" bring in around US$1.8 billion in investment and boost infrastructure.

An economist, Victor Candido of Guide Investments in Sao Paulo, told AFP that the initial market ebullience reflected hopes Bolsonaro and Guedes would streamline bureaucracy and boost productivity.

"The market feels not only that there's going to be a lot of privatizations, but also that the climate as a whole is going to be better, that the climate will be positive for all companies in general," he said.

But Candido cautioned the optimism will only hold if Congress confirms Bolsonaro's measures, but so far "this government has the momentum."

- TIMES/AFP

Op-Ed

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