NEW DELHI: “She’s not my type. I would never rape her. I’m not a rapist, but if I were, I wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it,” Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro’s famous views on a fellow lawmaker in Congress who said she was so bad looking that she would not even be raped. Although this was said in 2014, there is little to indicate that Bolsonaro who will be India’s honoured guest on Republic Day has had a re-think on his views on women, gender rights and indeed the world.
His background is littered with racial comments, as in 2011 when asked what he would do if his son fell in love with a black woman he replied,”I don’t run that risk because my sons were very well educated.” The 63 year old President was a military officer, and retains much of what goes into the bag of a conservative, hard line, narrow minded military man.
His views on immigrants and indigeous communities have evoked protest. Quilombolas who are descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves were ridiculed by him with comments implying that they are so lazy that “I think they don’t even manage to procreate anymore.”
His views on LGBT rights are carried right into the Presidency, with Bolsonaro clear that he would be unable to love a gay son and would much prefer that he “die in an accident.”
He has changed parties but won the elections as a recent member of the Social Liberal Party. His campaign, depending largely on the social media, and following the right wing populism pattern of keeping “Brazil first” and attacking the Left and centrist political parties, and bragging about his own popularity and votes. He did not have it all his way though with a man claiming to be on a “mission from God” stabbing him in the abdomen during a campaign rally. He was badly injured but this galvanised his supporters and in short, he was elected President of Brazil.
Interestingly opposition in Brazil has compared him to Hitler. More so, as Bolsonaro has been particularly embracing of Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship, calling it “glorious.” Interestingly as per media reports Bolsonaro had voted to impeach the President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 indicating he did so in honor of the late chief of secret police in Sao Paula who was alleged to have tortured hundreds under military rule. Rouseff herself had been arrested and tortured by the military dictatorship.
Since taking over as President Bolsonaro has appointed seven retired military officers to cabinet posts. He came in on the heels of the highly unpopular Michel Temer. However, he faces stiff opposition from the very popular Lula da Silva who was barred from running for President in 2018 as he was serving a 12 year prison sentence. His supporters claim that he was framed.
Bolsonaro was again in the news for accosting a reporter with, “you look terribly like a homosexual” when he was questioned about money laundering raids on addresses linked to his family. This was at a heated press conference in December last where he accused the media of being biased against him and his son.
His popularity ratings have dipped steadily. A December poll showed the number of Brazilians who disapproved of their President had risen to 53%. Those who thought it bad or awful stood at 38%, compared with 27% after he took office.
Just a few days ago Bolsonaro, under strong public pressure, was compelled to dismiss his Culture Minister Roberto Alvim for publishing a Nazi speech on Brazilian art. In fact, according to the local media, Alvim plagiarised Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Culture and Communications Joseph Goebbels and copied his style and aesthetic on Brazilian art as reported by the local media:
“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national. It will be endowed with a great capacity for emotional involvement and will be equally imperative, since it is deeply linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or else it will be nothing” — Roberto Alvin, Brazil’s culture minister, January 15, 2020.
“The German art of the next decade will be heroic, romantic, objective, and free of sentimentality, national with great pathos and equally imperative and binding, or nothing” — Joseph Goebbels, Nazi culture minister, October 8, 1933.
As The Intercept reported the dismissal came only after strong media criticism, followed by formal objections from Germany and even close friend Israel, “Brazil’s O Globo newspaper featured this surreal headline on its front page: “Bolsonaro fires Culture Minister after he copies Nazi speech.” The German paper Deutsche Welle featured a photo of the 1933 speech of Goebbels that Alvim copied next to the one delivered by the Brazilian culture minister to juxtapose how similar it was on all levels, beyond just the words.”
The Intercept further reported: “Aggressive and harsh public morality is a central prong of Bolsonaro’s political appeal. He featured as part of his 2018 campaign cultural themes similar to Alvim’s speech — including a false but highly effective warning that elementary school teachers were using something he calls “gay kits” to convert young children in order to allow homosexuals to recruit them as sex partners — and generally has waged a war on any art or artists who diverge from Bolsonaro’s vision of what pure nationalist art is.”
And again: “Nazi-style nationalism and crude public assaults have been repeatedly featured by Bolsonaro in his remarks to journalists. On Thursday, addressing a new book critical of his government by a Brazilian reporter of Japanese descent, Thaís Oyama, Bolsonaro said he does not know what she is doing in Brazil, adding: “This journalist … In Japan she was going to starve to death.”
Last month, in response to a reporter’s question about the still-unfolding scandal involving his Senator-son’s corruption and the family’s links to violent paramilitary militias, the president said “you have a terribly gay face,” and told another reporter to “ask your mother about your father.” When questioned earlier this week about a scandal involving his Communications Minister who has private contracts with the same television outlets whose public budget he is responsible for determining, the president responded: “are you talking about your mother?”
A report issued earlier this week by a press freedom group documented that Bolsonaro is directly responsible for the majority of the attacks on journalists and media outlets. It cited, among other things, Bolsonaro’s repeated public incitements against journalists as well as his public threats that I might be imprisoned for the series of exposés published this year by the Intercept about his Justice Minister and his accusations that my marriage to a Brazilian Congressman and adoption of Brazilian children was a fraud.
Earlier this month, Bolsonaro pronounced that books in schools have too much content and need to be made “softer” and warned that “beginning in 2021, all the books will be ours,” proclaiming that they will have the Brazilian flag and national anthem on their cover. He added that “they will be made for us. The country will vibrate…. There will be the Brazilian flag on the cover, there will be the national anthem there.” He claimed that the “idiots” who have been in charge of Brazilian education have been propagandizing children with the “gender ideology” that “encourages boys to wear skirts” and “other things that I don’t want to talk about here.” On Thursday, he said leftists “do not deserve to be treated like normal people.”
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