Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, waves after voting in the presidential runoff election in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Oct. 28, 2018.
LIMA, Perú — From the fate of the Amazon to LGBT rights and even the future of democracy itself, Jair Bolsonaro’s historic victory in Brazil’s presidential election could have profound repercussions across Latin America.
With 209 million citizens, Brazil is easily the region’s most populous nation and often wields an outsize influence among its neighbors in everything from soccer to social policies and international relations.
The triumph of the hard right former army captain —with his lengthy track record of homophobic, misogynistic and racist remarks — as well as his unapologetic nostalgia for his country’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship and support of torture, has many analysts wondering just where Latin America may now be headed.
Bolsonaro has pledged to open up the Amazon to mining and other activities that would threaten the world’s largest tropical rain forest and a vast carbon sink that could play a vital role in tackling climate change. He has also threatened to kick left-wing political opponents out of the country and is a fierce participant in Brazil’s culture wars, fervently opposing both abortion and same-sex marriage.
“Brazil now has the most right wing leader of any democracy in the world,” says Dawisson Belém Lopes, a professor of international politics at Brazil’s Minas Gerais Federal University. “There is a real risk of contagion. When Lula [Brazil’s former leftist president Luiz Inácio da Silva] was elected, it set the trend across Latin America that [Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo] Chávez never could.”
Bolsonaro”s win comes after Brazilians’ repudiation of the current government, which has been engulfed in massive corruption scandals. But voters may soon see stark changes; If Bolsonaro implements certain policy positions once in power, they would constitute a 180° turn on a range of issues. This could potentially give renewed momentum to like-minded politicians and interest groups across the region, from social conservatives to the agribusiness lobby that has often chafed at environmental laws aimed at preventing deforestation.
CHANGE TOWARD VENEZUELA, CHINA?
Brazil’s President-Elect could also usher in a sea change in regional attitudes towards Venezuela’s economic and democratic collapse, forming a hard-line alliance with Colombia’s new conservative president Iván Duque, who has also struck a more aggressive tone towards the Maduro regime and its so-called “Bolivarian” socialism.
Another area where Bolsonaro could attempt to put Brazil on a new path is regarding its relationship with China, which has long been buying South American commodities, everything from soy to copper, to fuel its economic boom.
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