Brazil Wanted Change. Even Before Taking Office, Jair Bolsonaro Delivered.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilians signaled a desire for a radical shift in the country’s course when they elected the far-right lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro as their next president in October.
It didn’t take long for profound changes to start taking hold.
In the weeks leading up to Mr. Bolsonaro’s swearing-in on Tuesday, his embrace of a conservative movement that rejects discussion of gender or sexual orientation in schools thrust classrooms to the front lines of culture wars.
Under his direction, Brazil pulled out of hosting the 2019 United Nations summit meeting on climate change and began backtracking from its role as a global exemplar of environmentally sustainable development.
And on the foreign policy front, Mr. Bolsonaro courted the United States and picked a fight with Cuba, which responded by rescinding a program that had sent Cuban doctors to remote corners of Brazil since 2013.
There is considerable uncertainty about how closely President Bolsonaro will resemble the gruff, indignant and uncompromising candidate who ran as a political outsider and pulled off a long-shot victory by promising to dismantle a culture of corruption and use draconian means to restore security.
But there is no doubt that deep transformations are underway. Here are some examples:
Reeling from violence, a nation braces for more guns
Days before Mr. Bolsonaro’s inauguration, his son Carlos Bolsonaro, a Rio de Janeiro city councilman, posted a video on Twitter paying homage to his father’s love of weapons and highlighting his pledges to make it easier for the police to kill suspected criminals.
“I would rather they murder 200,000 thugs,” the future president is seen saying about the police in a clip that is part of the expletive-laden video.
Over the weekend, Mr. Bolsonaro announced he would issue an executive order allowing civilians without a criminal record to purchase weapons to keep at home or work for self-protection.
The policy would mark a significant departure from Brazil’s onerous rules for gun ownership, and experts said it would probably exacerbate carnage in the country, which last year had a record 63,880 killings. A poll released on Sunday by the research firm Datafolha found that 61 percent of Brazilians were opposed to relaxing gun ownership rules.
The image captured the high hopes Mr. Bolsonaro and his team have for closer ties with the United States: After Mr. Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo Bolsonaro wrapped up meetings at the White House during a November trip designed to lay the groundwork for a relationship, the president’s son wore a “Trump 2020” campaign hat.
The Trump administration has returned the praise, calling Mr. Bolsonaro a “like-minded” leader on whom Washington hopes to rely as it tries to curb China’s growing influence in the region and put more pressure on Venezuela’s authoritarian government.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will lead the American delegation at Mr. Bolsonaro’s swearing-in ceremony in Brasília.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s first diplomatic fight also happened in November, as Cuba abruptly terminated a program under which the island had been deploying thousands of doctors to remote, impoverished regions in Brazil since 2013. Mr. Bolsonaro had called the program a form of indentured slavery and vowed to end it.
A vocal critic of authoritarian left-wing governments in the region, Mr. Bolsonaro said he would not invite representatives of the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela to his swearing-in ceremony.
Deforestation in the Amazon speeds up
Between August and October, the most ardent period of the campaign, deforestation in the Amazon went up by almost 50 percent compared with the same period in 2017.
While such an upswing is common during election periods because of an expectation that regulations will change, this was the sharpest increase since close monitoring of deforestation in the Amazon began in 2004, said Adalberto Veríssimo, a co-founder of Imazon, an environmental watchdog agency.
“There is an expectation that the government will be more favorable to economic activities in the Amazon, no matter the circumstances,” Mr. Veríssimo said.
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Bolsonaro threatened to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement, the international pact struck in 2016 to reduce carbon emissions, and he vowed to put an end to fines imposed by agencies protecting the environment.
In late November, the Foreign Ministry announced that Brazil was withdrawing its pledge to host the 2019 United Nations global summit meeting on climate change. Mr. Bolsonaro said he had requested the withdrawal.
The move was a clear sign of the shift that Mr. Bolsonaro’s election represents for environmental policy. For years, Brazil, which has the largest share of the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rain forest, has cast itself as a nation committed to sustainable development and sound environmental policies.
After Mr. Bolsonaro was elected, he named Ernesto Araújo, a career diplomat and climate change denier, as foreign minister. His minister of the environment, Ricardo Salles, said soon after his appointment that the debate over global warming was a “secondary” issue.
A cabinet packed with political outsiders
Despite his 27 years in Congress, Mr. Bolsonaro ran as an outsider at the head of a minuscule party. He was rejected by mainstream parties, which saw him as too radical to win and refused to offer him a running mate. But Brazilians, angry with the political establishment, rewarded him handsomely for breaking with the status quo.
With his cabinet choices, Mr. Bolsonaro continued to signal a break with politics as usual. Instead of doling out ministerial positions to influential members of political parties with the aim of building coalitions in Brazil’s fractious, multiparty Congress, as previous presidents had done, he tapped military leaders, ideologues and technocrats.
The unusually high number of military officers in his government, including the recently retired army general Hamilton Mourão, who was his running mate, represents a remarkable shift for a nation that kept the military largely out of sight as it rebuilt democratic institutions after the end of military rule in the mid-1980s.
Mr. Araújo, who raised eyebrows by expressing effusive support for Mr. Bolsonaro during the campaign, will be the rare foreign minister to have risen to the top job from the ranks of career diplomats.
The incoming justice minister, Sérgio Moro, is a federal judge who became famous for his prominent role in a major anticorruption investigation that led to the downfall of scores of prominent politicians and business people.
Schools as culture war battlegrounds
In 2014, Mr. Bolsonaro and his sons embraced a little-known movement named Escola Sem Partido, or School Without Party. It was formed by conservative activists who claimed that Brazilian students were being indoctrinated by left-wing educators promoting gender and social equality, among other policies.
The movement has grown in prominence in recent years, sparking the proposal of dozens of bills across Brazil to shape public school curriculums. Some of the bills would prohibit teachers from talking about their political views, encouraging students to join demonstrations or discussing gender issues in classrooms.
In November, Mr. Bolsonaro tapped Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez, a Colombian theologist who backs Escola Sem Partido’s main ideas, to head the Ministry of Education. One day before his inauguration, Mr. Bolsonaro posted on Twitter that Mr. Vélez would help him “fight the Marxist garbage that has installed itself in educational institutions.”
Even before Mr. Bolsonaro took office, teachers were threatened by parents and students and some were fired over their political views, according to Fernanda Moura, a history teacher and a member of the group Teachers Against School Without Party. Others had begun to self-censor, she said.
“We were building a new Brazil little by little, a Brazil with policies of inclusion for L.G.B.T. people, women, blacks, people with special needs,” she said. “What we see is that the people who are against these social policies don’t want us to debate them. That’s why they attack schools.”
Borrowing from Trump’s playbook on the press
Mr. Bolsonaro’s campaign broke with many of the longtime formulas for electoral victory in Brazil. Instead of courting powerful mainstream media outlets, which covered him critically, he maligned them as “fake news” and addressed supporters directly on social media, where he developed a large following.
Like President Trump, he and his top surrogates seem to relish picking fights with journalists. They have begun blocking critical reporters on Twitter, and at the first news conference following his election, journalists from outlets that published critical articles during the campaign were barred.