PRES BOLSONARO PUTS STAMP ON BRAZIL IN FIRST WEEK
Last Updated: 2019-01-06
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 6 (NNN-AGENCIES) -- Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, came out swinging in his very first week in office, introducing changes to remake his country around his far-right agenda — but proving less ambitious than expected on economic reforms.

Many measures announced since his investiture Tuesday Jan 1 reflected the 63-year-old former paratrooper’s desire to break with decades of center-left politics and embrace a nationalist vision of the sort espoused by his ideological ally, US President Donald Trump.

Bolsonaro declared Brazil and the United States to be “friends” and said in his first post-inauguration TV interview he was open to looking at his country hosting a US military base, citing regional instability from neighboring Venezuela and its backer Russia.

He also issued decrees reducing protection of indigenous land rights and the LGBTQ community, and ordered that non-governmental organizations come under government monitoring.

His government announced it has launched a purge of government contractors deemed not to fully support Bolsonaro’s ultraconservatism.

And his pro-free-market economy minister, Paulo Guedes, said the government’s number-one priority was to tackle Brazil’s costly and unsustainable pension system.

Investors applauded the first bold steps, sending the stock market to a record high and strengthening the Brazilian real against the dollar.

But on Thursday and Friday, Bolsonaro sowed some confusion on other issues when he spoke unscripted to journalists.

First, he spoke of a minimum retirement age that was well below what his economic team is mulling, undermining hopes that he was going to firmly tackle the pension problem that consumes a third of public spending.

Then he expressed wariness about a multi-billion-dollar planned tie-up between planemaker Embraer and US giant Boeing, sending the Brazilian company’s shares diving and calling into question his market-friendly campaign rhetoric.

And Bolsonaro also announced a tax increase contrary to a campaign pledge.

His chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, hastily said Bolsonaro was “wrong” on the tax hike.

The other topics, however, were not fully explained by Bolsonaro aides, leaving the impression of a gap between the president’s ambitions and the ministers he has tasked with turning Brazil’s economy around.

Additionally, reports emerged Saturday of discomfort among top military brass at Bolsonaro’s idea of maybe having a US military base on Brazilian soil.

That dissent could reach Bolsonaro’s cabinet, where seven of his 22 ministers are retired military officers.

The impression left was that Bolsonaro’s first week was marked by moves aimed at appealing to his socially conservative base made up of evangelical Christian, pro-gun and pro-business groups, but with little underlying strategy.

More announcements and decisions are expected from Bolsonaro and his team in the coming days and weeks as he seeks to put his stamp on Brazil while he enjoys very high approval ratings.

But observers said the real test will begin in February, when the new Congress starts work.

Bolsonaro’s conservative Social Liberal Party has only a tenth of the seats in the 513-member Chamber of Deputies, and the president will be relying on lawmakers from several parties reflecting his base to back him. -- NNN-AGENCIES