Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the weeks pass since Jair Bolsonaro won election as President, he’s been taking steps to define his policies and practices after his inauguration on January 1st. These steps include reorganizing Ministries and appointing Ministers, as well as announcing new policy directions.
It is clear that Bolsonaro is intent on keeping his main campaign promise, which got him elected because of its appeal to a large majority of Brazilian voters. Briefly put, he will dismantle the corrupt political power structure, created and masterminded by Lula and including all major political parties in Brazil.
For starters, he has promised to cut the number of Ministries in half—there are now 35 (!). The reason for this proliferation was purely corrupt: Lula was rewarding the politicians who collaborated with him by granting them control of plum ministries, which they could milk for publicity and cash.
To accomplish his goal, Bolsonaro has proposed creating “super ministries” which would absorb numerous former fiefdoms. He would merge sports and culture into an Education super ministry. Law enforcement and watchdog agencies would be subsumed into the Justice super ministry. The environmental ministry would become part of the Agriculture super ministry.
These are controversial matters because they involve basic philosophical questions. Why should the government support private cultural enterprise? Should law enforcement personnel be fully accountable if they commit crimes? Is environmental protection necessarily antagonistic to economic development?
Bolsonaro’s first appointed super minister was no surprise, and is the least controversial: crusading Judge Sergio Moro, he of Lava-Jato fame, will head the Justice Ministry. This is music to the ears of the electorate, because it means that the battle to uproot corruption at all levels of government will continue.
Bolsonaro’s future Finance super minister is Paulo Guedes; during the campaign, Bolsonaro referred to him as his “one stop shopping” guru for all matters economic. Guedes is an adherent of the “Chicago School” of economics, which favors private enterprise over governmental involvement. That appeals to millions of middle and upper class Brazilians who resent the PT/Lula/Dilma economic incentives favoring the poor.
Several of Bolsonaro’s ministerial appointments were retired high military officers; these have met with general approval, as most Brazilians still respect the military and presume they are not corrupt.
Bolsonaro’s latest appointment, as Foreign Minister, is a career diplomat who publicly supported Bolsonaro during the campaign, and has long been one of the opponents, within the Ministry, of its coddling of Venezuela and Cuba. This reflects Bolsonaro’s campaign strategy of claiming that Brazil would become another Venezuela if PT and Lula regained power.
Bolsonaro has steadfastly resisted the blandishments of the crooked politicos at the heart of Brazil’s systemic corruption, who hope to convince him he needs them to govern. He has appointed trusted military officers for security related positions. His economics and foreign policy are right wing, not left wing.
All these appointments represent the antithesis of thirteen years of Lula and Dilma leftist administrations. Bolsonaro won because he promised an end to their policies, and his appointments show he fully intends to carry out his campaign promises.
So, if you ask, “How’s he doing?” his supporters will say he’s doing fine; his detractors will disagree.