The success of several reforms is overshadowed by the impulsiveness and personal interests of a president with a tarnished image.
Jair Bolsonaro talks to the press at the beginning of January at the headquarters of the Ministry of Economics [Isac Nóbrega, PR].
ANALYSIS / Túlio Dias de Assis
One year ago, on 1 January 2019, a former Brazilian army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, climbed the steps of the Palácio do Planalto for the inauguration of his presidential mandate. He was the most controversial leader to assume Brazil's head of state and government since the presidency of the no less flamboyant populist Jânio Quadros in the 1960s. The more doomsdayers predicted the imminent end of the world's fourth largest democracy; the more deluded, that Brazil would take off and take its rightful place in the international arena. As was to be expected, neither extreme was right: Brazil continues to maintain the level of democracy of the last 30 years, without any military attempt , as some had feared; nor has Brazil become the world power that many Brazilians believe it deserves because of its exceptional territorial, population, cultural and political characteristics. As is often the case, the reality has been less simple than expected.
Among the most attractive aspects of Bolsonaro's candidacy to the public during the election campaign was the promise of economic recovery under the administration of Chicago Boy minister Paulo Guedes. In order to fulfil this promise purpose, right at the beginning of his mandate, Bolsonaro unified the former ministries of Finance, Planning, development and management, Industry, work and Foreign Trade and Services under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economics, all under the command of the liberal Guedes. Guedes became a sort of "super-minister" manager of the new government's entire economic diary .
From the outset, Guedes made it clear that he would do his utmost to lift the barriers of Brazilian trade protectionism, a doctrine adopted at Degree by every government for more than half a century. In order to deploy his crusade against statism and protectionism, Guedes has this year promoted bilateral trade rapprochement with several strategic allies, which, 'unlike previous governments, will not be chosen on the basis of ideological criteria', according to Bolsonaro. Already in January there was the advertisement of a Novo Brasil at the World Economic Forum in Davos, defined by greater openness, zero tolerance for corruption and the strengthening of Latin America as a regional bloc.
Despite his support for economic openness, Bolsonaro's team has never been overly favourable to trade with Mercosur - his regional multilateral trade bloc - with Guedes even stating that it was a burden for Brazil, as he considered it an ideological rather than an economic alliance. However, this aversion to Mercosur, and mainly to Argentina, seems to have ended after the signature of the Mercosur-EU tradeagreement , given that the potential volume of trade that would be generated by such a pact would be enormously beneficial for Brazilian agricultural and livestock producers. area Similarly, a agreement was also signed with the countries of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), comprising Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Of these two agreements, the most controversial has been the one signed with the European Union, mainly due to the high levels of rejection in some member states such as France, Ireland and Austria, as it is seen as a possible risk to the Common Agricultural Policy. On the other hand, some other countries were critical, citing Bolsonaro's environmental policy, as the agreement was signed during the summer, which coincided with the time of the fires in the Amazon. As a result, several member states have still not ratified the treaty and the Austrian parliament has voted against it.
However, the fact that multilateral trade relations do not seem to have made much progress, due to the obstacles imposed by Europe, has not prevented Brazil from expanding its commercial activity. Contrary to what one might think, due to its ideological closeness to Donald Trump and his foreign policy, the rapprochement in subject economic relations has not been with the US, but with the antagonistic Asian giant. In this process, Bolsonaro's trip to Beijing stands out, where he showed himself to be open to Chinese trade, despite his previous less favourable statements in this regard. agreement During the proposal visit a free trade agreement with China, which has yet to be approved by the Mercosur summit, and several smaller agreements, including one on agricultural trade, came up.
This sudden Chinese interest in increasing agricultural imports from Brazil is due to the increase in demand for meat in China, triggered mainly by the swine fever epidemic that devastated domestic production. This has led to an immediate rise in the price of beef and pork in Brazil, up to 30% in some cuts in little more than a month, which has distorted the domestic market, as meat, mainly beef, is usually very present in the average Brazilian's regular per diem expenses .
With regard to the country's internal accounts, it is worth highlighting the approval of the pension reform(Reforma da Previdência), which initially had a markedly liberal character, with the aim of eliminating privileges and disproportionate pensions for high-level public officials. However, several modifications during its passage through the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate meant that the savings for the public treasury were slightly less than Guedes had envisaged. Still, it is a big step forward considering that the pension system had a deficit of 195 billion reais (about $47 billion) in 2018. This deficit is due to the fact that Brazil had one of the highest benefit systems in the world with the fewest demands, with many people retiring at the age of 55 on 70 per cent of their original salary.
This measure, together with several other adjustments in the public accounts, including the freezing of some ministerial expenditures, reduced the public deficit by 138.218 billion dollars in January (6.67% of GDP) to 97.68 billion dollars in November (5.91% of GDP), the most leave since the economic recession began five years ago. Among other relevant data is the drop in the Central Bank's base interest rate to a historic low of 4.5%, while the unemployment rate fell from 12% to 11.2%.
result As a result, Brazil's GDP has increased by 1.1 per cent, a timid but promising figure considering the huge recession from which Brazil has just emerged. Growth forecasts for 2020 vary between 2.3 and 3 per cent of GDP, depending on the approval of the long-awaited tax reforms and management assistant.
Another reason for the controversial captain of reservation to become president was Brazil's historic crime problem. Just as Bolsonaro came up with a strong name to tackle the economic status , for security he recruited Sergio Moro, a former federal judge known for his indispensable role in Operação Lava Jato, Brazil's biggest anti-corruption operation, which led to the imprisonment of former president Lula himself. With the goal to fight corruption, reduce criminality and dynamite the power of organised crime, Moro was put in charge of a merger of Departments, the new Ministry of Justice and Public Security.
In general, the result has been quite positive, with a B decrease of issue in violent crime. Thus, there has been a 22% reduction in homicides, which is one of the most worrying indicators in Brazil, as it is the country with the highest absolute issue number of homicides in the world per year.
Among the factors that explain this drop in violent crime, the main one is the greater integration between the different institutions of state security forces (federal, state and municipal). The transfer of gang leaders to prisons with a higher level of isolation, thus preventing them from communicating with other members of organised crime, has also played a role. Another element has been the recent"anti-crime pack" C , which consists of a series of laws and reforms to the penal code to give more power to state security forces, as well as stiffer penalties for violent crime, organised crime and corruption.
In contrast to these developments, there has also been an increase in the number of accidental deaths in police operations. Some cases have been echoed in public opinion, such as that of an artist who ended up shot in his car when the police mistook him for a drug trafficker, or those of children killed by stray bullets in shoot-outs between drug gangs and the security forces. This, together with controversial statements by the head of state on the issue, has fuelled criticism from most of civil service examination and several human rights NGOs.
Social policy and infrastructure
In terms of social policies, the past year has been far from the apocalyptic dystopia that was expected (due to Bolsonaro's previous attitude towards homosexuals, Afro-Brazilians and women), although it has not been as remarkable as in the previously mentioned sections. There has been no progress in areas core topic, but neither have there been notable changes in terms of social policy compared to 2018. For example, the emblematic social programme Bolsa Família, created during the Lula government and which greatly helped to reduce extreme poverty, has not been cancelled.
Starting with Education, at the end of 2019 Brazil came out with one of the lowest report PISA scores, a fact that the minister of education, Abraham Weintraub, blamed on the "Education progressive Marxist mood of previous administrations". As result of the failure of the regular public system, and even the lack of security of some centres, the government has openly promoted the construction of new civic-military Education centres by state governments. In such a subject centre, students receive a Education based on military values while the officers themselves provide protection in these public spaces. It should be noted that the existing schools are among the highest ranked in Brazil on subject in terms of educational quality. However, this is not without controversy, as there are many who consider that this is not an adequate solution, as it may end up educating from a militaristic perspective.
On subject health, the most notable event this year was the end of the health cooperation programme with Cuba, Mais Médicos. goal This agreement was launched in 2013, during Dilma Rousseff's term in office, and its aim was to provide a larger and more extensive universal medical service attendance through the contracting of several doctors 'exported' by the Castro government. The programme was criticised because the Cuban doctors only received 25% of the salary provided by the Brazilian government and the remaining 75% was retained by Havana. Bolsonaro broke the agreement, thus causing vacancies in staff health care that could be filled in a short time. Cuban professionals were given the opportunity to remain in Brazil under political asylum if they revalidated their degree program in medicine in the Brazilian system. This incident has not brought about a significant change in the precarious national health system; the only consequence has been the deterioration of relations with Cuba.
Despite not making much progress on the social front, the Bolsonaro administration has made improvements in national logistics infrastructure. Under the command of the military's Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, the Ministry of Infrastructure has stood out for its ability to complete works not finished by previous governments. This led to a noticeable difference in the issue and quality of operational roads, railways and airports compared to the previous year. Among the sources of financing for new works is the reopening of a pooled fund established in 2017 between Brazilian and Chinese financial institutions, worth US$100 billion.
visit Bolsonaro with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an official visit to New Delhi in late January [Alan Santos, PR] [Alan Santos, PR].
One of the areas most feared to be harmed by Jair Bolsonaro's administration was environmental policy. This concern was heightened by the controversial fires in the Amazon during July and August. To begin with, the Ministry of the Environment, like all the others, was affected by the austerity policies of Paulo Guedes, in order to balance the public accounts, although according to Minister Ricardo Salles himself, it was the one that suffered the least from the budget cuts. As a result, forest protection was compromised at the beginning of the drought period in the Amazon.
Seeing the 278% increase in deforestation in July, Bolsonaro reacted impulsively and fired the director of the high school Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciales (INPE), accusing him of favouring civil service examination and conspiring against him. The status prompted the departure from the Amazon Protection Fund of Germany and Norway, the two largest contributors, which was met with criticism from Bolsonaro, who also accused the NGOs of being the cause of the fires. Finally, under international pressure, Bolsonaro finally reacted and decided to send in the army to fight the flames. goal which he achieved in just under a month, reaching the highest number on record in October leave .
In the end, the annual total ended up 30% higher than the previous year's figure, but still within the average range of the last two decades. However, the damage to the national image was already done. Bolsonaro, thanks to his rivalry with the media, his vehement eagerness to defend "national sovereignty" and his lack of restraint when speaking, had managed to be seen as the culprit of a distorted catastrophe.
Additionally, at the end of the year, yet another controversy hit the Bolsonaro administration: the mysterious oil spill off Brazil's northeast coast. Thousands of kilometres of beaches were affected and to this day there is still no official culprit for the crime. There were several hypotheses on the matter; the most widely accepted, which was also supported by the government, was that the spill came from an illegal shipment of Venezuelan oil attempting to circumvent the trade blockade imposed on Maduro's regime. According to analyses carried out by the Universidade da Bahia, the structure of the oil was indeed very similar to that of crude oil from Venezuelan fields.
In foreign policy Bolsonaro can distinguish himself rhetorically from his predecessors, but not in terms of his actions. Although he would like to apply his ideology in this area, he himself has accepted that this is not possible. In the face of the strength and interests of state institutions, such as the diplomatic tradition of Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Brazilian foreign policy has remained as pragmatic and neutral as in all previous democratic governments, thus avoiding the closing of doors for ideological reasons.
A good example of Brazilian pragmatism is the economic rapprochement with China, despite Bolsonaro's rejection of communist ideology. This does not mean, however, that he has distanced himself from his quasi-natural ally in terms of ideology, Donald Trump. However, the relationship with the US has been of a different nature, as there has been greater proximity in international cooperation and security. The US pushed for Brazil's designation as a strategic NATO partner , reached a agreement for the use of the Alcântara space base, very close to the Equator, and supports Brazil's entrance in the OECD.
In the economic sphere, however, there does not seem to be such closeness, and there have even been some frictions. One of these was Trump's threat to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium from Brazil and Argentina, which he finally withdrew, although the damage to trade relations and the São Paulo and Buenos Aires stock markets had already been done. Some analysts even suggest that the lack of reciprocity from the US on subject , as well as the rejection by some EU members of the agreement with Mercosur, was what pushed Bolsonaro to seek a compensatory relationship with the BRICS, whose 2019 summit took place in Brasilia.
Another peculiar point of Bolsonaro's foreign policy has been his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which once again sample shows the inconsistency between rhetoric and action. During the election campaign Bolsonaro promised on several occasions to move the Brazilian embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, something that has so far not happened and only an economic office has been relocated. Bolsonaro probably feared trade reprisals from Arab countries, to which Brazil exports products, mostly meat, worth almost 12 billion dollars. Prudence on this issue even earned him the signature of several agreements with Persian Gulf countries.
Despite the above, there has been one aspect of foreign policy in which Bolsonaro has managed to impose his ideology against the 'historical pragmatism' of the Itamaraty, and that is the Latin American sphere. Brazil ceased to be the theoretically neutral giant that timidly supported the so-called Socialism of the 21st century during the Lula and Dilma governments, and now coordinates with the governments of the other political side.
Most notable is his enmity with Nicolás Maduro, as well as with former president Evo Morales, whose request to pass through Brazilian territory was openly denied by Bolsonaro. There has also been a distancing from the returning Peronism in Argentina, with the absence of Bolsonaro and any high-ranking Brazilian representative at the inauguration ceremony of Kirchner's Alberto Fernández. In the same context are the approaches to Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia, as well as the new Bolivian government provisional , with which Bolsonaro sees more similarities. With them he has promoted the creation of PROSUR as opposed to the former UNASUR controlled by the Bolivarian left. Even so, despite having adopted a more ideological policy in the region, Brazil continues to maintain diplomatic cordiality since, although its leader takes liberal conservatism to extremes in his rhetoric, his policies in the region hardly differ from those of other right-wing governments.
In general, as has been shown, Bolsonaro's government has achieved positive results in its first year, mainly highlighting its progress in the areas of security and Economics. However, while the work of various ministers has improved perceptions of the administration, Bolsonaro himself does not appear to be making a particularly positive contribution. Throughout the year, he has generated controversy over unimportant issues, which has accentuated his previous enmity with most of the press.
As a result, the president's public image has gradually deteriorated. At the end of 2019 his popularity stood at 30%, compared to the 57.5% he started the year with. This contrasts with the approval rating of members of his government, especially Sergio Moro, who has managed to remain unmoved above 50%. In addition, his son Flavio, who is a senator, has come under investigation for a possible corruption case, in a process that the president has sought to prevent. Bolsonaro also caused a scandal in the middle of the year when he tried to appoint his son Eduardo as ambassador to Washington and was accused of nepotism. In addition to the tensions in his own party, which led to a split, there is little rapport between Bolsonaro and the presidents of both chambers of the fractured congress Nacional, both of whom are under investigation in conveniently stalled anti-corruption operations.
All this chaos caused by the president gives the impression of a Bolsonaro who goes against the tide of his own government. The apparent success of the reforms already carried out ends up being tainted by the impulsiveness and personal interests of the man who once defended the impersonality of the state, which ends up causing the deterioration of his political image. In addition, there is the recent release of former president Lula, which entails the risk of the unification of the civil service examination, depending on how moderate speech is adopted. This being the case, it is possible that Bolsonaro's headless but efficient government will not find it easy to stay in power until the end of its term. It should be remembered that the hand of Brazil's congress does not usually tremble when it comes to impeachments; in little more than three decades there have already been two.