On his first day in office, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has moved to deprioritize LGBTQ rights — amid praise by Donald Trump and other U.S. officials.
Bolsonaro, a former member of Brazil’s Congress who has a long history of homophobia, racism, and misogyny, was sworn in as president Tuesday. One of his first orders was to remove LGBTQ concerns from the list of issues handled by the nation’s human rights ministry, the Associated Press reports. He did not assign it to any other agency.
Bolsonaro has criticized what he calls “gender-based ideology,” saying it threatens Brazil’s Christian values. He has gone so far as to say that he would rather have a dead son than a gay one. He also has likened indigenous people to animals and said a female legislator was too ugly to be raped.
In his inauguration speech, Bolsonaro said he was freeing his country from socialism and would protect children from this “gender ideology,” The New York Times reports. His appointees share his far-right stances. Brazil's new human rights minister, Damares Alves, said in her first address Wednesday that “the state is lay, but this minister is terribly Christian,” according to the AP. Indeed, she is an evangelical pastor.
“Girls will be princesses and boys will be princes” under the new government, she added. “There will be no more ideological indoctrination of children and teenagers in Brazil.”
Another order issued by Bolsonaro transferred responsibility for land reform from the Justice Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry. This “likely will make it all but impossible for new lands to be identified and demarcated for indigenous communities” and harder to distribute land to descendants of former slaves, the AP reports. This action had the support of the agribusiness industry.
But Bolsonaro, who has been called the “Trump of the Tropics,” is just dandy in Trump’s eyes. The American president tweeted congratulations to Bolsonaro, and the Brazilian responded warmly.
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) January 1, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who attended Bolsonaro’s inauguration, also praised him.
Great meeting President @jairbolsonaro to reinforce our shared commitment to democracy, education, prosperity, security, and #humanrights. Look forward to working together to support those suffering in #Cuba, #Nicaragua, and #Venezuela under the weight of dictatorships. pic.twitter.com/GQ5SP24Rl7
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 2, 2019
And so did Nikki Haley, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Congratulations to Brazil’s new President Bolsonaro. It’s great to have another U.S.-friendly leader in South America, who will join the fight against dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, and who clearly understands the danger of China’s expanding influence in the region.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) January 2, 2019
However, Bolsonaro has many critics, both in Brazil and around the world. By enthusiastically supporting Bolsonaro, the U.S. risks repeating mistakes of the 1960s, when it backed a military coup in Brazil, Erin Dunne, a commentator for the generally conservative Washington Examiner, wrote in a column published today.
“His first moves in his new role have a troubling resemblance to undemocratic practices of his heroes of the [Brazilian] dictatorship and of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whom he claims to admire,” she wrote.
“On social issues, Bolsonaro threatens established rights,” she continued. “He has called himself a ‘ proud homophobe,’ demonstrated blatant disrespect for women, telling a colleague on the floor of the national legislature, for example, that he wouldn’t rape her because she was ‘not worthy’ of it. In one of his first moves in office, he essentially stripped indigenous communities of land claims.”
Support of Bolsonaro, she concluded, “poorly serves U.S. interests, setting Washington up, once again, as the defender of an authoritarian leader against vague threats of communism and on loose justifications of national security.”