Jair Bolsonaro hears what they say about him: “the Donald Trump of Brazil,” he says with a wry smile. Asked if he thinks the label is fitting, he demurs. He’s not a populist, he goes on to say, and the country wouldn’t stand for another one right now anyway.
But in an hour-long interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York, Bolsonaro, the firebrand, former army captain who’s soaring in polls 12 months ahead of Brazil’s presidential election, reels off any number of policy positions and opinions that, if not populist, are certainly unorthodox. Like denying that the Brazilian military regime in the late 20th century was a dictatorship; or calling China “heartless” and suggesting restricting its access to key industries in Brazil; or claiming he will run his entire presidential campaign on a budget of just 1 million reais ($315,000).
Bolsonaro insists that, like Trump, he will lean on his strong social media following to get out his message to the millions of Brazilians fed up with spiraling violence, pervasive corruption and unwanted immigration.
“I’m a threat to oligarchies, I’m a threat to the stubbornly corrupt, I’m a threat to those who want to destroy family values,” he said. “That’s the threat I represent.”
Brazil’s middle classes have watched their status dwindle along with their income as the economy shrank almost 8 percent over the past two years, allowing Bolsonaro to tap a rich seam of anger and frustration. Budget cuts have weakened precarious public services and the country’s unfathomable levels of violence have continued to rise,…
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