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What the first days of Bolsonaro's presidency say about the direction he will take Brazil

The shock of Brazil to justice in the three days since President Jair Bolsonaro's inauguration was quicker and more serious than even his critics might have expected.

Since Tuesday, he has wiped out the labor ministry of the country, supervised non-governmental and international organizations, undermined indigenous rights and excluded the LGBT community from explicit protection by the human rights ministry.

"I come today for the nation, a day in which people have freed themselves from socialism, from reversal of values, from statism and political correctness," said the former army officer in his inaugural speech. Hours later, the first quakes of change were felt from Brasilia, the capital of the country, when Bolsonaro signed a decree granting farmers who would like to use protected areas the authority to decide which indigenous territories deserve recognition by the federal government, a movement that is generally expected to increase logging in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro's quick moves to reward the base he preferred-to establish populist policies through executive orders, at a low political cost-to recall the early days of President Trump's term of office.

Trump also promised a litany of movements on day 1 of his presidency, including a federal vacancy freeze and withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Some of those promises were left for later or forsaken, but the president made the headlines by signing a number of orders and guidelines that indicated his basis that he did it.


Followers show a giant flag with Jair Bolsonaro's likeness during his presidential inauguration Tuesday in Brasilia. (Silvia Izquierdo / AP)

Similarly, Bolsonaro has made a showy revival of his first days and even more brutal performances. The new president intends to relax the restrictions on gun ownership, reduce the number of government employees by 30 percent and close the agency responsible for diversity at the Ministry of Education.

In Brasilia, where the Left Labor Party reigned for 14 years, men on scaffolds slowly removed the letters this week on the sign of the now extinct Ministry of Labor.

The scene was unreal in a country that was once greeted as a bastion of the global left. But a lot has changed since Brazil's most popular president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, left the office eight years ago with an approval rate of 87 percent. The country sank in the worst recession ever, a corruption investigation decimated its political class and a crime wave led to record killings. Lula now leads a disorganized and discouraged opposition from prison, serving 12 years for corruption.

The result was a deluge of popular anger that catapulted Bolsonaro to the presidency. And the swing to the right that he promised seems the sharpest that Brazil has seen since the end of his military dictatorship almost 35 years ago.

"It is the other face of radicalization, the other side of the Workers' Party," said Marcelo Kfoury Muinhos, a professor of economics at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo.

Bolsonaro and Trump have expressed mutual admiration. But the draw can have significant limits. Bolsonaro will probably support Trump in some global and regional problems such as climate change and Venezuela.

However, it is unlikely that it will fully embrace other causes that carry more risk for Brazil, particularly the US-led campaign to put China under pressure on trade policy.

In a television interview this week, Bolsonaro said he would be open to discuss the establishment of US military bases in Brazil to stop Russian interference in Venezuela. Only ten years ago Lula tried to promote regional independence from the United States by building organizations such as the Southern Common Market, the South American trading bloc known as Mercosul and the New Development Bank.

"Count me as one of the skeptics that this is going to be more than theater and rhetoric," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think-tank based on the D.C. "They can do a lot of attitude and greatness together, making them feel good and tough and just like powerful boys, but what does that ultimately mean? I do not know that this is the kind of romance that leads to something concrete. & # 39;

Bolsonaro's finance minister, Paulo Guedes, a libertarian and college of economics educated economist, said he plans to reverse 40 years of bad investment and statism in four-year government. That could mean that the budget and the pension system of the country would be considerably shortened – cuts that economists say are necessary to get Brazil out of the recession. Investors praised the plan and the Sao Paulo stock exchange closed at a record level on the news.

But delivering the broader anti-corruption and economic reforms that Bolsonaro has promised will cost more than a stroke. He will need broad support from Congress to make promises, such as shrinking the Brazilian budget and selling government assets.

But with links in disarray, even the more controversial reforms of Bolsonaro can get the green light. His once-social Liberal Party won the second highest number of seats in the lower house and signed a deal that would bring together center and center parties on its platform this week.

To be sure, some of Bolsonaro's more extreme campaigns are about safety, such as giving permission to police officers to kill at work without being prosecuted, faced with stiff opposition and almost impossible to implement. But by simply giving such ideas airtime, analysts say, he strengthens their power at the national level. Police violence in Rio de Janeiro, for example, rose 38 percent last year when the Bolsonaro campaign was in full swing.

"Everything Bolsonaro said about security would have to deal with huge institutional obstacles to implementation," said Maurício Santoro, professor of political science at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, "but his simple presence in the presidency – having a president that delivers this kind of discourse – can lead to more violence by officers who feel protected not only by the president, but by society as a whole. "

Faiola reported from Miami.

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