Are Bolsonaro’s signing of anti-crime bill, defense of regime change in Venezuela and visits to US and Israel signs of things to come in Brazil?
By Marques Travae
For those who feared the worst in a Jair Bolsonaro presidency, in just a few months, we are beginning to see some confirmations and signs. In February, President Bolsonaro signed the Anti-Crime Bill, which some believe will curb the endemic crime, violence and corruption that has been the norm in the country for several decades. The bill was mostly drawn up by the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Sergio Moro, a judge who made a name for himself for sending numerous businessmen and politicians to jail during the infamous Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) investigations. Perhaps the most famous figure that was jailed under this investigation was former two-term president, Lula da Silva.
Newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro swept into office in the 2018 elections with promises that he would clean up corruption in Brazilian politics and business and make the country’s streets safe in an environment of fear provoked by seemingly endless violence. Never mind the fact that many officials tapped by Bolsonaro’s to be a part of his administration and one of his own sons have their own accusations of corruption. A former military man, Bolsonaro’s cabinet boasts the most former military members since Brazil’s return to democracy after 21 years of a brutal military dictatorship, from 1964-1985.
The Anti-Crime bill consists of 14 laws aimed at making the State more capable of dealing organized and everyday crime by giving governmental agents new forms of investigation techniques as well as changing the manner in which legislation deals with such crimes.
Seeking to comprehend related issues, Moro sees corruption and organized crime as being important issues to getting to the root of violent crimes. Knowing these new laws won’t stop crime, the judge nonetheless feels this strategy is a step in the right direction.
Moro’s bill would create stronger penalties for crimes that involve firearms, strengthening procedures for seizing funds related to crime as well as doling out tougher prison sentences when crimes of embezzlement, corruption and theft. In terms of prisons sentences the bill would extend sentences of persons convicted of the aforementioned crimes in federal maximum-security prisons. The thinking here is that the extension of sentences would act as mechanism for breaking the ties that individual criminals have to crime factions.
Of course, as Brazil has one of highest murder rates in the world, some citizens will no doubt applaud these measures. For others, this bill could have a more devastating effect on certain populations. I’ll explore this in an upcoming post, but for now, I must point out that I don’t see the creation of these new proposed measures as being a coincidence with the rise of a far-right president such as Bolsonaro. And his actions in just his first three months in office may be a sign of a serious shift in Brazil’s national politics but also its geopolitical position.
In January, the man hailed the “Brazilian Trump” signed a decree that would make it easier for Brazilian citizens to purchase and own firearms, a measure that many human rights activists take issue with considering the more than 60,000 violent murders that happened in the country last year. In Bolsonaro’s view, good citizens should able to protect themselves, which should come as no surprise as he constantly made references to guns and made gun gestures during his campaign appearances last year.
On the international stage, the media was all over Bolsonaro’s presidential first trip to the US and meeting with Trump. Interestingly, one of the first things the new president did upon arriving in the US was to participate in a meeting with the CIA. Moro accompanied the president on this meeting that took place on March 18th. On the meeting, Bolsonaro mentioned how this was the first time in a long time that a Brazilian president that isn’t anti-American went to Washington.
For those who don’t know, Brazilian officials were the target of spying on the part of the United States during the first term of former president Dilma Rousseff back in 2013. With his visit to Washington, many of Brazil’s press outlets bemoaned the fact that Bolsonaro made himself and Brazil fully submissive to American interests. Such negotiations led to Trump appointing Brazil a major non-NATO ally and possibly opening the door to US military aid to the Latin American giant. The two presidents also discussed the possible use of force to remove Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. Weighing in on this issue of Venezuela, one of the president’s sons, Eduardo, stated that “all options are on the table” in the necessity of removing Maduro, including military intervention.
After the younger Bolsonaro’s statement, Russian military planes with troops landed in Venezuela, with a Russian defense authority and around 100 troops. In the political turmoil that has been rumbling in Venezuela, Bolsonaro has clearly made it known where he stands on the issue and according to sources, Trump’s idea was to use Brazil to attack Venezuela, but then, according to the Portuguese journal, Jornal Econômico, both China and Russia stepped in and sent both Trump and Bolsonaro a big order to “chill” and adding to the support of Maduro’s government was also Turkey. The discussions between Trump and Bolsonaro on the Venezuelan situation were serious enough that the Russian Sputnik website also reported that Russia is considering establishing a military base in Venezuela if the Americans attempted to use Brazil to initiate a military intervention.
This is an incredible turn of events for a president who just came to power, especially considering that it is rare that Brazil ever involves it itself in possible military actions on the international chessboard. It seems that the former Army captain is following through on his plans to distance Brazil from developing country allies and seeking to draw the nation closer to power players on the geopolitical map. Further proof of that is Bolsonaro’s plans to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a plan that would break with Brazil’s long support for a two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian situation. In January the President confirmed that the decision has already been made and that it was only a matter of time as to when it would be implemented.
And even with all of the actions that Bolsonaro has taken or hinted at just since taking office on January 1st, that’s not it.
The newly elected president also recently made a trip to Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is the second time the two leaders have met and had discussions since Bolsonaro’s election. Netanyahu visited Brazil in January to attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration. With this trip to Israel, Bolsonaro wasn’t returning to Brazil with just promises and possibilities but actual receipts. Having taken numerous photos with Netanyahu, at the Wailing Wall, etc., the President proclaimed at a meeting with hundreds of Israeli and Brazilian businessmen, that Brazil is available to all that want to invest in the country.
Declaring that “new times” had arrived and that a new country was born on January 1st, he spoke of the possibility of mineral exploration in the Amazon, a major point of contention with environmental activists, and also pointed out that his country is the owner of the second largest graphite reserves in the world. Bolsonaro and Netanyahu also traded compliments in advancing the new relationship between the two countries. While the Brazilian president described the relationships between the two nations as that between two “noivas”, or fianceés, the Israeli Prime Minister declared that the two nations have a “brotherhood” and that there is no better partnership in the world than that between Israel and Brazil.
During the trip of the Brazilian delegation to Israel, five agreements were signed in the areas of defense, air services, prevention and combat of organized crime, science and technology, as well as a memorandum of understanding on cyber security.
The two leaders also stressed their support for Juan Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly that declared himself the country’s interim president back in January although Nicolás Maduro remains in power.
With all of this action going down just in a period of more or less 100 days, this not even considering the massive reforms to social security and taxes that Bolsonaro is promoting in order to kick-start Brazil’s staggering economy. Opponents of such actions believe that such reforms would have devastating effects on a large percentage of the Brazilian people, with his support of the anti-crime bill being interpreted as a “license to kill”. In terms of his international trips and stance on Venezuela, many writers, bloggers, magazines, critics and even former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso saw the president’s actions as signs of submission to the wishes of world powers.
As such, one really has to wonder what the future of Brazil will be in the coming years.
What do you readers get from all of this?