Brazilian President Bolsonaro States Views on Combating Corruption, Venezuelan Regime Change, and the Armed Forces as “The Guarantor of Democracy”

On January 27, the Washington Post published an interview between Lally Weymouth of the Post and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during his visit to Davos for the World Economic Forum.  While the interview ranged widely to touch on various topics such as the need for pension reform in Brazil and his admiration for U.S. President Donald Trump, certain views on the following topics are especially noteworthy:

  • Corruption: When Weymouth asked what his government would do to fight corruption, Bolsonaro replied, “Minister of Justice Sérgio Moro has available all the [tools] to follow the money trail. Corrupt people will no longer enjoy an easy life in Brazil.” When Weymouth then asked about Bolsonaro’s son, newly elected Brazilian Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, who reportedly hired multiple people with close ties to gang members, Bolsonaro responded, after pointedly stating, “This is not a government or a federal administrative matter – or your business”:
    • “To a large extent, his family name, Bolsonaro, is the reason why he has so much visibility. What has been said about him so far is the result of political accusations from people who want to criticize my administration. My son has always worked with the Rio de Janeiro state military service and has granted more than 300 different decorations and honorable titles to members of the military who [fought] in combat. Two of those are now being charged with wrongdoing. Of course, the person who granted the decoration cannot be blamed.”
    • Bolsonaro ended this response with the enigmatic comment: “Should any evidence become available against my son, he will be punished like anyone else and serve his penalty.”
  • Venezuela: When asked about his view of the Maduro regime in Venezuela and whether he thought regime change was a good idea, Bolsonaro said that “[w]e” have always been against the Maduro regime, and that the current regime “must be changed.”  When asked how he saw that happening, he replied, “You [the United States], of course, must remove Maduro from power.  He happens to have 70,000 Cubans on his side, so it will not be easy to remove him from office.”  Bolsonaro also indicated that he opposed the use of Brazilian troops for that purpose, saying, “We will not embark Brazil on a military intervention.”  He added that although Brazil had “welcomed and accommodated refugees” from Venezuela, “[w]e have pretty much reached our limit and have clearly signaled to the Maduro dictatorship that Brazil does wish to see change in the current regime of Venezuela.”
  • Democracy: When Weymouth asked about his commitment to democracy — noting his past expression of admiration for the Brazilian military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, Bolsonaro said, “The military saved Brazil from a potential dictatorship in 1964.”  In response to a followup question about his commitment to democracy in Brazil, Bolsonaro said, “We will shore up democracy at any cost. . . . I represent freedom and democracy.  Our armed forces guarantee what I am stating to you. . . . The armed forces are the guarantor of democracy.”

Bolsonaro also acknowledged that it was “a possibility” that he might serve only one term as President because of the unpopular things he will need to do, but indicated that “[t]he jury is still out” on whether he would not run again.

Note: In contrast to his first few days in office – when a number of his initial public statements on issues such as a possible tax increase, placement of a U.S. military base in Brazil, and abolition of a land-reform program were quickly contradicted by other Brazilian authorities – Bolsonaro gave responses to the Post interview that apparently raised no official hackles and appeared generally consistent with his basic positions during his Presidential campaign.

Bolsonaro’s answers about his son Flávio, however, will not quiet suspicions about possible corruption in the family that is at odds with his public commitment to combating corruption, and to his and his son’s campaigning on anti-corruption platforms.  The recent report that a Brazilian Supreme Court Justice ordered a Rio de Janeiro state court to temporarily suspend an investigation into suspicious payments by Flávio to his former driver can only intensify those suspicions.

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