What should the international community do about Bolsanaro?

One third of a million people have died of Covid in Brazil. The crisis has reached apocalyptic levels. Medical staff are barely able to make it to the end of their shifts. And Brazil’s President is seemingly in denial. The following article comes from Columba Leeper, a new member of the NCF team, expresses his personal view:

Jair Bolsanaro, the president of Brazil, has spanned the gamut of right wing radicalism, from explicitly misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric to policies which endanger the existence of the Amazon rainforest. The question of what the international community should do about it. What type of response is justified?

Jair Bolsanaro walked a dubious road to the presidency. The imprisonment of the leading candidate, Lula, (head of the left-wing, workers party) was highly suspicious. The claims of corruption used to incarcerate Lula have subsequently been annulled by the Supreme Court. Judge Moro, who oversaw the trial, is alleged to have colluded with a range of parties including oligarchs, senior political figures and the prosecutors. Overall, Jair Bolsanaro’s election success had its roots in a deeply corrupt justice system; prompting some to refer to his victory as an ‘undemocratic soft coup’.

Jair Bolsanaro’s pursuit of extraordinarily destructive socio-economic and environmental policies include the radical privatisation of the Amazon, the reduction in protection of indigenous people, and repression of dissent and criticism. The most pernicious of these, globally, is the privatisation of the Amazon rainforest. The gravity of the climactic impact, as a result of the slash and burn technique, cannot be overemphasised. Noam Chomsky has aptly labelled him the ‘most dangerous man in the world’ as a result of these environmental policies.

In terms of international response, there are three possible channels. The first is the expression of moral outrage; either in the form of condemnatory remarks or requests to change. Historically this approach has been extremely ineffective in bringing about change in Bolsanaro. Military intervention is not an option because of the risk to civilians and also because it breaches national sovereignty. This leaves the third, preferred option – sanctions. Either economic sanctions being placed on Brazil as country or by way of restrictions on Bolsanaro and other leading political figures personally. Sanctions are the best, and perhaps the only, way to influence Bolsanaro.

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