President Jair Bolsonaro during inauguration, Jan 2019
President Jair Bolsonaro during inauguration, Jan 2019

Brazil’s newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro is proposing radical policies that could destabilize his nation and South America.

Observers fear instability because the far-right Bolsonaro is a controversial figure with bizarre political beliefs. For instance, Bolsonaro admires Brazil’s military dictatorship of the 1960s and 1970s, labels Climate Change a hoax, compares indigenous people to animals, and calls his opponents Communists, The Guardian reports.

Insurers must pay attention to the situation in Brazil because of the potential risks from Bolsonaro’s radical policies. Moreover, some of Bolsonaro’s policies could be a threat to Brazil’s neighbours.

Five Potential Risks posed by Bolsonaro include:

1. War between Brazil and Venezuela

Bolsonaro is an outspoken critic of Venezuela’s radical left-wing President Nicolás Maduro. In fact, in 2017, Bolsonaro pledged to “do whatever is possible to see that government deposed” in a statement about Maduro.

Brazil’s new president has announced no specific actions against Maduro. However, Brazilian newspapers have claimed Colombia’s government supports Brazilian military action to remove Maduro.

In addition, The Guardian reports some Venezuelans believe Brazilian military action against their country is imminent. Moreover, Maduro himself has said he thinks Bolsonaro is planning “a military adventure against the Venezuelan people.”

A major risk is a US-backed military operation or coup against Maduro. In fact, US President Donald Trump whom Bolsonaro admires, stated he is “not going to rule out a military option” for Venezuela. However, Trump did not say what a military option is.

Potential risks include combat between Brazilian and Venezuelan forces, or guerrilla war stemming from a Brazilian occupation of Venezuela. Another risk is that Maduro will launch pre-emptive military strikes against Brazil, or arm Brazilian leftists for guerrilla war against Bolsonaro.

2. Regional instability

Bolsonaro is open to the idea of a US military base in Brazil to counter “Russian influence” in South America, Fox News claims. In particular, Bolsonaro fears Maduro’s close ties to Russia.

Such a base could prompt Maduro to host a Russian military base in Venezuela. A greater risk is Maduro will reach out to China for help.

Another risk is that other South American powers like Argentina will invite Chinese forces to their soil to counter “American imperialism”. China’s People’s Liberation Army is establishing bases overseas. Notably, China has major economic interests in Argentina it will want to protect, Reuters reports.

A final risk is a regional arms race with South American nations buying large amounts of weaponry they cannot afford to protect themselves from American, Brazilian, or Chinese imperialism.

3. Indigenous people unrest

Bolsonaro could trigger a conflict between Brazil’s government and indigenous people.

On his first day in office, 2 January 2019, the new president transferred certification of indigenous land from the National Indian Foundation to the agriculture ministry. In detail, that action could transfer ownership of indigenous land to miners and farmers, The New York Times reports.

This could lead to conflict between miners and indigenous people over land. Notably, Bolsonaro’s agriculture minister Tereza Cristina Correa da Costa Dias is being accused of accepting money from a landowner accused of murdering an indigenous leader.

An obvious risk is fighting between indigenous people and Brazilian authorities. Another danger is that Maduro could arm indigenous Brazilians to tie down Bolsonaro’s military with guerrilla warfare. Thus, Bolsonaro could trigger unrest or guerrilla warfare in Brazil.

4. Sparking ethnic violence

Another risk is that Bolsonaro’s policies will spark civil unrest among the poor and African-Brazilians.

Residents look on as Brazilian military police officers patrol Mare, one of the largest complexes of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 30. - Mario Tama
Residents look on as Brazilian military police officers patrol Mare, one of the largest complexes of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 30. – Mario Tama

Bolsonaro is dismantling a division of the education ministry designed to expand educational opportunities for black Brazilians, The New York Times reports. In addition, critics are announcing Bolsonaro’s action as unconstitutional.

5. Destabilizing Brazil

The situation in Brazil is reminiscent of that in Venezuela where elected radicals undermined democracy with extremist policies. The difference is that Venezuela’s radicals were extreme socialists, whereas Bolsonaro is of the far right.

Additionally, Bolsonaro’s personal story is like that of Hugo Chavez, the deceased founder of Venezuela’s authoritarian socialist regime. Like Chavez, Bolsonaro is a former paratrooper and populist with radical beliefs.

Chavez destabilized Venezuela by rewriting the constitution to make himself a dictator. Civil unrest, economic collapse, hyperinflation, and an attempted military coup marked Chavez’s years in power.

By 2017, Venezuela had become so chaotic its government cannot maintain law and order. For example, Medium writer Erik Brown charges that pirates are openly operating off Venezuela’s north coast. In particular, pirates killed 15 to 20 sailors in an attack on Guyana-based fishing vessels in Venezuelan waters in 2018.

Thus the greatest risk is that Bolsonaro’s chaotic leadership could completely destabilize Brazil and other parts of South America.


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