June 3, 2019


The Bolsonaros Try to Behave (Kind of. For Now.) (BRIAN WINTER, JUNE 3, 2019, Americas Quarterly)

It won't go down with the Treaty of Versailles, Nixon-to-China, or other historic triumphs of diplomacy. But when Jair Bolsonaro walked across the street from the Palácio do Planalto for a surprise visit to Congress last week, his intentions were clear. The official cause was an homage to Carlos Alberto de Nóbrega, a popular comedian. Yet Brazil's president was there to try to repair relationships badly frayed by his constant attacks on Twitter and elsewhere on what he has long called a corrupt, "communist" political establishment. 

"Our two branches together have everything it takes to change Brazil," Bolsonaro declared. Asked by reporters what prompted the visit, the president smiled and said: "There are moments where you have to go honor your colleagues. And life goes on."

The visit came a day after Bolsonaro unexpectedly met with the heads of Congress and the Supreme Court, attempting to forge a "pact of understanding" in which all three branches would support a range of measures from pension reform to a reduction in bureaucracy. The initiative, which Chief Justice José Antonio Dias Toffoli first floated last year, seeks to put an end to the so-called guerra de poderes, the institutional power struggle that has paralyzed Brazil since 2016. Bolsonaro also pointedly distanced himself from the more radical elements of a pro-government demonstration on May 26, including those advocating for Congress to be shut down. "That's more Maduro's thing," he said, referencing the Venezuelan dictator. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro and his sons have been relatively subdued on social media and IRL, compared at least to their flamethrowing of previous months. Among those who appreciate the truce is Rodrigo Maia, the chief of Congress' House of Deputies, a frequent target of the Bolsonaro boys - and the key to getting any legislation passed this year. "(The president) has built in the last few weeks... the dialogue that is necessary for things to go forward," Maia told Estado de S.Paulo in an interview published Monday. 

It's all evidence that Bolsonaro is - inconsistently, tenuously - trying out a less confrontational approach to governing in the hope of saving his presidency and Brazil's economy, both of which have been flashing bright red DANGER signs in recent weeks. With Bolsonaro's reform agenda stuck in Congress, the euphoria that gripped Brazil's business community following the 2018 election has vanished. Data published last week showed GDP shrank 0.2% in the first quarter, raising the specter of a "double-dip" recession ahead. Bolsonaro's popularity ratings continue to fall, to 34% in a recent poll. Two of Brazil's last four elected presidents were impeached after they lost control of both the economy and Congress; just five months into Bolsonaro's government, the i-word is now out in the open once again. Many of Bolsonaro's advisers, particularly those from the comparatively moderate "military wing" of his Cabinet, have begged the president for months to temper his rhetoric and try to work with Brasília's old guard; some believe Bolsonaro has finally understood how much trouble he's in, and that their message is getting through.  

The reforms are all that matters.
Posted by at June 3, 2019 4:26 AM