Brazil’ 2018 in review: Economic challenges for Bolsonaro, the Trump of the Tropics

Global Business

On the first day of 2019, Jair Bolsonaro will take the reins of a country which is still recovering from one of its worst recessions in history. Bolsonaro promised to “make Brazil great again,” but it’s far from clear exactly how he will do it.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco reports.

Jair Bolsonaro won October’s presidential run-off in Brazil – on the strength of three key promises: to eliminate corruption, crime and leftists.

The far-right candidate was telling many Brazilians what they wanted to hear, but there was almost no mention of an economic plan.

Dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” Bolsonaro became the clear favorite, after jailed former president Lula da Silva, founder of the leftist Worker’s party, was convicted on charges of corruption and barred from running.

“This was a year of anger and disappointment in Brazil where the Brazilian voters basically told the political system that they are fed up with everything that is happening in Brazil,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political analyst at Rio de Janeiro’s State University.

It was anger that was expressed at huge nationwide rallies, both pro and anti-Bolsonaro. Notorious prior to the election for homophobic, misogynist and racist comments, Bolsonaro rose to the rank of army captain during Brazil’s military dictatorship and often expressed nostalgia for that violent era.

But these were offenses that were either forgiven or forgotten after the candidate suffered a near-fatal knife attack at a rally in September. He is still recovering – and faces more surgery to reverse a colostomy in the coming months.

Now that voters have made their choice, expectations are high for the radical change Bolsonaro promised during his campaign. Many say they are eagerly waiting to see what happens.

“I am waiting for him to solve the problems of violence, healthcare, hunger and housing, everything that was promised, “said Luisa da Silva a retired nurse.

“It is like a light at the end of the tunnel. If this government doesn’t work, I think hope for Brazilians ends her,” added taxi driver Gutenberg Correia.

Economist Marcel Balassiano, from the prestigious Getulio Vargas Foundation, says Brazil’s economic recovery depends on urgent reforms. “In the last five years the country has been spending more than it makes. The debt has reached more than 80 percent of Brazil’s GDP and pensions are consuming half of the government’s budget. If the new government doesn’t get those things under control it risks having the economy fall back into recession.”

While 2018 saw modest growth, it hardly made a dent in the seven-plus percent that Brazil’s economy contracted in 2015 and 2016 — and experts agree that convincing the public to swallow hard medicine will be Bolsonaro’s biggest challenge.

“Being president of Brazil, these days is one of the worst jobs in the planet because there are so many big problems, structural problems in Brazil right now. We are facing a very serious difficulty with the public debt, there is the need to do austerity policies in Brazil and at the same time people want big change and they want change right now,” said Santoro.

Brazil’s outgoing president, Michel Temer will pass the sash and, along with it, the country’s economic woes, to Bolsonaro on January 1st. On the way to making “Brazil great again,” many are wondering if the new president can first prevent a disaster.