Jair Bolsonaro is that exceedingly rare Latin American right-winger who pulls no punches: not only did he not try to hide or downplay his ideological affinity with Donald Trump; he trumpeted his support for Trump from the rooftops, and spoke glowingly of the Orange Man on the campaign trail. Yes the “Trump of the Tropics” has delighted his supporters as much as he has infuriated his PT foes and leftists.
Now, he appears on the verge of making two important decisions with regard to Israel. First, like Trump, it appears that he is planning to move Brasilia’s embassy to Jerusalem, while closing Palestine’s mission in Brazil. Both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Countries have virulently opposed the move, arguing that it violates international law. Current embattled Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu, however, praised the move.
The agricultural lobby, however, has given warning signs because Brazil is a major player in the export of halal beef to the Middle East. Bolsonaro is thus in a tough spot: he won in the largescale agricultural and ranching interior of the country, where he promised that Brazil would once again be open for big business, much to the chagrin of environmental activists. Business leaders and corporations generally do not like a provocative or controversial foreign policy. Of course, it is much better to trade and do business with all, as George Washington memorably recommended in his Farewell Letter.
Bolsonaro is also involved with Israel on another matter of critical domestic importance: safety and security. Many political observers might, in fact, argue that Bolsonaro won the recent presidential election on the issue, as many working and middle class Brazilians feel that previous governments had done little to guarantee their safety and security on the streets of major cities like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Salvador de Bahia.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second most populous state, close Bolsonaro ally Wilson Witzel announced the implementation of 30,000 cameras of Israeli manufacture, in order to give a dramatic boost to security. The technology allegedly includes facial recognition as well, and Witzel made a visit to Israel on December 4 to inspect the technology.
In a more troubling move, for civil libertarians, Bolsonaro and Witzel are also interesting in purchasing Israeli-made drones that are capable of firing high-capacity weapons, in order to target drug dealers and gang members in remote favela areas.
Bolsonaro has come under heavy criticism for remarks in which he expresses support for police shootings and strong-arm actions in favela regions. However, the Brazilian people have spoken, and it is clear that the majority do not have a problem with these tactics.
It is easy for latte-sipping suburban liberals to sanctimoniously lecture others on policing when they live in picturesque leafy neighborhoods and have never been the victims of violent crimes themselves. Most Brazilians have seen violent crime first hand, and they are fed up.
That certainly doesn’t mean that the Brazilian police should have free reign to harm innocent people during their operations, or to be reckless when they fire. But it certainly does mean that most Brazilians do support strong and serious retaliatory measures against groups such as Comando Vermelho and Amigos dos Amigos that control much of Brazil’s troubled slums.