The government headed by President Jair Bolsonaro is undergoing an image crisis, mainly after its lackluster reaction to the wildfires that engulfed Brazil’s Amazon rainforests in August. Since coming to power at the start of this year, the administration’s approval ratings have been dropping, and Bolsonaro is already Brazil’s worst evaluated president of the last 24 years. The onus for this falls party on his family, especially the three sons who have entered politics and whom the former army captain refers to as 01, 02 and 03, imitating military jargon.
The latest political crisis in the country broke out on September 9, when Bolsonaro’s middle son Carlos (02) tweeted that the expected reforms “won’t happen quickly enough through democratic methods,”openly flirting with dictatorial notions. This is an attitude that goes hand in hand with Bolsonaro Sr.’s vote in favor of former President Dilma Rousseff’s controversial impeachment and posing for photos at the national congress wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ustra — the brutal head of the notorious Department of Information Operations-Center for Internal Defense Operations during the Brazilian military dictatorship of 1964-85, who died in 2015.
In keeping with the family tradition, on September 8, Bolsonaro’s youngest son, Eduardo (03), posed for a picture next to his father’s hospital bed after surgery with a pistol tucked into his waist. Eduardo currently finds himself at the heart of a diplomatic dispute: The president waited until his son turned 35 in July — the minimum age required — to appoint him as Brazil’s ambassador to the United States. Some 70% of Brazilians disapprove of the appointment.
The US seems to serve as a benchmark for Jair Bolsonaro, so much so that he hired Donald Trump’s former adviser and strategist Steve Bannon during his own campaign and hardly ever misses an opportunity to hail Trump.
In recent months, the political scene has become equally hot for the clan’s eldest son, Flavio (01). Earlier this year, Brazil’s Council for Financial Activities Control (COAF) detected suspicious transactions on the account of Flavio’s former adviser Fabricio Queiroz at the time when he was state deputy for Rio de Janeiro. Queiroz was summoned to testify but failed to appear in court, alleging health problems. He promptly disappeared from the scene until the president changed the designation of the council, which went from being under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice to being under the control of the Central Bank, with no possibility of conducting effective investigations. The investigation was consequently suspended by the president of the supreme court, Dias Toffoli, on the basis of what he considers to be judicial overreach on the behalf of COAF, which constitutes a threat to civil liberties. He did so, however, at the request of Flavio Bolsonaro.
Fabricio Queiroz is a former police officer suspected of liaisons with the armed militias that are one of the main security problems in Rio de Janeiro. Formed primarily by former police officers, they carry out extortions, murder and drug trafficking. Brazil’s first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, has an uncle who was arrested for joining a militia in the capital Brasilia. Her mother and grandmother also have criminal records, for forgery and drug dealing respectively. One of the suspicious transactions detected by COAF was Fabricio Queiroz’s deposit in the first lady’s account.
Let us not forget that during the Amazon crisis, Eduardo shared a video in which he calls the French President Emmanuel Macron an idiot, and that during Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Israel last April, criticized by the Palestinian fundamentalist organization Hamas, Flavio expressed the wish that the armed group would “explode.”
Likewise, the federal police did not escape retribution for meddling in the family business. When the force began investigating Helio Negão — a deputy from Rio de Janeiro and the president’s friend — Jair Bolsonaro took the opportunity to change the police command in order to send a clear message. The change of command also gave the president more control over the police investigation into his son, effectively ensuring that it doesn’t happen.
The problem is that the Bolsonaros are a big family. The president has five children; apart of the three already mentioned, there are also an underaged son and daughter. (In reference to the latter, the president had said that he “failed” to produce all male offspring.) But the relatives have guaranteed privileges, regardless of gender. News from the daily O Globo points out that in 28 years of public life, the president was able to appoint 102 people to public office, all of whom have family ties to him.
With so many political and family problems to solve, it is difficult for the Bolsonaro government to realize to its main campaign proposal — the fight against corruption. So much so, that complete disapproval of his government doubled between February and August, growing from 28% to 54%. Those who approve of the current administration have dropped from a majority to just 29%, and this downward curve shows no sign of stopping.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.