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World & Nation

Far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro is sworn in as Brazil’s president

With her husband, Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro in the background, Brazil’s new first lady M
New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and wife Michelle at the presidential palace in Brasilia.
(Silvia Izquierdo / Associated Press)

With a high-level U.S. delegation in attendance, former army captain Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in Tuesday as president of Brazil, a post he won in a landslide election victory despite bombastic statements.

Bolsonaro, who has expressed admiration for military dictatorships and insulted women, people of color and the gay community, took office in an elaborate swearing-in ceremony in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, and promised to immediately shake up his nation’s status quo.

The unlikely ascent to power of Bolsonaro — an avowed fan of President Trump — marks a hard shift to the right in Latin America’s largest country, which has been ruled by leftist or centrist governments since the end of military rule more than three decades ago.

Trump made a congratulatory phone call to Bolsonaro soon after his election in October, and he was quick on the mark again Tuesday.

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Minutes after Bolsonaro’s inauguration, Trump tweeted his good wishes: “Congratulations to President @JairBolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech — the U.S.A. is with you!”

Bolsonaro stuck to many of the same far-right positions, pledging to fight the teaching in schools of what he calls “the ideology of gender” and to end violence by shielding all police from prosecution for use of excessive force.

He also vowed to “constantly ask God for guidance” as he governs and to confront leftist militancy, stamping out what he calls cultural Marxism that he contends has spread through Brazil because of its leftist governments.

“This is the beginning of Brazil’s liberation from socialism, political correctness and a bloated state,” Bolsonaro said.

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“We have the great challenge of taking on the effects of an economic crisis, of facing the distortion of human rights and the breakdown of the family,” he said.

Like a growing club of world leaders, Bolsonaro — who survived a stabbing during the campaign — rode a wave of popular discontent to victory, making populist promises along the way and vowing to upend Brazilian politics. Brazil has suffered from rampant corruption scandals; the nation’s first female president was impeached on corruption charges, and her predecessor is in jail on a corruption conviction.

Bolsonaro, who served in Congress for years, faces an economy reeling from its worst recession in history. While generally favoring free-market policies, he will also probably be forced to accommodate demands from Brazil’s biggest industries, many state-run.

Delegations from numerous countries attended the ceremony Tuesday, including one from the U.S. led by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo. Members of the Trump administration say they have confidence Bolsonaro will not derail Brazil’s democracy, as many Brazilians, outside observers and human rights activists fear.

Bolsonaro disinvited three presidents — all leftists — to whom his predecessors had sent invitations: Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega.

The three countries are on the Trump administration’s blacklist for what it describes as corruption and egregious human rights abuses.

A Brazil led by a far-right president has been cited by senior administration officials as the kind of government they can partner with. Bolsonaro has already announced plans to work more closely with the United States, especially to counter Venezuela.

Two of the attendees who perhaps traveled the farthest to reach Brasilia on Tuesday are also right-wing politicians: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

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Netanyahu has formed a warm relationship with Bolsonaro, in part because he has vowed to move the Brazilian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu praised Bolsonaro as a “good friend.” He and Pompeo met on the sidelines of the inauguration to discuss security, including Trump’s abrupt order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Pompeo, appearing alongside Netanyahu before the inauguration, told reporters he had assured the Israeli leader that “nothing will change” in U.S. efforts to keep Israel safe.

“The decision the president made on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo said, noting that the fights against the militant group Islamic State and Iranian “aggression” continue.

“Our commitment to Middle East stability and the protection of Israel continues in the same way it did before that decision was made,” Pompeo said.

A swift withdrawal ofU.S. forces from Syria is expected to bolster Iran, as well as Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose removal was an original goal of the U.S.-backed insurgency. And it could leave Israel more vulnerable to attack.

Later, both Pompeo and Netanyahu met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. The three agreed to boost trilateral economic and political relations, and Hernandez promised to put a new Honduran Embassy in Israel in Jerusalem, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

After the inauguration, Pompeo and Bolsonaro shook hands and hugged.

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