The Trump administration does not believe that the rise of far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil will threaten democracy in the country, a White House official said Wednesday.
Bolsonaro, an ex-army officer who has repeatedly expressed support for Brazil’s former dictatorship, leads the polls and is poised to win a second round of voting later this month.
“Brazil has very strong democratic institutions,” the White House official told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We’re not particularly concerned in that sense. We feel confident in the will of (Brazil’s) people.”
Bolsonaro has been a member of the Brazilian Congress since 1991 and has built a reputation for his anti-democratic, racist, misogynistic and anti-gay views. In this year’s election, he’s cast himself as a no-nonsense outsider, leading many to brand him “The Brazilian Trump.”
His contempt for democracy is well-documented. In 1993, he said plainly, “I am in favor of a dictatorship.”
Brazil was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship known for mass extra-judicial killings until 1985. In 1999, Bolsonaro spoke nostalgically about the days of the dictatorship during a television appearance.
“I’m in favor of torture, you know that. And the people are too,” he said. “Through the vote, you won’t change anything in this country. Absolutely nothing. It’s only going to change, unfortunately, when we get to a Civil War and do the job the military didn’t do, killing 30,000.”
Bolsonaro has also made more recent calls for political violence. Answering a question last year about Brazil’s very high crime rate, the candidate said, “A policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman.”
Bolsonaro is leading leftist candidate Fernando Haddad in the runoff election, which will take place on October 28. In the first round of elections earlier this month, Bolsonaro received 46 percent of the votes compared to Haddad’s 29 percent.
Haddad is running in the place of beloved former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who served as president from 2003 to 2011. A member of the leftist Workers Party (PT), Lula expanded social programs and presided over a period of relative prosperity in Brazil.
Lula planned to run to re-take the presidency this year, but was jailed as part of a major, widespread corruption scandal that rocked Brazilian politics.
The former president claims the charges against him are politically motivated, and polls showed that if he had been allowed to run from prison, he likely would have won the presidency.
Lula remains in prison, however, and has been sentenced to 12 years. In his absence, Haddad has not been able to garner the same level of support and faces a massive uphill challenge going into the final round of elections.
With Bolsonaro likely to become Brazil’s next president, his authoritarian streak is not the only thing that has international observers worried.
Bolsonaro has a long history of demeaning women, gays and minorities. While serving as a congressman, he has called refugees entering Brazil “the scum of the Earth,” and advocated beating children who are suspected to be gay.
“If your child starts to become like that, a little gay, you take a whip and you change their behavior,” he said in 2010.
In 2003, he told a female congresswoman on camera that “I would never rape you because you’re not worth it,” and threatened to slap her.
A popular campaign called “Ele Nao,” or “Not Him” has lead massive demonstrations against Bolsonaro in recent months. Nonetheless, recent polling shows he leads Haddad 59 to 41 percent.