Brazil's Bolsonaro assumes presidency, promises big changes

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as Brazil's president Tuesday, taking the reins of Latin America's largest and most populous nation with promises to overhaul myriad aspects of daily life and put an end to business-as-usual governing.

For the far-right former army captain, the New Year's Day inauguration was the culmination of a journey from a marginalized and even ridiculed congressman to a leader who many Brazilians hope can combat endemic corruption as well as violence that routinely gives the nation the dubious distinction of being world leader in total homicides.

A fan of U.S. President Donald Trump, the 63-year-old longtime congressman rose to power on an anti-corruption and pro-gun agenda that has energized conservatives and hard-right supporters after four consecutive presidential election wins by the left-leaning Workers' Party.

Bolsonaro was the latest of several far-right leaders around the globe who have come to power by riding waves of anger at the establishment and promising to ditch the status quo.

Leftist Presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba, deemed dictators by Bolsonaro, were uninvited by Bolsonaro's team after the foreign ministry sent them invitations. Leftist President Evo Morales of Bolivia, however, was invited and warmly embraced Bolsonaro after the ceremony. The United States was represented by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Seven of Bolsonaro's 22 Cabinet ministers are former military personnel, more than in any administration during Brazil's 1964-1985 dictatorship. That has sparked fears among his adversaries of a return to autocratic rule, but Bolsonaro insists he will respect the country's constitution.

Riordan Roett, a professor and director emeritus of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins University, noted that generals have administration skills that can be useful in government.

"The danger is that as a former low-ranking military officer, (Bolsonaro) will be swayed by some of the generals to come down hard on criminality, drug dealers, etc., and that may cause a backlash and many innocent people could be caught in the crossfire," Roett said.

Bolsonaro's Liberal and Social Party will have 52 seats in Brazil's 513-member lower house, the second largest bloc behind the Workers' Party.

Gary Hufbauer of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington-based think tank, said a central challenge for Bolsonaro will be curbing spending and entitlements, no easy task given the makeup of Congress and entrenched interests.

"Bolsonaro needs some quick successes to get off on the right foot with the public and the political elites," said Hufbauer, adding that a failure to do that would likely reduce Bolsonaro's honeymoon period to six months.

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Associated Press video journalist Yesica Fisch reported this story in Brasilia, AP writer Mauricio Savarese reported from Sao Paulo and AP writer Peter Prengaman reported from Rio de Janeiro. AP writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

 

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