Brazil’s New President Set to Give Military More Clout

Ex-army captain has promised to appoint military men who served alongside him under dictatorship

By Samantha Pearson e Luciana Magalhaes

Published in The Wall Street Journal

Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who stormed to power Sunday, is poised to give the military its biggest role in the country’s government since the fall of the dictatorship more than three decades ago.

To the surprise of some voters, Mr. Bolsonaro spent much of his victory speech backtracking on his most extreme statements from decades past. He vowed to defend democracy after once saying in 1999 that only a civil war could solve Brazil’s problems, and promised to respect racial and sexual diversity after having advocated hitting children to stop them from “turning gay.” A staunch nationalist, he spoke eagerly about his plans to open up the economy to foreign investors.

But Mr. Bolsonaro has remained glaringly consistent on one issue: his fondness of the military and tough policing. On Sunday, he confirmed retired Gen. Augusto Heleno as his future defense minister, breaking a tradition of civil leadership over the armed forces.

The president-elect and former paratrooper has promised to deal out more government jobs to military men who served alongside him under Brazil’s 1964-85 right-wing dictatorship. He also plans to send soldiers to the streets to help keep criminals and drug traffickers at bay in a country where nearly 64,000 people were murdered last year.

While opponents have raised concerns about the country’s young democracy, Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan to enlist the armed forces in his bid to fight endemic corruption and crime has delighted many Brazilians, who put more faith in the military than any other institution.

About 56% of Brazilians trust the armed forces, according to the country’s Getulio Vargas Foundation. That compares with only 6% of Brazilians who have confidence in the federal government, following the vast Car Wash graft scandal that disgraced many of Mr. Bolsonaro’s political adversaries.

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