Bolsonaro: The Controversial Rise and Presidency of Brazil’s Polarizing Figure

Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, emerged as one of Brazil’s most polarizing and divisive political figures in recent history. His ascent to power in 2018 marked a significant shift in the country’s political landscape, representing a wave of right-wing populism that mirrored trends across the globe. Bolsonaro’s rise to prominence was marked by a mixture of charisma, unapologetic rhetoric, and promises of change, but his presidency has been characterized by controversy, policy disputes, and public discontent.

In this article, we delve into the life, political career, and presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, exploring the factors that led to his rise, the key events during his tenure, and the impact of his policies on Brazil’s society, economy, and environment.

  1. Early Life and Political Beginnings

Jair Bolsonaro was born on March 21, 1955, in Glicério, São Paulo, Brazil. His family had a military background, and Bolsonaro followed suit by enrolling in the Military Academy at the age of 17. He later joined the Brazilian Army, where he served for 15 years before embarking on a political career. Bolsonaro’s military background would become a defining aspect of his political persona, earning him the nickname “Captain Bolsonaro.”

Bolsonaro’s initial foray into politics was as a city councilor in Rio de Janeiro in 1988, where he gained a reputation for being outspoken and controversial. His rhetoric often included divisive and inflammatory statements, which resonated with a segment of the population disillusioned with mainstream politics.

  1. The Rise to Prominence

Bolsonaro’s rise to national prominence began in 2003 when he was elected to the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. His outspoken nature, combined with strong conservative views on crime, corruption, and social issues, attracted a loyal following, particularly among right-wing and evangelical voters. Bolsonaro was unapologetically pro-military and vocal about his disdain for the leftist Workers’ Party (PT) and its policies.

Despite his growing popularity, Bolsonaro’s path to the presidency was not without obstacles. In 2018, he was stabbed during a campaign rally, which further fueled his image as a victim of the political establishment. However, his supporters remained undeterred, propelling him to victory in the presidential election that same year.

  1. The Bolsonaro Presidency

Bolsonaro’s presidency commenced on January 1, 2019, amid high expectations and intense scrutiny from both his supporters and detractors. He promised to address Brazil’s economic challenges, tackle corruption, and combat rising crime rates. However, his approach to governance and policy decisions soon began to generate controversy.

3.1 Economic Policies:

Bolsonaro’s economic agenda emphasized deregulation, privatization, and reduced government intervention. He appointed Paulo Guedes, a University of Chicago-trained economist, as his Minister of Economy, signaling his commitment to implementing market-friendly reforms. Guedes sought to simplify the tax system, reform the pension system, and attract foreign investment.

While some praised Bolsonaro’s pro-business approach, others criticized it for neglecting social welfare and exacerbating income inequality. The economic benefits of these policies were not immediately apparent, leading to growing public discontent.

3.2 Social and Environmental Policies:

One of the most contentious aspects of Bolsonaro’s presidency has been his approach to social and environmental issues. His administration faced criticism for rolling back environmental protections in the Amazon rainforest, which experienced a surge in deforestation and wildfires. Environmentalists argued that Bolsonaro’s policies encouraged illegal land clearance and timber extraction, threatening biodiversity and exacerbating climate change.

Additionally, Bolsonaro’s conservative stance on social issues, particularly his opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, sparked protests and divisions within Brazilian society. His efforts to limit access to sexual education in schools and loosen gun control laws further fueled controversy.

3.3 Criminal Justice and Security:

Bolsonaro campaigned on a platform of combating crime and corruption, advocating for a tough-on-crime approach that included loosening gun ownership laws and granting police more power to use force. While some supporters welcomed these measures as necessary for combating violence, critics argued that they would lead to an increase in police brutality and human rights violations.

The so-called “Car Wash” corruption investigation, which exposed high-level corruption in Brazilian politics, was also a significant aspect of Bolsonaro’s presidency. While he claimed to be committed to fighting corruption, his administration faced allegations of interference in the investigation and protecting allies implicated in corrupt practices.

Public Opinion and Opposition

As Bolsonaro’s presidency progressed, public opinion became increasingly divided. While his supporters praised him for taking a hardline stance on crime, strengthening Brazil’s ties with the United States, and pursuing conservative social policies, many Brazilians grew disillusioned with his leadership.

Protests against Bolsonaro’s policies and handling of environmental issues gained momentum, with large demonstrations taking place across the country. Labor unions, indigenous groups, and environmental organizations criticized the president’s approach, accusing him of prioritizing economic interests over environmental conservation.

Bolsonaro’s approval ratings fluctuated during his tenure, reflecting the polarizing nature of his presidency. While some approved of his combative style and policy decisions, others viewed him as a divisive figure who failed to effectively address Brazil’s pressing challenges.

Foreign Relations

Bolsonaro’s foreign policy approach marked a departure from previous Brazilian governments. He aligned Brazil more closely with the United States and Israel, breaking with the country’s tradition of multilateralism and prioritizing regional interests. His administration also took a strong stance against Venezuela’s government, aligning with the opposition and criticizing President Nicolás Maduro.

However, Bolsonaro’s approach faced challenges, particularly regarding Brazil’s relations with China, one of its major trading partners. His ideological alignment with the United States and criticism of China’s role in the Brazilian economy strained diplomatic ties, posing potential risks to Brazil’s trade and economic interests.


Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency has been marked by controversies, policy disputes, and societal divisions. He rose to power promising change and appealed to a significant segment of the population disillusioned with the political establishment. However, his leadership style and policy decisions generated strong reactions both in support and opposition.

As the political landscape continues to evolve in Brazil, Bolsonaro’s presidency will be remembered as a period of significant change and upheaval, leaving a lasting impact on the country’s society, economy, and environment. Whether his legacy will be viewed as transformative or tumultuous remains a subject of debate and analysis. Only time will tell how history judges this enigmatic and polarizing figure in Brazilian politics.

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