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Brazil Elects Far-Right Candidate Jair Bolsonaro As Next President


Now to Brazil, which yesterday elected a new president who is from the far-right. Messages of congratulations from world leaders are pouring in to Jair Bolsonaro, including one from President Trump. There are concerns, though, about what Bolsonaro will do once he assumes office. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Rio de Janeiro.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: As his supporters celebrate a stunning victory, Jair Bolsonaro appears before the cameras...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ...First for prayers led by an evangelist pastor and then for a promise that's intended to allay the fears of his opponents in Brazil and his critics abroad.


JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "You're my witness," Bolsonaro tells the audience. "My government will defend the Constitution and democracy and liberty." Bolsonaro, a retired army captain and congressman, will take over as Brazil's president on the 1st of January. His admiration for his nation's past military dictatorship has led to concerns over whether democracy is safe in his hands. Bolsonaro supporters celebrating outside his beachside house in Rio have no such worries. Claudia Miranda is a lawyer.

CLAUDIA MIRANDA: Oh, I'm not afraid about that. I agree that sometimes he doesn't have the right words to use, but I don't think that he's a dictator.

REEVES: Miranda hopes Bolsonaro will end the massive corruption that's embroiled many Brazilian politicians. His record for misogynist, racist and homophobic remarks doesn't bother her. She thinks they're taken out of context.

MIRANDA: And there is a completely different meaning. So I don't - I'm not afraid about that.

REEVES: Other Brazilians are worrying on many fronts. Will Bolsonaro's plans to loosen the environmental laws threaten the Amazon rainforest? Are their civil rights secure? This is Rocinha, Rio's largest favela, a low-income, mostly Afro-Brazilian neighborhood sprawled across the hillside. It's a battleground in the war between security forces and criminal organizations in the narcotics trade. Residents caught in the middle are sometimes injured or killed. Bolsonaro wants to give the police even more leeway to use lethal force to the alarm of Luis Fernando de Paula, who was born here.

LUIS FERNANDO DE PAULA: Well, I think they will be trouble, seriously trouble. So it's not good for people that live here.

REEVES: Opinions among political analysts are divided about what the future holds.

THIAGO DE ARAGAO: Brazil is a country that has an institutional maturity that's stronger than many people believe, especially many people outside of Brazil.

REEVES: Thiago de Aragao, a political analyst-consultant, doesn't think Bolsonaro's a threat to democracy. He says Brazil's judiciary has proved how strong it is by convicting some of the country's most powerful people in a massive anti-corruption investigation. Bolsonaro has strong support in Brazil's new Congress, yet he must still negotiate to get plans approved. He also has close ties to the military. His Cabinet is expected to include several retired generals. De Aragao's also not worried by that.

DE ARAGAO: I have absolutely no doubt that the Brazilian Armed Forces would always choose the Constitution over any president, even if this president is Bolsonaro.

REEVES: Political scientist Mauricio Santoro also doesn't think Brazil's at risk of a dictatorship. But he is concerned about the rights of Brazilians.

MAURICIO SANTORO: Every country where extremists were elected to power faced an erosion of democracy, faced problems regarding minority rights, hate crimes, violence against social activists.

REEVES: There does seem to be one area of consensus among those puzzling over what President Bolsonaro will be like. If he's to unite Brazil, he must knock off the divisive political rhetoric. De Aragao again.

DE ARAGAO: These narratives can empower individuals in the country to believe that they have a green light to act in an aggressive or violent manner against minorities.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.