Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, seeking re-election, has caused outrage with a long list of provocative statements on everything from Greta Thunberg to child labor to Covid.
Here is a selection of some of his more controversial utterances:
– Covid: a ‘little flu’ –
For a long time after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Bolsonaro failed to take it seriously.
In March 2020 he predicted that “for 90 percent of the population, this will be a little flu or nothing.”
A few days later, when the death toll in Brazil hit 5,700, he acknowledged that Covid-19 was “the greatest challenge of our generation.”
But he showed little empathy for those affected.
“We’re all going to die one day, everyone here will die. There’s no point running away from it, running away from reality. You need to stop being a country of queers,” he said in mid-November 2020, by which time Brazil had over 160,000 dead.
He was also a fierce critic of Covid vaccines, suggesting they could turn people into “crocodiles,” cause women to “grow beards” and men to talk “in a high-pitched voice.”
– NGOs: a ‘cancer’ –
Under Bolsonaro’s watch, the destruction of Brazil’s portion of the Amazon rainforest increased by 75 percent compared to the previous decade.
On September 3, 2020, he railed in a Facebook Live address against environmental NGOs who accused him of being responsible for devastating wildfires in the Amazon.
“You know that NGOs don’t have a voice with me. I am firm with these people, but I can’t kill this cancer that most NGOs are,” Bolsonaro said.
– Biden: ‘gunpowder’ needed –
In November 2020, the “Bible, bullets and beef” Bolsonaro, a close ally of former US president Donald Trump, took potshots at newly-elected successor Joe Biden.
“Recently, a big-shot presidential candidate said if I didn’t put out the wildfires in the Amazon he would impose trade sanctions on Brazil,” Bolsonaro said, referring to a threat Biden made in a debate with Trump.
“How do you deal with that kind of thing? Diplomacy alone doesn’t work… You have to have gunpowder. You don’t have to use it. But they have to know you have it,” Bolsonaro said.
– Greta Thunberg: ‘a brat’ –
One victim of his tongue-lashings was Swedish teen environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg.
“How can the media give space to a brat like that?” Bolsonaro asked reporters in December 2019 after Thunberg criticized violence against indigenous people following the murder of two indigenous tribesmen in the Amazon.
– Media: pound ‘with punches’ –
Bolsonaro also has a long history of lashing out at the media.
In August 2020, Bolsonaro threatened a reporter who asked him about allegations that his wife Michelle received money from a political operative targeted in a corruption investigation.
“I so want to pound your mouth with punches,” Bolsonaro told the reporter from leading newspaper O Globo.
Last month, he told journalist Vera Magalhaes, moderating a campaign debate: “Vera, you think about me in your sleep, you must have a crush on me or something.”
– Dictatorship: wrong to ‘not kill’ –
Former army captain Bolsonaro has made no secret of his nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship.
In an interview with a Brazilian radio station in 2016, before he became president, he declared that “the dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill” leftist dissidents.
He has hinted he will not leave the presidency without a fight, saying his reelection bid can only have three outcomes: “prison, death or victory.”
– Child labor:’work brings dignity’ –
Rights campaigners have expressed alarm over figures showing that over 2 million children in Brazil work but Bolsonaro dismissed their concerns in 2019.
“I’ve been working since I was eight years old… and today I am what I am,” he said in a Facebook Live chat in July 2019.
“Work brings dignity to men and to women, no matter their age,” Bolsonaro argued.
– Brazilians going hungry: ‘a big lie’ –
Hunger is one of the key themes of the election, with the frontrunner, leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, pointing the finger at Bolsonaro’s policies.
The president has repeatedly denied that Brazil has a problem with food insecurity.
In July 2019, he accused “populists” of propagating “a big lie”, citing the absence of “poor people in the street with a skeletal physique” as evidence.
“There is no hunger,” he said, though he later admitted that “some people are hungry.”