© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Brazil's Bolsonaro Rivaling Trump When It Comes To Provoking Public Outrage

Eraldo Peres
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia last week.

One of the most heated topics in the U.S. this week is President Trump’s racially charged rhetoric. But we’re not the only country in the Americas where presidential remarks are prompting outrage. Thursday was a big reminder.

Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is often called the Donald Trump of Latin America. His rhetoric is frequently sexist, racist, homophobic and, critics say, fascist.

The latter seemed to be on display Thursday when Bolsonaro called the late Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra “a national hero.” That shook up a lot of Brazilians because Ustra was the chief of torture during the country’s brutal, right-wing military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

Bolsonaro was an army officer during that regime. He often recalls it as a golden age that Brazil should return to. And he holds it up as a model for the law-and-order agenda he says he wants to establish in Brazil. (Bolsonaro survived an assassination attempt during his presidential campaign last year when he was stabbed at a rally.) This week he said police should be allowed to kill criminals “in the streets like cockroaches.”

Last month Bolsonaro also shocked many Brazilians when he confronted a lawyer whose father was tortured and killed by Ustra’s intelligence unit. “If you want to know how your dad disappeared,” Bolsonaro told him, “I’ll gladly tell you someday.”

Brazilian expats in South Florida voted overwhelmingly for Bolsonaro in last year's presidential election.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.