Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who was once on trial for racism, won Brazil’s presidency on Sunday, clearing the way for him to pursue his unabashedly racist agenda.
Bolsonaro won 55.2 percent of the vote over his progressive opponent Fernando Haddad. The former Brazilian congressman rode a wave of fear over his country’s economic downturn and a promise to put an end to a series of scandals involving government officials.
His supporters dismissed concerns about Bolsonaro’s long history of making hateful comments about women, the LGBT community and Afro-Brazilians.
In April, Brazil’s attorney general charged him with inciting hatred and discrimination. In one instance Bolsonaro insulted Black descendants of rebel African slaves called quilombolas and expressed regret about their legal protections. However, a court dismissed the lawsuit during his presidential campaign in September.
Bolsonaro has already hinted at one of his policy targets: Brazil’s affirmative action program, according to Bloomberg News.
“What debt of slavery? I never enslaved anyone in my life. Look, if you really look at history, the Portuguese didn’t even step foot in Africa. The Blacks themselves turned over the slaves,” he said in a TV interview in July.
Brazil started experimenting with affirmative policies in 2001, more than three decades after the United States launched similar programs, according to Foreign Policy. Brazilian lawmakers were reluctant to go down that path partly because they had long promoted the idea that racism does not exist in the country—which civil rights activists have exposed as a myth.
Slavery was massive in Latin America’s largest nation. An estimated 5.5 million Africans were brought to Brazil, compared with 500,000 transported to America, Foreign Policy said. Today, Afro-Brazilians and those of mixed race constitute 76 percent of the bottom tenth of income earners and receive the poorest quality education in the country.
Brazil’s parallels with the United States are striking. African-Americans own approximately just one-tenth the wealth of White Americans, according to a Center for American Progress study that was released in February. President Donald Trump, like his Brazilian counterpart, also has a long racist history and admires dictators. The two leaders have an affinity for each other.
Progressive former presidents, including Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, promoted university quotas for the poor and people of color.
Expect major changes under Bolsonaro, who has called quotas unfair.
“I can’t say that I’ll end quotas, because it depends on Congress. At least decrease the percentage,” he said.
Affirmative action could be just the first of many policies that would harm Brazil’s Black community.