Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency has captured global attention for three ongoing crises: deforestation in the Amazon, deaths from COVID-19, and doubts about the future of Brazilian democracy.
The big picture: Brazil is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, registering more new cases each day than any other country and the second-most deaths to date, after the U.S.
The president has downplayed that crisis but been forced to confront another as Brazil's Supreme Court has approved a sprawling investigation into his inner circle.
- That investigation reportedly involves two of Bolsonaro’s sons and other close associates. It centers on the so-called “office of hate” — allegedly a coordinated operation to smear Bolsonaro’s critics online, spread fake news, and promote protests against the courts and congress.
- Bolsonaro is also being investigated for obstruction of justice after the outgoing justice minister, Sérgio Moro, accused him of interfering with the police to gain more control over sensitive investigations — like an embezzlement probe involving another son, Flávio.
- The arrest of a close Bolsonaro ally, Fabrício Queiroz, in connection with that investigation on Thursday was seen as another signal that the walls were closing in on the family. Queiroz has been described as a fixer for the Bolsonaros and used to work for Flávio.
- Bolsonaro has railed against the investigations and claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt.
Flashback: Bolsonaro embraced comparisons to President Trump during his campaign, and the Trump administration greeted his election as a major opportunity to further its interests in the region.
- A senior official with the State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs tells Axios it has been a “remarkable 18 months” for the alliance, particularly on economic cooperation, though the pandemic has forced a change in focus.
- The official said the current “like-mindedness” with Brazil was allowing for deeper cooperation on regional issues like Venezuela.
- Asked about the controversies surrounding Bolsonaro at home and abroad, the official said Brazil was “an ally of ours in every sense of the word" and stressed that the country had "strong institutions."
Those institutions are under growing strain. Each weekend, Bolsonaro's supporters gather in front of the presidential palace and call for Congress and the Supreme Court to be shut down. Bolsonaro recently greeted them on horseback.
- Bolsonaro has an unwavering base of around 30% of the electorate, who echo his support for guns, god and the military.
Where things stand: Bolsonaro continues to aim his rhetoric directly at his core supporters even during the pandemic, says Mauricio Moura, a pollster for IDEIA Big Data.
- "He was one of the very few world leaders who did not manage to gain popularity during the pandemic," Moura says. While Bolsonaro has a formidable political base, Moura says, "he's not adding anyone."
- Moura says the president's political fortunes will be determined not by how many coronavirus cases and deaths Brazil records, but by the success of its economic recovery.
- The pollster expects the base to stick with Bolsonaro through the investigations, unless direct links to organized crime groups are uncovered.