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Brazil Prepares To Swear-In President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro



The sound of crowds out in the street in Brazil's capital, Brasilia, last night, welcoming the new year in traditional fashion. But 2019 is bringing a change for Brazil. Today, a new president is being sworn into office. His name is Jair Bolsonaro, a retired army captain from the far right. We're joined from Brasilia now by NPR's Philip Reeves. Hey, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi, how are you doing?

MARTIN: Doing well, thanks. So this is a huge day for Brazil, also for Latin America more broadly. Can you just give us a sense of how important this moment is?

REEVES: Well, it's extremely important. This is a real moment in history. Latin America's largest nation is installing a populist president, a seven-term congressman with no executive experience, a man who admires Brazil's past dictatorship and has a Cabinet of whom about a third are retired military officers and chosen a foreign minister who's described climate change as a Marxist plot. So this is a moment in history, a turning point.

MARTIN: What's it like in Brasilia on the Inauguration Day?

REEVES: (Laughter) Well, I'm afraid it's damp and overcast...

MARTIN: Oh (laughter).

REEVES: ...Rather disappointingly. Nonetheless, you know, officials here are expecting big crowds for the inauguration of possibly half a million. So there's a huge security operation. But it's also New Year's Day, and Brazilians really celebrated, as you know. And so let's see whether they turn up or how - and how many of them decide to carry on partying somewhere else.

MARTIN: I mean, Bolsonaro had been seen as this very divisive figure, right? During the campaign, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians, especially women, were on the streets urging people not to vote for him. So is that changing?

REEVES: Yes. I mean Bolsonaro was elected in October with a very comfortable margin of some 10 million votes. Polls indicate, though, that since then, he's become even more popular. It seems Brazilians have really high expectations of him. And you often meet people here who say that they don't agree with everything Bolsonaro stands for. But anything's better than the leftist government that ruled for most of the last decade and a half, a period that saw the country's worst ever recession, a massive corruption scandal and an epidemic of violent crime.

I was actually out in the streets here when the new year dawned earlier today, talking to people about their new president. And I met Alan (ph) Hubner, a computer programmer, and I asked him to tell me why he supports Bolsonaro.

ALAN HUBNER: Security. Yeah, I want to feel safe here, you know?

REEVES: Hubner told me that he's gay, and Bolsonaro, of course, is notorious for making offensive homophobic comments. A lot of LGBT Brazilians are worried about what his presidency might mean for them. And I asked Hubner about that, and he says, in a country where there are tens of thousands of homicide every year, making Brazil safer matters more to him than anything Bolsonaro said in the past.

HUBNER: People say that he is homophobic. Oh, he's a homophobic. He going to kill gays. I don't believe he going to kill gays. I believe that everybody's getting killed here. It doesn't matter if you're gay, if you're straight, if you're black or white. Everybody's getting killed here.

MARTIN: I mean, that's going to be a huge issue that Bolsonaro's going to have to deal with, clearly, if people feel that way. But what can you tell us about other policy agenda - the other policy agenda items that Bolsonaro is going to focus on?

REEVES: Well, all eyes are going to be on what he does with the environment. He's been talking about withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement. Bolsonaro is also a big fan of President Trump and used some of his tactics during the election campaign, communicating directly, for example, via Internet. So we're going to see a shift here towards the U.S., and that has regional implications, for example, in the handling of Venezuela.

Meanwhile, domestically here in Brazil, Bolsonaro wants to greatly increase the public's access to firearms. That's very controversial. So we'll see what happens there.

REEVES: All right. NPR's Phil Reeves from Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. 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.