'Unqualified, dangerous': the oddball officials running Bolsonaro's Brazil
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his gun-loving sons have hogged the headlines during his first year in power with their incendiary declarations, social media meltdowns and scandal-hit lives.
Endless column inches have also been devoted to the eccentricities and extremist ideas of his top lieutenants, including the foreign minister who insists climate change is a Marxist plot and the education minster who enjoys tweeting about his dog’s habit of defecating on Brazil’s top newspapers.
But the lower ranks of Brazil’s government apparatus are also being populated with less well-known characters who trumpet white supremacist slogans and rage against the left.
“Say whatever you like about Bolsonaro, one has to recognize his rare talent of … choosing the most unqualified, lunatic and/or dangerous people for jobs,” the journalist Mauro Ventura wrote earlier this month.
“As someone said, they seem to have been picked for their IQ: that’s to say their quotient of imbecility, inability, idiocy, incompetence, ineptitude or impiety.”
Brazil specialist Monica de Bolle said the hiring of such figures reflected the “totally nuts” nature of Bolsonaro’s “fundamentalist” administration.
“They are not looking for people who have knowledge but people who are loyal,” said De Bolle, from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“I hate the Trump comparisons because Brazil is Brazil and the US is the US. But it’s just like Trump has surrounded himself with yes men. They are all yes men - and for the most part they are all men.”
Here are four of Bolsonaro underlings you may never have heard of:
Foreign policy adviser to the president
Before this year Martins, 31, had almost no foreign policy experience. Yet his close ties to two of Bolsonaro’s sons have helped transform him into one of Brazil’s most influential men and landed him an office just metres from Bolsonaro’s.
Like Bolsonaro’s sons, Martins is a disciple of the US-based writer and conspiracy theorist Olavo de Carvalho and revels in bashing leftists, feminists, “globalists” and journalists on social media. He is also a Steve Bannon fan, nicknamed “Sorocabannon” thanks to his origins in the Brazilian city of Sorocaba and admiration for Trump’s ex-strategist.
As with many Bolsonaristas, Martins basks in controversy, using alt-right catchphrases such as “Deus Vult” and General Franco-era slogans to bait critics. After Brazil’s footballers lost to Belgium in the 2018 World Cup, the man who now helps run Brazilian foreign policy branded the European country “a modern-day Babel”.
Martins also enjoys conspiracy, last year accusing CNN and the New York Times of complicity in a “social engineering” campaign to promote paedophilia.
Special secretary for culture
A dramatist by trade, Alvim once received an award for a production of Harold Pinter’s The Room. But before being named culture secretary in November the 46-year-old director was best known for insulting the grande dame of Brazilian theatre, the Oscar-nominated actor Fernanda Montenegro, as a “sordid” leftist.
That attack enraged Brazilian thespians but earned him Bolsonaro’s affections – and a job as Brazil’s culture chief.
An online biography makes unusual reading. Aged 22, Alvim ditched a budding directing career to undergo “a process of inner discovery through meditation practices”. He ended up in a hut in north-eastern Brazil and depriving himself of food, water and human contact for 21 days.
Alvim returned to theatre before reportedly finding God in 2017 after a supposedly miraculous cure for near-fatal cancer. “It was a direct intervention from our Lord Jesus Christ,” he recently claimed.
Alvim has said his newfound faith converted him into a hardcore Bolsonarista. In recent Facebook posts he has savaged his leader’s opponents as lefty “cockroaches”, railed against the “bastards” from Greenpeace and accused Brazil’s “rotten” and “demonic” art world of unfairly demonizing Bolsonaro.
Sérgio Nascimento de Camargo
Fundação Cultural Palmares
The man chosen to run the government foundation promoting black culture has called for Brazil’s Black Consciousness Day to be scrapped and has branded many of Brazil’s best-known black celebrities and artists “parasites of the black race”.
Most notoriously, he once called one of Brazil’s most celebrated samba composers, Martinho da Vila, a “bum” who should “be sent to the Congo”.
Camargo, who is himself black, has also found targets for his insults beyond Brazil’s borders, including the American civil rights activist Angela Davis, whom he called a “minger” and “hag”.
On social media, Camargo describes himself as a “rightwing black” who opposes “victimhood and the politically correct”. “Slavery was terrible, but beneficial for the descendants”, he recently claimed.
Head of the National Arts Foundation
The hard-right classical conductor and YouTuber presiding over the government body in charge of policy for visual arts, music and dance has claimed the Soviet Union infiltrated the CIA to distribute LSD at Woodstock. “Rock activates drugs which activate sex which activates the abortion industry,” Mantovani alleged, noting that John Lennon had said he made a pact with the devil.
Mantovani has said Metallica was good for keeping drivers awake but called Brazilian greats Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil and pop star Anitta “aberrations” for depicting Brazil as a “type of brothel”. Taking office, he claimed Brazil owed its culture to Portugal which “civilised” rather than “colonised” his homeland.