Is Bolsonaro going bust?

Is Bolsonaro going bust?

Less than two years ago, Brazilians elected a controversial and untested political outsider as president.

Some voted for former army captain Jair Bolsonaro because they saw him as their best shot to break up a corrupt political class. Others took a shine to his far-right culture warrior comments about homosexuals, women, and minorities. And many who disliked his social views still voted for him as the best candidate to push through much-needed economic reforms.

Since taking power, the combative Bolsonaro, lacking a strong political party of his own, has run up against the country's establishment political forces. He's tangled with progressives over his tough crime policies, and with environmentalists over relaxing protections for the Amazon. He's constantly clashed with dogged journalists, whom he and his supporters dismiss as "fake news," or worse.


But over the past few weeks, things have gotten especially ugly for Bolsonaro.

First, he's badly mishandled the coronavirus pandemic. A combination of macho posturing and genuine fears about what shutdowns might do to Brazil's economy have led Bolsonaro to dismiss the seriousness of the outbreak, squabble with governors over lockdowns, back anti-quarantine protests, and fire his health minister, who had become more popular than the president himself. Bolsonaro's "good/excellent" approval ratings are now in the low 30s. Even with spotty testing, Brazil's reported numbers of both coronavirus cases and fatalities are the highest in Latin America, with deaths per 1,000 people well ahead of smaller countries like Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico.

Now the country's anti-corruption czar has hit him with a devastating accusation. On Friday, Justice Minister Sergio Moro resigned, claiming that Bolsonaro was obstructing federal investigations of whether his own sons took part in kickback schemes and fake news rackets. Moro's accusations struck like a thunderbolt. He is a popular anti-corruption crusader whose sprawling, five-year long "Car Wash" graft investigation jailed the popular but polarizing leftwing former president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, as well as hundreds of Brazil's top businesspeople. Moro's place in Bolsonaro's government gave the president anti-corruption credibility. The resignation and allegations are hugely damaging.

Bolsonaro has replaced Moro with a loyalist, but Brazil's supreme court has already opened a probe of Moro's allegations. Whispers about impeachment have begun to ripple through Brasilia.

So, is the leader of Latin America's biggest economy on the ropes?

Things don't look good, but Bolsonaro isn't a spent force just yet.

First, lawmakers are reluctant to plunge the country into its second impeachment in just four years, particularly while the coronavirus crisis rages on. That said, the next election is still more than two years away.

Second, his base of public support is small but solid. Bolsonaro still enjoys the devoted backing of a solid 30-40 percent of the population, at least for now. That makes impeachment a political gamble for Congress. Former president Dilma Rousseff's approval fell to near single digits before she was impeached in 2016.

Third, look who's waiting in the wings. If Bolsonaro is impeached, the presidency would go to Vice President Hamilton Mourão, a hardline former general who admires the country's 1964-1985 dictatorship. Weak as Bolsonaro seems right now, that might make Bolsonaro's critics and opponents think twice before trying to get rid of him just yet.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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