How Brazil’s business elite helped elect the new far-right president

Jair Bolsonaro won as an anti-establishment outsider — but he had the help of the most powerful establishment players of all
November 1, 2018, 7:50pm

Jair Bolsonaro, the ultra-right-wing authoritarian who won Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday, owes his stunning rise to his image as an anti-establishment outsider. Yet he also won with the help of the most powerful establishment players of all: Brazil’s business elite.

And his opponents in congress will try to hang him on that.

Bolsonaro's business support began in the countryside, where agribusiness — the core of the economy and the sector with the strongest political lobby in Brazil — backed Bolsonaro’s proposals to cut environmental and labor regulations, as well as his violent anti-leftist rhetoric directed against movements for land reform.

“Economically speaking, we were supposed to be bigger than China. We have the potential for this; we just don’t have the right government,” said Rodrigo Basso, whose family owns more than 22,000 acres of farmland in Mato Grosso do Sul. “We were becoming Venezuela — nobody doubts that. And that's not what we want for the country.”

Although it took them longer than the farmers, the business and financial elites in Brazil’s big cities also lined up behind Bolsonaro before the election’s second round. This was largely due to Bolsonaro’s last-minute conversion to free-market fundamentalism under the advisement of Paulo Guedes, an investor with a degree from the University of Chicago.

Although the mainstream Brazilian left suffered severe losses in this year’s elections, a new generation of young socialists gained ground, and they’re preparing to exploit what they predict will be Bolsonaro’s failure to change the system he ran against.

“How can Bolsonaro be anti-corruption if he's financed, fed, and supported by the main sectors that maintain the economic and political systems of our country, which are corrupt?” said Sâmia Bomfim, of the Socialism and Liberation Party (PSOL), one of few leftists elected to the new congress in October. “You can’t solve the economy’s problems by empowering bankers and agribusiness. They already run the economy, and that never did any good.”