Republic Day celebrations 2020: Chief guest Jair Bolsonaro is soft on gun control, ambivalent to environmental concerns

FP Staff

Editor's Note: This article was first published on 24 January 2020. It is being republished in view of the 71st Republic Day parade, where Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro is in attendance as the chief guest.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations next year, in 2020. Modi, who is in Brazil for the 11th BRICS Summit which will focus on building mechanisms for counter-terrorism cooperation and strengthen India's economic ties, met Bolsonaro on the sidelines of the summit and spoke about diversifying cooperation for the benefit of the people.

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Right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro who was sworn in as Brazil's president on 2 January, has been under fire after his environmental policies led to a rapid acceleration in deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which covers vast swathes of Brazil and is considered vital to combating global warming.

Bolsonaro is seen as a polarising figure and is often compared to US president Donald Trump. Both have been seen supporting each other, for instance, when Bolsonaro gave its inauguration speech, Trump tweeted "the USA is with you!". Trump has also boosted Brazil's status as a US military ally, easing the path for the Latin American giant to buy more sophisticated weaponry.

Bolsonaro has also survived a near-fatal knife attack. He was stabbed on 6 September, 2018 at a campaign rally in the state of Minas Gerais by a 41-year-old man, who was found to be delusional and psychologically unfit for trial. The assailant, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, is being held in the psychiatric unit of a maximum-security prison.

Ease gun control

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, caused a stir in May when he issued a decree enabling a wide range of professions, including truckers, politicians and even some journalists, to carry weapons without having to prove why they needed them, reported AFP. Weeks later, he revised the original order to restrict "common citizens" to carrying handguns, but not rifles in public.

Following legal and political challenges to the decree, Bolsonaro revoked his order and sent a bill to Congress to change legislation on the registration, possession and commercialisation of weapons. Experts have warned the loosening of restrictions would fuel gun violence in a country which already has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Amazon fires

According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks clear-cutting of the rainforest, around 2,254 square kilometers of the Amazon were cleared in July, an increase of 278 percent from a year ago. That followed a 90 percent increase in June compared to the year prior €" figures that Bolsonaro has called "lies", and which prompted the sacking of INPE chief Ricardo Galvao on 2 August.

The Amazon is vital to the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere €" a check on global warming.

"It is a fallacy to say that the Amazon is the heritage of humankind, and a misconception confirmed by scientists to say that our Amazon forests are the lungs of the world," Bolsonaro told the United Nations.

Bolsonaro then hit out at detractors, saying that while every country had problems, sensational reporting in the international media "aroused our patriotic sentiments".

"Using and resorting to these fallacies, certain countries, instead of helping... behaved in a disrespectful manner and with a colonialist spirit," he said.

"They even called into question that which we hold as a most sacred value, our sovereignty." He also defended his record on the treatment of indigenous people and said many backed him.

"Some people both inside and outside Brazil, supported by NGOs... have insisted on treating and keeping our Indians as though they were real cavemen," he said.

He also suggested that people "poop every other day" as a way to save the environment. The Far-Right leader offered this idea in response to a journalist's question as to whether it was possible to simultaneously spur economic growth, feed the world's hungry and also preserve the environment.

Clashes with Emmanuel Macron 

The Brazilian president had garnered criticism when he appeared to agree with a Facebook post that implied French president Emmanuel Macron's wife was not as attractive as his own wife Michele Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has been seen repeatedly clashed with his French counterpart.

He wrote "Do not humiliate the guy, ha ha" on a post that read "Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro" next to pictures of the two first ladies. The French president called Bolsonaro's behaviour "extraordinarily rude" and the Brazilian president later deleted his comment.

Brazil and France have clashed in recent weeks over the handling of fires in the Amazon, the world's largest rain forest, which is crucial for a stable global climate.

He had also hit out at Macron, saying the French president cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?" He continued, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral.

Bolsonaro had also said he would stop using disposable pens made by France's Bic to sign official documents, during diplomatic spat over fires in the Amazon basin. "A pen (of the Brazilian brand) Compactor and no more Bic, will work," Bolsonaro said, confirming remarks he made during a live broadcast on Facebook a day earlier.

Bolsonaro has previously cited Bic pens, which are cheap and commonly used in Brazil, as a sign of austerity after the expenses of his predecessors. Bic said it felt "flattered" to be recognised as a "democratic brand," but would not comment on the president's decision.

According to the Associated Press, Bolsonaro had signed an executive order that which put the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of indigenous reserves, protected lands for indigenous populations.

This was seen as a threat to the status of these communities and to the environment as agribusinesses aligned with Bolsonaro wanted to open these forests as land for development.'

With inputs from agencies

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