Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro sworn in as new president
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Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro sworn in as new president

Netanyahu among the world leaders on hand for inauguration of far-right leader, who has vowed a crackdown on crime and corruption

Newly sworn-in Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures during his inauguration ceremony at the National Congress in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)
Newly sworn-in Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures during his inauguration ceremony at the National Congress in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician vowing a crackdown on crime and corruption, was sworn in Tuesday as Brazil’s new president in front of the National Congress in Brasilia.

The 63-year-old former paratrooper and parliament member for the past 27 years pledged to uphold the constitution as he embarked on his four-year mandate at the helm of Latin America’s biggest economy.

Tuesday’s festivities in the capital of Brasilia began with a motorcade procession along the main road leading to Congress and other government buildings. Bolsonaro and his wife, Michelle, stood up in an open-top Rolls-Royce and waved to thousands of onlookers.

They were surrounded by dozens of guards on horses and plain-clothes bodyguards who ran beside the car.

Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (L) and his wife Michelle Bolsonaro head to the National Congress in Brasilia for his swearing-in ceremony, in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (Carl De Souza/AFP)

Brasilia was under tight security, with 3,000 police patrolling the event. Military tanks, fighter jets, and even anti-aircraft missiles also were deployed. Journalists were made to arrive at locations seven hours before festivities began, and many complained on Twitter of officials confiscating food they had brought for the wait.

The increased security came at Bolsonaro’s request. His intestine was pierced when a knife-wielding man stabbed him at a campaign rally in September, and he has to wear a colostomy bag. His sons, politicians themselves, insist their father could be targeted by radicals, but security officials have not spoken of threats.

Bolsonaro takes power with sky-high approval ratings and high hopes from many of Brazil’s 210 million inhabitants that he can stamp out graft, reduce rampant crime, and re-ignite an economy laid low by a record-breaking recession.

He has already said he will issue a decree easing gun laws to allow “good” citizens to own firearms as a way of deterring and countering armed criminals.

Brazil’s newly sworn-in President Jair Bolsonaro (C) greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), during his inauguration ceremony, at the National Congress in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)

And he has vowed to challenge the leftist governments ruling Venezuela and Cuba, while moving closer to ideological allies US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the latter of whom was on hand for the inauguration and met last week with Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro did little moderating since being elected in October, with progressives and liberals decrying stances that they say are homophobic, sexist, and racist.

The incoming president, who spent nearly three decades in Congress, has also drawn international criticism for his plans to roll back regulations in the Amazon and his disinterest in social programs in a country that is one of the world’s most unequal in terms of income.

On the economic front, where Bolsonaro will ultimately lead Latin America’s largest economy is unknown, as during the campaign he reversed course from previous statist stances with pledges to lead market-friendly reforms. He also promised to overhaul Brazil’s pension system and privatize several state-owned companies, which has given him wide support among financial players.

Bolsonaro says he will prioritize the fight against crime in a nation that has long led the world in annual homicides. More than 63,000 people were killed last year. Human rights groups fear his defense of police violence could shield officers from investigations of misconduct and lead to more extrajudicial killings.

Seven of Bolsonaro’s 22 Cabinet ministers are former military personnel, more than in any administration during Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship. That has sparked fears among his adversaries of a return to autocratic rule, but Bolsonaro insists he will respect the country’s constitution. Bolsonaro’s vice president is a retired general, Hamilton Mourao.

Bolsonaro’s Liberal and Social Party will have 52 seats in Brazil’s 513-member lower house, the second largest bloc behind the Workers’ Party.

Jair Bolsonaro (R) is sworn in as Brazil’s new president, next to Brazilian Lower House President Rodrigo Maia (L), during his inauguration ceremony, at the Congress in Brasilia on January 1, 2019. (Nelson Almeida/AFP)

Bolsonaro takes over from deeply unpopular center-right president Michel Temer, who was effectively a caretaker figure following the impeachment of leftist leader Dilma Rousseff, booted from office in 2016 for fiddling the government books.

He has said he is determined to roll back decisions made under Rousseff and her popular predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is now in prison for corruption.

Trimming the government and public debt, and embarking on privatizations are among the measures he has proposed.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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