“Our government departments will not be led by anyone who’s been convicted of corruption,” said Jair Bolsonaro on October 31, three days after being elected president of Brazil. The goal of his statement, published on his social media feeds, was clear: to deny accusations in the press that he had asked Alberto Fraga, a member of Congress who was convicted of taking bribes, to join his administration.
A week earlier, a video had emerged on the Brazilian website R7 with Bolsonaro singing a different tune than his post-election statement. Surrounded by pro-gun members of Congress at a gathering in his home on October 23, Bolsonaro excitedly said, “I can already announce that Fraga will be the one to coordinate the [pro-gun parliamentary] front in my administration.” Hours after Bolsonaro’s tweet about eschewing corrupt officials, however, the R7 video was deleted from the website. It was only the latest episode in which R7, part of the right-wing evangelical Universal Church’s media empire, had crossed the line from journalism to a (poorly) disguised propaganda office.
A central talking point of Bolsonaro’s campaign was to market the far-right candidate as the only one who could free Brazil from the ills of corruption. It was an obvious strategy. Corruption was at the top of Brazilians’ lists of concerns, according to a poll published in December by Ibope, a research institute. Corruption ranked higher than health, education, and public safety. It only makes sense for the president-elect to try to disconnect his image from the corrupt politicians that voters have come to hate so intensely. But there’s a problem: Bolsonaro deliberately surrounded himself with these very same corrupt politicians.
Examining Bolsonaro’s top deputies and cabinet appointments, it becomes apparent that his speeches against corruption are nothing but empty words. From the allies arrayed alongside Bolsonaro during his first speech as president-elect to the transition team he assembled and the governmental department heads he’s appointed, Bolsonaro picked at least seven people tangled up in scandals, from lawsuits and official investigations to criminal convictions and even confession of guilt.
Onyx Lorenzoni, center, accompanies Brazilian economist Paulo Guedes, left, and Brazilian Social Liberal Party vice president Gustavo Bebianno to talk with press in Rio de Janeiro on Oct.