The political and personal characteristics of these two leaders,
inaugurated just days apart, are a recipe for disaster.
Mr. Bolsonaro, though democratically elected, has demonstrated
authoritarian inclinations. He pledged to make it easier for the police
and soldiers to open fire on armed suspects, and is in favor of
restoring the death penalty. He says he will issue a decree allowing
virtually anyone in Brazil to purchase a firearm, including automatic
weapons. This would essentially arm the entire population.
He has also threatened to withdraw Brazil from the trade bloc Mercosur
— which also includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — the Paris
climate agreement and the Marrakesh migration plan. Mr. Bolsonaro’s
chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, has vowed to clean the government of
all public officials with “socialist and communist ideas,” referring to
the members of the Workers' Party of former Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula
da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Worse still, the new president erased from
the government directory all agencies dealing with the L.G.B.T. people,
who no longer figure among those protected by the Human Rights Ministry.
For his part, Mr. Maduro has militarized all of Venezuela’s
institutions — including supermarkets. He has handed out automatic
weapons to his militias, and armed paramilitary groups, known as
“colectivos.” He continues to support Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua with
oil money, and has raised tensions once again with Colombia; its new
president, Iván Duque, has accused Venezuela of dispatching assassins
against him. Mr. Maduro was originally elected more or less
democratically. But he is now one of a growing group of authoritarian
rulers in Latin America who exercise power undemocratically.
Though Mr. Maduro belongs to the hard left, and Mr. Bolsonaro to the
extreme right, they share authoritarian similarities. The clash between
these like-minded leaders is a conflict foretold. There are several
hundred thousand Venezuelans across the border in Brazil and Colombia.
Presidents Bolsonaro and Duque both detest Mr. Maduro. Both sympathize
with President Trump, and he sympathizes with them. A pincer movement
by the two countries’ armies, with more or less discreet United States
backing, is increasingly conceivable, particularly as the region drifts
to the right.
RS Wood <email@example.com>