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In Brazil Congress, Bolsonaro’s record thin; army was focus

October 1, 2018
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This April 18, 2016 photo released by Agencia Brasil shows congressman Jair Bolsonaro during the impeachment process against former Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, in Brasilia, Brazil. In 27 years as a congressman, Bolsonaro only presented two proposals that became law -- one to extend tax benefits in the information technology industry, and another to make available an experimental cancer drug. (Marcelo Camargo/Agencia Brasil via AP)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In 27 years as a congressman, leading Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro only presented two proposals that became law — one to extend tax benefits in the information technology industry and another to make available an experimental cancer drug.

That is not to say the former army captain, best known for comments about women, gays and minorities that have garnered him fines and even formal charges, hasn’t been putting forward his ideas.

The Associated Press reviewed and categorized all 642 legislative filings by Bolsonaro since he entered Congress in 1991. These included proposals for new laws, amendments to current ones, requests to ministers for information and calls for commemorations.

The portrait that emerges is one of a candidate interested in helping the military above all else while also being openly hostile toward gays, transsexuals and any attempt to loosen the nation’s abortion laws. Bolsonaro’s few legislative successes and apparent inability to get other lawmakers to buy into his ideas raise questions about how he would govern in a multi-party environment where building coalitions is vital.

“There is a large contrast between (Bolsonaro’s) lead in the presidential polls and his very weak performance over nearly 30 years in Congress,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political science professor at the state University of Rio de Janeiro.

Bolsonaro’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. The candidate, who has both a robust following and many detractors, only recently left a hospital after being stabbed while campaigning on Sept. 6.

While Bolsonaro has made cracking down on crime and rooting out corruption the centerpiece of his campaign, he never points to his record and rarely mentions his time in Congress. Instead, Bolsonaro, who has been part of nine political parties during his career in Congress — the Social Liberal Party being the latest — presents himself as an outsider ready to take on the establishment.

As a congressman, by far his biggest priorities have been the military and police, which accounted for 220 of his filings, or one in three. His proposals ranged from improving benefits and health care of servicemen, including veterans of World War II, to shielding from criminal prosecution police who used force, even lethal, while on the job.

Bolsonaro, who as a candidate has promised to fill his Cabinet with generals, in 2016 proposed letting military leaders pick the government’s minister of defense to avoid a leader with a “Marxist” vision.

In one of his most controversial proposals, in 2013 Bolsonaro called for the lower Chamber of Deputies to have a formal session to mark 50 years since the beginning of the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

“The Brazilian people put in the armed forces to defend order, respect for democracy and to avoid the Cubanization that was coming,” he wrote, alluding to the 1959 Cuban revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.

Like the vast majority of Bolsonaro’s proposals, none of these went anywhere.

As a legislator, Bolsonaro’s second largest area of interest has been security: 88 filings, or about one in seven. These ranged from several calls to loosen gun laws to increasing jail time for robberies involving motorcycles.

None of his proposals involved a comprehensive approach to how he would combat crime, one of the central issues of the campaign. Instead, Bolsonaro’s bills addressed problems at the margins.

“In Bolsonaro’s time in the Chamber of Deputies, he has not introduced any elaborated proposal intended to become a state policy,” said Jose Alvaro Moises, a political science professor at the University of Sao Paulo, adding his bills were not “aimed at solving the large problems of Brazil.”

Bolsonaro’s productivity was low compared to other lawmakers. Ivan Valente, a deputy from the Socialism and Liberty Party who entered Congress four years after Bolsonaro, has made 1,507 legislative filings and authored five laws.

In 2013, Bolsonaro proposed revoking a law that obligates hospitals to provide physical and psychological services to victims of sexual violence. He interpreted the law as an attempt to “introduce abortion in Brazil” because the services could include helping a victim of sexual assault stave off an unwanted pregnancy, such as with the morning after pill. With a few exceptions, abortion is illegal in Brazil.

The legislative filings paint a picture of a candidate who opposes affirmative action and is arguably hostile toward gays and transgender people.

In 2003, Bolsonaro protested a proposal being considered by a committee to establish a “National Day of Gay Pride and Homosexual Awareness. Bolsonaro wrote that it was up to the entire chamber, not just the committee, to decide if young Brazilians should be influenced to think that “being gay or homosexual is a matter of pride for themselves and their parents.”

In 2011, Bolsonaro requested clarifications from then Education Minister Fernando Haddad, now the presidential candidate second in the polls to Bolsonaro, about materials distributed in public schools that aimed to combat homophobia. Bolsonaro wrote that such material “stimulated the idolatry of homosexuality and facilitates a rise in pedophilia.”

In 2015, Bolsonaro proposed suspending a resolution establishing how transgender people should be accepted and integrated into public schools. His central argument was that installing more bathrooms and locker rooms would be a financial burden on the government.

While Bolsonaro represents the state of Rio de Janeiro, there is little in his record to indicate he attempted to bring it many benefits. That stands in sharp contrast to many politicians whose main focus is bringing funds to their districts.

Indeed, the most Rio-centric thing Bolsonaro appears to have put forward was in 2014, when he proposed awarding Porto Real, a town of 18,000 people, the honorary title of “crib of Italian colonization in Brazil.” In 1875, the area in western Rio received the first contingent of Italian immigrants in the country, according to his proposal.

Many filings were thin on substance yet filled with the kind of symbolism that can provoke cultural wars.

In 1998, Bolsonaro proposed that all citizens be requested to put their right hand on the left part of their chest when the national anthem is being played or the Brazilian flag is displayed.

In 2006, he proposed imposing racial quotas for the 513 elected deputies in the chamber, arguing it would be a fair representation in a country where more than 50 percent identify as black or mixed race. While the proposal seemed strange coming from somebody who had spoken against racial quotas in universities, Bolsonaro made clear he was in fact making a point against such a system.

“Even though I authored this proposition, I would vote against it,” he wrote at the end of the two-page proposal.

In 2009, he proposed hanging on the wall a crucifix during sessions in the lower Chamber of Deputies and providing Bibles to lawmakers as a reminder that “God, country and family” are the nucleus of values that humanity should defend.

Sprinkled throughout the filings are several calls for commemorations.

In 1995, Bolsonaro proposed a National Sports Day to honor Brazilian Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna Da Silva, who died in an accident the year before. Bolsonaro asked for a “vote of honor” for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2005 because his justice system sentenced a Brazilian drug trafficker to death. He wanted a similar tribute for U.S. President Barack Obama for killing Osama bin Laden in 2011.

“Looking at his record, you get an idea of what he has been proposing and his basic ideas,” said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasilia. “He has been in Congress a long time but really hasn’t done much.”

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