Penn students from Brazil paid close attention when far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro won the country's general election with 55.2 percent of the popular vote two weeks ago. As the dust settles on that momentous election, students on campus remain divided over what the rise of "The Trump of the Tropics" will mean for the South American nation.
Bolsonaro has been criticized throughout the election for his homophobic sentiments and controversial remarks about minorities and women — including a 2014 comment that his female colleague in Congress was too ugly to be raped, a 2011 comment that he would be unable to love his son if he were homosexual, and a remark that refugees from Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East are "the scum of humanity."
Members of the Penn Brazil Club said they think it was a mix of economic conditions, corruption, and general discontent with the status quo that propelled Bolsonaro to victory, adding that his trajectory bears many similarities to the rise of 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump.
Penn Brazil Club has since hosted two on-campus round table panels to discuss the Oct. 28 election.
"I think we have a duty as a club to be the place where people go for information on the subject," board advisor of Penn Brazil Club Nicole Almeida said. “People are talking to each other and are very quick to label ... this topic has been very difficult to swallow."
Almeida, a College senior, added that based on pre-election polls, she had expected that Bolsonaro would win the election and bring on a period of divisiveness in the country.
“I knew that we were at a time politically and socially where people would be likely to take sides regardless of how much they knew about the situation," Almeida said. "Our country has been through the f**king ringer."
Many students expressed their opposition to Bolsonaro at the panel events, but Engineering and Wharton sophomore Rafael Bologna said he has welcomed the election results.
“I think it’s a common trend in the world right now, that we are having a different change of power and people who do not agree with some of the views can get upset," said Bologna, who is also the treasurer of the Penn Brazil Club. "I support Jair Bolsonaro, but I do admit that he says a lot of controversial stuff and then people have a wrong impression of him."
Director of the Portuguese Language Program and panelist Mercia Flannery said the division seen among students on Penn's campus mirrored what was currently going on in Brazil.
“Especially the past four to five years things have been very difficult," Flannery said. "There’s a lot of corruption, a lot of crime, a lot of uncertainty, we have a lot of political crisis, economic crisis."
Almeida said she hopes events such as Penn Brazil Club's roundtables will help students feel more informed about the situation and catalyze further discussion.
“What we need right now is for the country to unite as a whole and hold this person who promised a lot of change accountable,” Almeida said. “This is our country and we’re going to fight for it, regardless of [one's] ideology.”
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