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The Rise of the Bolsonaros

Explore the Bolsonaro family’s controversial rise to power led by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro

  • Christina Zeiders

 Monique Renne

Rise of the Bolsonaros charts the rise of Jair Bolsonaro and his three sons – also politicians – who wield enormous power in Brazil.

Born into a poor family south of São Paolo, Bolsonaro attended a military academy, joined the army, and became a career soldier. After years of dictatorship and military rule, civilian president José Sarney took office in 1985 and a new era of societal freedom began.

Disapproving of this new Brazil, Bolsonaro entered politics in 1991 as a deputy in the national congress.

Watch Rise of the Bolsonaros Tuesday, August 30 at 9pm on WITF TV or stream it through the PBS Video app.

Despite his combative manner, Bolsonaro’s pro-military, anti-feminist, anti-gay rhetoric struck a chord with a large segment of the nation’s population.

Brazil’s media dismissed his chances when he ran for president in 2018. Despite his proclaimed family values, Bolsonaro has been married three times and fathered a child by his mistress (who became his second wife). He convinced one of his sons to run for office against his first ex-wife and made homophobic and sexist statements that pundits assumed would be career-ending.

But by organizing a social media army to malign his rivals with fake news and secret groups on WhatsApp and courting the country’s evangelicals, Bolsonaro stunned the nation by winning the election.

Brazil's right-wing presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party (PSL) Jair Bolsonaro (L) poses with his son and senate candidate Flávio.

Watch Rise of the Bolsonaros on WITF TV Tuesday, August 30 at 9pm or stream it using the PBS Video app.

As president, Bolsonaro relied on the advice of his three closest advisors, his sons – Flávio, Carlos, and Eduardo. His presidency has been filled with controversy, including his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the curtailing of Indigenous rights, and the exploitation of the Amazon’s rainforests.

This October, the eyes of Brazil and the world will be on Bolsonaro as he faces re-election. His main opponent will be the left-leaning former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Declining in popularity, Bolsonaro is being investigated for corruption and spreading fake news, and his defense has been to cast doubt on the validity of the election process in Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s son Flávio, U.S. supporter Steve Bannon (who refers to Bolsonaro as “Trump to the 10th power”), and Brazilian-based journalists, including former Reuters bureau chief Brian Winter, Terry McCoy of The Washington Post, Katy Watson of the BBC, and former Bloomberg correspondent Shannon Sims are featured in the film.

Watch Rise of the Bolsonaros Tuesday, August 30 at 9pm through the PBS Video app or on WITF TV.

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