In the first round of their country’s most tumultuous presidential election in recent history, Brazilians voted overwhelmingly for far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro, who fell just short of winning outright. The clear favorite heading into the runoff later this month, the former army captain has run a defiant and deeply divisive campaign—attacking women, racial minorities and LGBT rights, and romanticizing Brazil’s Cold War-era military regime.
The stakes of this election are of course high for Brazilians, who are dealing with a years-long economic and political crisis that has crippled the country, on top of rising crime. But migrants fleeing the dictatorship in neighboring Venezuela must be watching warily, too. Bolsonaro’s promises to get “tough on crime,” his ties to the Brazilian military, and his racist remarks about migrants, including Haitian refugees, have raised fears of a hostile border policy in Latin America’s largest nation.
Bolsonaro is unpredictable, and his campaign has not released detailed immigration proposals. Still, all signs point to a crackdown on Venezuelans fleeing President Nicolas Maduro’s repressive rule. In one telling tweet, Bolsonaro promised that Brazil’s policy toward Venezuela “WILL change.” In interviews, he has characterized the Venezuelans entering Brazil as “the poorest” of the migrants and complained that Brazil “already has too many problems.” Rather than a humanitarian obligation, he has framed migration as a national security issue. Brazil, he said, “cannot be a country with open borders.”