SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is traveling to Japan on Tuesday night for the G20 summit and among his baggage is a history of telling jokes about the small size of Oriental people, comments that have been viewed as prejudiced by certain sectors and considered to be funny by others.
As head of state, Bolsonaro has continued using the simple, carefree and snide language he used during his almost 30 years as a lawmaker and especially during his election campaign last year, behavior that has led to controversy during the almost six months he has been president.
Over the past few decades, Bolsonaro has a history of racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ and anti-minority statements which have shocked his critics and many others, but which evidently have played relatively well with his political supporters.
Weeks ago, the president, an army reserve office, insisted on publicly linking Japan and the Japanese with small things.
On May 15, Bolsonaro was confronted at the airport in the northern Brazilian city of Manaos by a Japanese man, who pronounced two words in Portuguese: “Brasil” and “gostoso” (tasty or pleasant).
Upon hearing that, Bolsonaro raised his arm, made the gesture for “small” with his thumb and forefinger and asked the people accompanying him, laughing, “Is everything small there?”
It was a remark that many interpreted as referring to the size of the male sexual organ.
A few days later, Bolsonaro came back to the subject and made a similar comment when speaking about the pension system reform proposed by the government to get Brazil’s battered public accounts in order after Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said that if the proposal ran out of steam in Congress he would resign and would leave Brazil to live.
“If it’s a Japanese-style reform, (Guedes) will go. There (in Japan), everything is miniature,” Bolsonaro said.
The conservative Brazilian leader’s jokes about the Japanese are just one of a long list of controversies that have arisen around him, including one he sparked after Carnival earlier this year.
The ultrarightist posted on Twitter an obscene video in which one man is urinating on another man to denounce the “decadence” of the South American nation’s biggest festival.
A few hours later, in another message on his Twitter account, Bolsonaro asked his millions of Twitter followers “What does ‘golden shower’ mean?”
Later, the president issued a statement in which he claimed that the video was not intended to criticize Carnival “in general” but rather to point out a “distortion of the Carnival spirit.”
Bolsonaro also wrote that “It doesn’t make me comfortable to show, but we have to expose the truth for the population. This is what many street Carnival groups have become.”
This year’s Carnival appeared to anger Bolsonaro with some of the huge street celebrations morphing into protests against the president and his policies, and posting the video appears to have been the president’s way of trying to “punch back” against such criticism.