The Man With the Real Power in Brazil
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While Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro complains that lawmakers want to make him a ceremonial head of state like the Queen of England, the real power rests with Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of Congress’s lower house.
Pale, paunchy, and soft-spoken — with occasional ferocious flashes of temper — Maia sees his mission as defending the democratic institutions that some of Bolsonaro’s more radical supporters favor scrapping, Simone Iglesias and Samy Adghirni report. Bolsonaro’s son Carlos has repeatedly whipped up his massive social media following against him.
Maia, 49, showed his authority this month when he united 17 fractious parties to approve a crucial revamp of a social security system that is dragging on Latin America’s biggest economy. After the Chamber of Deputies passed the measure and sent it to the Senate, he wept as supporters gave him a standing ovation.
The speaker backs pro-market aspects of the president’s program, but has blocked more inflammatory proposals such as loosening gun-control laws. Without a strong democratic system, he argues, Brazil won't attract essential investment.
Attacks on Brazil’s institutions by some in Bolsonaro’s camp don’t help.
“They’re a movement, an antidemocratic fringe and this doesn’t pressure me,” Maia says. “But it does worry me.”
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--With assistance from Karen Leigh, Kathleen Hunter and Ben Sills.
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