Jair Bolsonaro has taunted Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, over the Chilean dictatorship that tortured her and her parents, after she criticised rising police killings and a “shrinking” space for democracy in Brazil.

“She is defending the human rights of vagabonds,” the Brazilian president told reporters on Wednesday. “Senhora Michelle Bachelet, if Pinochet’s people had not defeated the left in 73 – among them your father – Chile would be a Cuba today.”

Bachelet’s father, Alberto, an air force general, was imprisoned and tortured for opposing the 1973 military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, and died of a heart attack in prison. In 2014, two retired Chilean military officers were handed prison sentences for torturing him. Bachelet and her mother, Ángela Jeria, were also imprisoned.

Bolsonaro has frequently praised Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship and expressed admiration for rulers such as Pinochet, whose regime killed more than 3,000 people from 1973 to 1990.

His comments came after Bachelet criticized the increase in police killings in Brazil’s two biggest cities.

In the first half of this year, 426 people were killed by police in São Paulo state while in Rio de Janeiro state, 881 were killed by police in the same period. The figures mean that Rio’s police killings increased by 15%, even as total homicides in the state dropped by 23%, the G1 website reported.

Last month, Bolsonaro said he hoped proposed new laws making it easier for police to kill would mean criminals “die in the street like cockroaches”.

“We have seen large increases in police violence in 2019 amidst a public discourse legitimising summary executions,” Bachelet said. Denials of state crimes can “entrench impunity and reinforce the message that state agents are above the law”, she said. Black people and favela residents were disproportionately affected, she added.

Bachelet also raised concerns over the “shrinking of civil and democratic space” in Brazil and said at least eight human rights defenders were killed from January to June “mainly over land disputes”. She said a third of Amazon fires were in protected indigenous or conservation areas.

On his Facebook, Bolsonaro said Bachelet was following France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, who he accused of “meddl[ing] in internal affairs and Brazilian sovereignty” after he spoke out over the Amazon fires crisis.

In July, Bachelet came under fire from the leftwing government of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro after a scathing UN report on its “grave violations of economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights.”

Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at São Paulo’s Getúlio Vargas Foundation, said Bolsonaro’s outburst could have an impact on his close relationship with Chile’s conservative president, Sebastián Piñera.

“Bolsonaro’s rhetoric will make it politically more costly for Piñera to embrace this project,” Stuenkel said, adding that it showed the more moderate wings in the Brazilian government “are unable to contain or moderate the president’s rhetoric”.


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