The politician Paulo Guedes, both loved and hated

Brazil became acquainted with Paulo Roberto Nunes Guedes before he was even named Minister of Economy. So far, he just might be the most popular minister that the country has had in charge of the economy–quite an accolade, given that another of the ministers in that same pantheon was Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was president of Brazil for 8 years (1995-2002).

From the very beginning of the last presidential campaign, when the possibility of an electoral victory had not yet materialized, the then candidate Jair Bolsonaro never missed an opportunity to announce that Guedes would be one of his future “super ministers” and be responsible for the portfolios of Treasury, Planning and Industry, and International Commerce.

Guedes is a champion of liberalism. Even those who don’t see eye to eye with the minister, he remains a reference in economic liberalism. Having earned both a Master’s and Doctorate in Economics at the University of Chicago, he is also one of the founders of the Banco Pactual and the BR Investments finance group and has ample experience as a university professor, having taught at the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) and the Instituto de Matemática Pura e Aplicada (IMPA). Guedes offers security and inspires faith in his ability to manage the economy.

When the 2018 electoral campaign began in earnest, Guedes and Bolsonaro met and, right from the get-go, felt comfortable working together. Jair was never a liberal concerning the economy–something that is all the clearer when analyzing his stances in key votes in Congress during his 27 years as a representative. However, in an attempt to adjust the pillars of the economic agenda to his conservative line, Bolsonaro found in Guedes a missing anchor in an area that he admitted complete ignorance. “Who understands economics is Guedes. Economy is with Guedes, ok?” repeatedly said the then presidential candidate each time he was asked about technical issues, topics that in his opinion are quite arid and complicated.

It was in this context that Guedes, an ex-banker completely unknown to the general public, ended up becoming a public figure. In August of 2018, two months prior to the elections, a magazine of broad readership placed a photograph of the economist on its cover with the header “He could be the president of Brazil.

On the night of the 28 of October of that same year, with the voting already concluded, the electoral victory of Bolsonaro was confirmed. The reformed captain of the military and house representative during 7 consecutive mandates had been elected by 57.7 million votes and, thus, Paulo Guedes went from being a successful economist and owner of a hard-to-imagine fortune, to becoming one of the most respected politicians of Brazil and the primary advisor of President Jair Bolsonaro, openly ignorant in the area of macroeconomics.

Jair Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes, Minister of Economy
Photo: Jair Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes

With a blunt personality, often even surly, Guedes demonstrated being a nervous politician, impatient and angry with the responses of specialists, the questions of journalists–even those specialized in economics–and with the inevitable delays of the political world. In a recent public audience in Congress, in front of house representatives and senators, the minister–even having been prepared by one of the best teams in media training at the Brazilian capital–was unable to contain his anger and reacted to the taunts of members of the opposition, engaging in an angry dispute with representatives.

For those that defend Guedes–and understand him to be a part of the “Bolsonaro package”–his manners do not take away from his intentions of making Brazil shift towards a growth trend with the help of liberal policies, promoting numerous privatizations and establishing economic incentives in the private sector, cutting away its ties to the State. For those that disagree with Guedes, the image of a minister that is arrogant, choleric, and unprepared for the political sphere is part and parcel of the vision they attempt to propagate.

In other words, the “Chicago boy” Paulo Guedes became political very quickly: loved by some and hated by others. Two issues remain: how long will his “leader’s” (Jair Bolsonaro’s) support last, and how long is Guedes willing to struggle to maintain the support of the President.