Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right presidential candidate in Brazil, has said the country should not feel guilty about its past as the world’s biggest slave importer.
The former army captain said Brazil “owes no debt” to its black citizens during an interview on the Brazilian talk show Roda Viva on Monday.
“What historical debt are you talking about? I didn’t send anyone into slavery,” he said, before going on to insist that Portuguese traders were not responsible for Brazil’s trans-Atlantic slave industry, but that black people “themselves handed over the slaves.”
Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. It imported more slaves than any other nation.
During the interview, the 63-year-old congressman also said that, if elected, he would attempt to roll back policies introduced by former President Dilma Rousseff that introduced widespread quotas for black citizens in higher education and public sector jobs, designed to tackle inequality in Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s comments provoked debate and criticism on social media, with the hashtag “#RodaViva” trending on Twitter in Brazil.
Fellow presidential candidate Marina Silva, currently third in opinion polls, said on Twitter that Bolsonaro didn’t deserve “anyone’s vote”.
An image of Roda Viva’s presenter listening to Bolsonaro with her head in her hands also went viral.
— lgtv radioativa (@gabbalu) July 31, 2018
Bolsonaro’s supporters praised the interview, with one Twitter user writing “I want Jair Bolsonaro as the next president of Brazil” and another saying the interview was “the best”.
Bolsonaro is currently second in most opinion polls after jailed former President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, who may be ineligible to run after being convicted as part of the country’s Lava Jato corruption investigation.
Dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics”, Bolsonaro is running as an alternative to the political elite and has pledged to be tough on corruption and crime.
Critics have said he is too inexperienced in financial matters and have raised concerns that his military past and promise to fill his cabinet with ex-military personnel will lead Brazil towards authoritarianism.
In Monday’s interview, Bolsonaro said Brazil “can’t continue” as a social democracy.
He has made several controversial statements on contentious issues such as race and LGBT rights.
In 2003, he told a congresswoman that she did not deserve to be raped by him. He was fined $3,000 for repeating the remark in Congress in 2014.
In December 2017, he said that, if elected, he would follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and move Brazil’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In the interview, Bolsonaro also continued to defend Brazil’s former military dictatorship, which ran the country from 1964 to 1985.
“There was no military coup,” he said. “A coup d’etat is when you kick in a door and take out the president. But the Congress declared the presidency void – that was the law at the time”.
He once again voiced his support for an army colonel who oversaw the torture of left-wing rebel fighters and dissidents and questioned the veracity of the victim’s accounts.
“[People] say they were torture victims to get compensation or votes, or pity, or power,” he said.
“We always only hear one side of history. If we’d lost, today Brazil would be like Cuba”.
Brazilians will head to the polls to elect a new president in October. Corruption and the economy are likely to be key issues for voters in the country, which is suffering the worst recession on record.