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Brazil and the United States: Will President Bolsonaro Bandwagon?

32 2 17

Jair Bolsonaro, the retired army captain who wiped the floor with this opponents and won the presidency of Brazil, the world’s fifth largest democracy, says he will honor his main foreign-policy campaign pledge: to bandwagon with the United States.

There are no doubts that the ideological context of Bolsonaro’s rise facilitates his policy of diplomatic alignment with the United States. From the very outset, Bolsonaro has made a big deal of his admiration for the United States. During a campaign rally for the Brazilian diaspora in Miami, he saluted the American flag while his supporters chanted “USA! USA!”. Furthermore, he has on many occasions professed his fascination with Donald Trump. “I look to Trump as a role model”. The US president has responded in kind. Upon learning of Bolsonaro’s win, Trump called to congratulate his new colleague effusively, while John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, hailed Bolsonaro as good news, going on to praise him as a “like-minded” leader. Steve Bannon endorsed the new president of Brazil as a leading figure in the current right-wing, transnational populist wave.

To be sure, Bolsonaro is far more radical and outlandish than Trump – consider for instance his celebration of Brazil’s old-time military dictatorship, murdering militias, and the use of torture as a legitimate tool to combat crime. But the way he crafted his campaign message and went about implementing his strategy to reach Brazil’s highest office would not have happened in its current form without the power of Trump’s example. An outsider to the mainstream of Brazilian politics, Bolsonaro, too, rose to power by denouncing the rot at the heart of the country’s political system, screaming against political correctness, shouting abuse at minorities, and attacking newspapers and TV channels who dare to question him. His use of social media has been effective at navigating a political environment marked by polarization and the widespread dissemination of fake news. And Bolsonaro has stated that minorities ought to bow before the majority, offending blacks, women, gays, and indigenous populations in the process. He is an example of how Trumpism has gone global.

Now Bolsonaro says he wants to jump on America’s bandwagon. If this were to happen, it would be a radical departure for a country that has for decades had a fairly stable relationship with the United States, but has crafted its diplomacy to keep Washington at arm’s length. Can admiration for and emulation of Donald Trump actually sustain a policy of alignment?

Perils of Cheap Talk

Bolsonaro has made a number of policy pledges that, if and when implemented, would denote alignment with the United States. First of all, he is promising to push back against Chinese encroachment in Latin America. This comes at a time when officials in Washington begin to come to terms with the growing competition in their own backyard. Second, the next ruler of Brazil says he will follow Trump’s lead in moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Whilst on the campaign trail, Bolsonaro also toyed with the idea of withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council and from the Paris accords on climate change. Upon being elected, he has hinted at the possibility of severing diplomatic ties with Cuba. The president elect has also promised a tougher stance on migration, organized crime, and drug trafficking – all of which would in practice entail greater coordination with the United States. Bolsonaro wants to strengthen cooperation in military-to-military relations with the US, and his allies in Congress are already planning to introduce a tougher antiterror law that would be welcomed in Washington. Taken as a whole, Bolsonaro’s foreign-policy promises signal that he will be a proud member of the informal grouping of right-wing presidents in Latin America who are cozying up to Trump, including Mauricio Macri in Argentina, Iván Duque in Colombia and Sebstián Piñera in Chile.

And yet, so many of these promises could well turn out to be little more than hot air. Leaders make promises during the........

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