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Trump and Bolsonaro: Much Ado About Nothing?

12 1 4
18.04.2019

Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, the presidents of the two largest countries in the Americas, met in Washington in March, arousing high expectations. In Brazil, the event was presented as the clearest indication of the country’s main foreign policy realignment aimed at repositioning the nation along clear pro-Western, namely US lines. Once all was done, however, beyond the renewed iteration of the nationalist and conservative rhetoric consistently professed by the region’s two most vocal representatives of the right-wing winds blowing over the continent in recent years, there was very little that was actually achieved in what could have been a rather consequential gathering for both countries, the American hemisphere, and the world as a whole.

Trump has never really shown any real interest in Latin America. In effect, he has consistently portrayed the region in reductionist and derogatory tones – such as the misleading narrative about the growing hordes of illegal immigrants moving across the US southern border. These are skillfully deployed to mobilize his political base in specific electoral moments, such as during the most recent US mid-term elections. It was thus not entirely clear what the American president expected to achieve from a meeting with his recently-elected South American counterpart. What was more certain was that Trump seemed genuinely excited to potentially close ranks with someone he saw as a close ally in a region where US actions, especially overt political, economic and above all militaristic encroachments, have historically been received with a large degree of local skepticism and often concerted resistance.

Trump’s enthusiasm for his Brazilian counterpart was shown right after Brazil’s presidential election last October, when Trump cherished the fact his counterpart was being called the ‘Trump of the Tropics,’ stating that he looked forward to working closely with someone he considered well attuned to the goal of making their respective countries great again. But despite what some have initially referred to as a potential “bromance”, beyond the symbolism of stated ideological alignments, Bolsonaro’s visit to DC was largely defined by poor diplomatic achievements, especially for Brazil. Some of this was to be expected........

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