Human Rights, Politics, Populism

Trump Only Likes Brazil Because Bolsonaro Likes Him

Jan 15 2019

By Jason Lemon* – Newsweek

Donald Trump Says He Only Likes Brazil Because Its Anti-LGBT, Pro-Torture New President Likes Being Compared to Him

“Brazil’s got a great new leader,” Trump said on Monday while attending the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention taking place in New Orleans, The Washington Post’s David Nakamura reported. “They say he’s the Donald Trump of Brazil. Can you believe that? But he likes it,” the president continued. “If he didn’t, I wouldn’t like the country,” he added.

Jair Bolsonaro was elected as Brazil’s president in a runoff election at the end of October. Throughout his campaign, he was often dubbed “Trump of the tropics” or “Brazil’s Donald Trump.” But some analysts have warned that Bolsonaro is actually far more extreme than his counterpart in Washington.

Far-right leader and former congressman Bolsonaro has spoken fondly of the nation’s military dictatorship, which ended in 1985, referring to it as a “very good period.” He has also spoken positively about  torture, and once told a female colleague that she did not deserve his rape. He also has said that he’d rather his son die than come out as gay. In 2016, when pressed by LGBT actor Ellen Page about his positions in the Vice documentary series Gaycation, Bolsonaro responded that he did not view her as gay and would catcall her if he was younger.

Since taking office on January 1, Bolsonaro’s administration has already moved to target Brazil’s LGBT population, as well as the descendants of slaves and the indigenous community, according to the Associated Press. But his controversial views and policies, which have been characterized by many as overtly racist and sexist, haven’t bothered the Trump administration. On the contrary, the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have only voiced praise and support for the new Brazilian leader.

“Great meeting President Jair Bolsonaro to reinforce our shared commitment to democracy, education, prosperity, security, and human rights,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter after attending the Brazilian president’s inauguration, sharing a photo from their face-to-face discussion. In a follow-up tweet, Pompeo also thanked Brazil for its “hospitality,” referring to Bolsonaro’s election as a “new chapter” in the country’s democracy.

After Bolsonaro’s inaugural address, Trump also tweeted his support, saying: “Congratulations to President Jair Bolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech – the U.S.A. is with you!”

Meanwhile, Brazilian activists and journalists have raised alarm bells about Bolsonaro’s plans for their country. LGBT activist Symmy Larrat pointed out that the new administration has already done away with the nation’s human rights ministry. “That body just disappeared, just like that,” she told the AP. “We don’t see any signs there will be any other government infrastructure to handle LGBT issues.”

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*Before joining Newsweek, Jason Lemon was a contributor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he wrote primarily about health, science and the environment. Prior to that, he spent five years living in Lebanon, where he helped build a Middle East-focused viral media startup called StepFeed. He has also written for a range of Middle Eastern and Western publications including The Christian Science Monitor, The Palm Beach Post, Al Fanar Media and A Magazine.

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Related:

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro joins Trump’s right-wing axis

The New Zealand Herald

 The Brazilian President is wasting no time in setting the South American nation on a new path, writes Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post

On Wednesday, Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as Brazil’s President. By the following day, he had already taken the first steps in turning his country’s Government sharply to the right.

Bolsonaro issued a directive giving the Agriculture Ministry, which is dominated by a powerful agro-business lobby, control over areas reserved for Brazil’s indigenous peoples and the descendants of former slaves. He made it nearly impossible for new protected lands to be demarcated. A government agency run by a prominent general was given the ability to “monitor” international organisations and nongovernmental organisations operating in Brazil. And the LGBT community was excluded from a list of groups whose concerns would be protected by a new Human Rights Ministry.

None of this should be a surprise. Bolsonaro is a strident far-right ideologue, notorious for his bigoted rhetoric against women, minorities, the poor and LGBT Brazilians. Once a buffoonish figure on the fringes of the country’s politics, he marshalled deep frustrations with Brazil’s dysfunction — its stagnating economy, its soaring crime, its corrupt political elites — to score dramatic victories in elections last year. Now he is following through on his promises to upend the status quo and crack down on imagined enemies.

Perhaps more conspicuous was the enthusiastic cheerleading coming from the Trump Administration. Bolsonaro has long been likened to United States President Donald Trump — another angry nationalist bent on radically shifting his country to the right while trying to tear down the political achievements of opponents to the left.

Former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon whispered encouragement to Bolsonaro’s camp. The Brazilian politician, meanwhile, launched Trumpian attacks on everything from “fake news” to refugees.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to President @JairBolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech — the U.S.A. is with you!” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Brazil for Bolsonaro’s inauguration. The next day, at a news conference with new Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, Pompeo offered lip service to concerns about human rights — provoked by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and promises to unleash a bloody drug war in Brazil’s slums. But Pompeo and other Administration officials are probably far more interested in the prospect of a new right-wing partnership between the hemisphere’s two biggest democracies.

At the same news conference, Araujo — an ideologue who deemed climate change a Marxist conspiracy and once proposed a tripartite pact with “Christian nations” Russia and the US — hailed the “realignment” being ushered in by Bolsonaro. He and his President have extolled illiberal right-wing governments in places such as Poland and Hungary while echoing Trump and Pompeo’s statements against leftist regimes in Latin America.

Under Bolsonaro’s watch, Brazil may move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a decision that would cheer the bloc of evangelical voters essential to his political success. The President also has signalled Brazil’s retreat from the fight against global warming and shares Trump’s climate scepticism.

It all marks a significant shift from the country’s previous foreign policy.

“Brazil has largely avoided the gaze of the United States, exerting its influence through regional alliances and multilateral institutions instead,” the Washington Post’s Marina Lopes wrote. “Bolsonaro wants to change that. He makes the case that Brazil could be the United States’ main partner in the region to contain leftist ideologies and Chinese influence.”

Of course, in the coming months the complexities of governance might overtake the imperatives of the campaign trail. For one, experts warn that Bolsonaro can’t follow Trump into a trade war with China.

“If China decides to retaliate and make him an example, the costs for Bolsonaro will be gigantic,” Matias Spektor, who runs the Centre for International Relations at Fundacao Getulio Vargas, a university in Sao Paulo, told the Washington Post. “It’s high-risk diplomacy — a blind bet.”

For now, foreign policy is likely to take a back seat to domestic demagoguery. Like Trump, Bolsonaro may need to maintain a climate of polarisation, keeping the anger that catapulted him to power on a permanent boil.

But his critics warn that such tactics will lead to the erosion of Brazilian democracy.

Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of the military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 and is the most conservative ruler to come to power in the region in decades. His Vice-President and several key ministers are former military officers. Lawmakers who support the new President greeted him On Wednesday by pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun.

In the past, Bolsonaro has lamented that the dictatorship didn’t torture even more leftists than it did. On Thursday he tweeted, curiously in English, about the need to “tackle the Marxist garbage” taught in Brazil’s schools, echoing his long-standing gripes over left-leaning teachers in the school system.

His opponents fear the new Government could reverse a generation of progress.

“We were building a new Brazil little by little, a Brazil with policies of inclusion for LGBT people, women, blacks, people with special needs,” Fernanda Moura, a Brazilian history teacher, told the New York Times. “What we see is that the people who are against these social policies don’t want us to debate them. That’s why they attack schools.”

HuffPost’s Travis Waldron argued that Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not some sui generis figure but “a creature of the rot in his country’s democratic institutions that had set in years before he’d entered the picture”. While Bolsonaro “has pitched his surge to power as the result of a ‘populist’ revolt”, Waldron wrote, “his base of support mirrors that of the old coup masters: Wealthy financial elites, segments of the population willing to trade the rights and lives of the poor and marginalised for their own safety and economic prosperity, and traditional parties and politicians who refuse to acknowledge their own roles in creating the monster before folding themselves into his arms.”

A similar confluence of forces and cocktail of angry emotions underlie Trumpism. How they get harnessed — or not — on the world stage may be a defining theme of the year ahead.

 

 

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