Biden’s victory heaps further pressure on Bolsonaro to change ‘belligerent’ foreign and environmental policy

By Kit Roberts

JAIR Bolsonaro may have to revert Brazil’s foreign policy to a more traditionally neutral stance amid Donald Trump’s political demise, an expert has said.

It is no secret that Trump’s presidency changed the tone and conduct of the US in its international relations.

The US president has drawn criticism both domestically and internationally for his warmth towards figures with unsavoury backgrounds. 

High on the list is Jair Bolsonaro, the hard-right populist elected to Brazil’s presidency in 2018.

The ex-military president’s climate-denial, condemnation of progressive politics, and bullish rhetoric has made him a natural ally of the outgoing president, and even earned him the nickname as the “Trump of the Tropics”.

Bolsonaro has poured an enormous amount of political capital into courting favour with Trump. The election of Joe Biden is highly likely to complicate relations between the two countries. 

Mariana de Andrade, a PhD researcher in international law at the University of Milan-Bicocca, told Redaction Politics: “In the past couple of years our foreign relations strategy has completely shifted from the historical Brazilian approach, which was to be very diplomatic, very neutral, very conciliatory. We started to take sides based on this approach to follow the United States.

“While before perhaps we wouldn’t be so belligerent with China for instance, we would try to be more nuanced, and maybe try to keep both the United States and China as allies, now Bolsonaro took sides.”

READ MORE: Brazil: Covid-19 deaths are soaring, but so are Bolsonaro’s approval ratings. Why?

The PT, short for ‘Partido dos Trabalhadores’ or ‘Workers Party’, has become increasingly unpopular as many people view it as wracked with corruption. For many Brazilians, Bolsonaro was the antidote – drawing comparisons with Trump’s alternative to traditional neoliberalism.

Mariana added: “Bolsonaro came resonating with his Trump approach of being an outsider, even though that was not quite true, but being with his outsider rhetoric and saying ‘okay I’m not corrupted, I’m new, I’m going to change things’.

“I think that to a large extent Bolsonaro’s election was not only a reaction against the PT. That was in my view the main reason, but it was also a reflection of this American discourse that was taking place.

“Bolsonaro may not have had a very clear agenda, he still doesn’t, but to a large extent he modelled it according to what the Trump administration was going for.

“Trump’s election was very much a watershed in international relations, and it of course influenced the elections in Brazil.”

As far as US-Brazil relations go, this makes it crucial for Bolsonaro to find a way to maintain relations with the US.

She added: “The United States is our only relevant good ally in the scenario because of this whole foreign policy approach that is being followed by Bolsonaro.

“He basically shut off all of the other allies just to stay faithful to Trump, and if we have a change in the United States administration, we either will have to rethink out relationships with the other countries or re-adapt our relationship with the United States, or hopefully both.” 

“We will have to see how he will transition. In any case it won’t be very easy because Bolsonaro is actually openly supporting Trump.

“He wanted to appoint his son to be the representative in the United States, and then he also had his son openly campaigning for ‘Trump 2020’.

“So in any case that is going to be a difficult shift.”

Biden’s victory appears to have undermined years of Bolsonaro’s work.

Despite sweeping into power in 2018, Bolsonaro has only ever had to deal with his mirror image in the White House. In contrast, President-elect Biden has already made no secret of his distaste for Bolsonaro’s programme.

The two have already clashed, with Bolsonaro taking particular offence at Biden’s call for Brazil to fight deforestation with foreign assistance, claiming he will defend his country with “gunpowder”.

It has left the Brazilian president in a position where he has sacrificed a huge amount of political capital internationally to support a US administration that ultimately lasted only one term.

Bolsonaro’s past actions certainly do not suggest a conciliatory tone is likely, and his silence following Biden’s victory only reinforces that image.

For an extended conversation with Mariana de Andrade on Bolsonaro, Trump and the 2022 election in Brazil, become a Patron now to unlock the full post.

Featured Image: Palácio do Planalto @ Flickr

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