Brazil's Foreign Relations Take a Turn

By McKenna, Peter | Winnipeg Free Press, November 26, 2018 | Go to article overview

Brazil's Foreign Relations Take a Turn


McKenna, Peter, Winnipeg Free Press


With more than 200 million people, the eighth-largest economy in the world and as a leading power in Latin America, Brazil is not a country to take lightly. What its government says and does can have a significant effect in international politics.

When I visited Brazil last year, I was struck by how many young people welcomed the prospect of a return to military government in this crisis-ridden country. That view is also shared by far-right president-elect and former army captain Jair Bolsonaro.

For those who may not know, Brazil’s corrupt and brutal military government from 1964-85 was incredibly repressive, killed and tortured thousands of Brazilians, imposed strict controls on the press and shut down the national assembly. It may have restored a semblance of order and stability, but it exacted an awful price in terms of fundamental human and political rights.

When he officially takes office on Jan. 1, Bolsonaro has promised the sharpest break in Brazilian foreign policy in decades. It may be that he has dreams of a Brazil carving out a much larger role for itself on the world stage. Or he may have to settle, given the country’s pressing economic and political struggles, for a more prominent role closer to home in South America.

“Just like (Trump) wants to make America great, I want to make Brazil great,” Bolsonaro told a Brazilian TV program in July. He obviously wants to strengthen relations with the United States and to build a strong personal bond with U.S. President Donald Trump.

As befitting his depiction as the “Trump of the Tropics,” and known for being anti-LGBTTQ*, misogynistic and an evangelical churchgoer, he is set to turn Brazil’s foreign relations on their head. Like Trump, he fancies himself a “nationalist” and prefers bilateral deals as opposed to multilateral initiatives. He has talked openly about moving the Brazilian Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, taking a harder line toward China (and irritating the Chinese further by visiting Taiwan), threatening to pull out of the United Nations and pledging not to criticize democracies such as the United States and Israel.

While seeking to draw closer to Washington — a marked departure from Brazil’s previous foreign policy posture — Bolsonaro has indicated his desire to turn up the heat on beleaguered Venezuela. He has expressed his contempt for the dictatorial rule of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and wants to stop desperate migrants from Venezuela spilling across Brazil’s northern border. …

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