With Trump’s defeat, Bolsonaro loses his imaginary friend
At a civilian event in Texas, in May 2019, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro saluted a US flag, military style. Then he said: ‘Brazil and the United States above everything’ – echoing his campaign slogan ‘Brazil above everything’. That scene of subservience in the early days of his administration was not an isolated case. Rather, it was a glimpse into the future.
Everyone in Brazil knows that Bolsonaro established more than an idol-fan relationship with Donald Trump. It was one of vassalage and suzerainty. And in an attempt to help the Republican candidate’s re-election, Bolsonaro made it clear that his personal loyalty to the US president might outweigh his concern for Brazil’s national interests.
A part of the population, connected with other elites in Latin America who see Miami as their capital, agrees with him and supports him.
In Bolsonaro’s view, any pre-election support he could provide Trump would be well rewarded if the Republican candidate won. The problem is that a government that willingly accepts to be another’s vassal will never be able to complain when it is not treated with due respect.
In a meeting with Brazil’s foreign minister Ernesto Araújo on 18 September, in Boa Vista, a city close to the Venezuelan border, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo used the Brazilian territory to provoke the neighboring country’s government. After that, the foreign minister was summoned by Brazil’s Senate to explain why he had helped create a factoid to be used in the US election campaign.
When Trump needed to stress that he had allies in the US dispute against China, Bolsonaro gave signs that he intended to exclude or limit Huawei’s participation in Brazil’s choice of a 5G system. And he stepped up his attacks against the Chinese government, not only by blaming the country for the novel coronavirus – echoing Trump’s statements – but also by attacking the vaccine produced by Sinovac.
Let us keep in mind that China is Brazil’s largest trading partner.
In order to help Trump, who was seeking votes in states that produce corn – the raw material for ethanol in the US – Bolsonaro made life difficult for Brazilian producers, who had large stocks of sugar cane ethanol due to reduced consumption caused by the pandemic. The Brazilian president renewed the quota of US ethanol that could enter his country without paying import taxes.
And that happened after the US reduced the quota of tariff-free semi-finished steel that Brazil could sell them.
Interestingly, during his term in office, Trump visited several countries but Brazil was not one of them. And he pointed to the Bolsonaro government, more than once, as a bad example in the fight against Covid-19, saying that if it were not for his administration the US would be as bad as Brazil. Especially humiliating as the US under Trump leads the world in deaths from Covid-19.
Brazil’s current administration has abandoned more than a century of peaceful diplomacy towards its South American neighbors and independent, non-aligned relations.
In exchange for promises – that were never kept – of free trade and supporting Brazil in its quest for a seat at the OECD, and under a far-right ideology, Brazil has become a satellite state, not of the United States, but of Trump. Today, the country waits for crumbs to fall from a friend’s table. An imaginary friend, of course.