American President Donald Trump welcomed Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro Saturday, March 7 to his Mar-a-lago estate in Florida where the two reportedly talked about Venezuela and closer cooperation between Brasilia and Washington, particularly on trade.
What Did Trump and Bolsonaro Agree On?
In addition to discussing the crisis in Venezuela and the US-Brazil perspective on it, the focus of the meeting was economic. Specifically, Brazil and the United States are hoping to pass a large bilateral trade deal this year. Trump is also throwing his considerable weight behind Brazil joining the ranks of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which would be a big step up for the economically important nation.
Brazil is the ninth-biggest economy on the planet and the United States is Brazil’s second-biggest trade partner after China. Brazil and the US did a whopping $103.9 billion in two-way trade in goods and services in 2018 alone, for example. Brazil is also the eighth-biggest source of visitors to the United States and the two governments cooperate in many respects including on technology, space exploration and medical research. Trump and Bolsonaro further agreed last March that they will be hosting further talks in the future about bringing American and Brazilian energy and investment closer together.
Trump and Bolsonaro: Peas in a Pod
The two also ironically spoke about a project called the Trillion Trees Initiative to stop deforestation and save one trillion trees by 2050. Trump has systematically and significantly slashed environmental regulations and funding to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, while Bolsonaro drew widespread opposition for his lackluster response and initial denial of massive forest fires that burnt down 20,000 hectares of the Amazon jungle. Both leaders rode to victory on a populist wave including angry denunciations of China and global trade only to soften and backpedal their approach once in office. Both have also relentlessly stoked cultural and political anger to increase enthusiasm for their movements and promise to be safeguards against any attempts at resurgence by the left.
Further similarities include the close involvement of the Trump and Bolsonaro families in their patriarch’s affairs, also known as nepotism. Bolsonaro tried to install his son Eduardo as ambassador to the United States, despite the fact that Eduardo barely speaks English and Bolsonaro’s eldest son Senator Flavio Bolsonaro has been accused of extensive corruption and had his former office raided last December in response to 24 related warrants. On the Trump side, numerous credible accusations of corruption in the Trump family including easy acquisition of coveted Chinese patents by Ivanka Trump have long been on the radar of investigative journalists.
More Similarities on the Domestic Front
Trump and Bolsonaro are both strongly supported and opposed in their own countries. In Brazil, the left calls Bolsonaro supporters “Bozominions” and it is common to see the term used in a derogatory way toward those on the right. In contrast, right-leaning Brazilians consider the left to be incompetent moochers who spent years milking Brazil’s economy dry and are not worthy of a seat at the table. Speaking to Inside Over on March 2, Uber driver Manasses said that Brazil’s socialist left had enough years in power and that now it is Bolsonaro’s turn and — even though he does not regard the leader as perfect by any means — he is doing a good job of helping the economy and keeping the country in order. A member of Brazil’s PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party), meanwhile, who preferred to remain unnamed, said that Bolsonaro is a dictator and thug who does not deserve to be in office.
The US-Brazil Approach to Venezuela
Venezuela is currently suffering under tightening US sanctions and an embargo, plunging millions into food insecurity and extreme instability. Unsuccessful coup attempts by recent State of the Union guest Juan Guaido have done little to ease the iron grip of leader Nicolas Maduro who holds onto power from Caracas. There is no question the US wants Maduro out: the question is how far Washington and its allies are willing to go and how many civilians they are willing to see suffer and die in the process.
Last spring Brazil backed a “negotiated exit” for Maduro, which was clearly unsuccessful. Bolsonaro has also stated support for Guaido and urged allies to follow suit, decrying that the Venezuelan people are “enslaved by a dictator” on Twitter. However, Brazil has not taken the step of deploying members of the Brazilian military to intervene in Venezuela. In February of 2019 — just over one year ago — Trump said US military deployment in Venezuela was “an option.”
Venezuelan Refugee Crisis
In January of this year Washington supported a plan to resettle Venezuelan refugees in Brazil, contributing significant funding and resources via USAID. The program is called Economic Integration of Vulnerable Nationals from Venezuela in Brazil. So far an estimated 4.6 million Venezuelans have run away from the poverty and violence in the country with nearly one million escaping to Brazil. Hundreds are still entering each day, particularly in Brazil’s border states like Roraima, where violence has also broken out with a devastating impact. Most Venezuelans continue on to Spanish-speaking nations elsewhere on the continent, but almost 300,000 have applied to stay in Brazil permanently.
The Trumponaro Show: Double-Talk Deluxe
As in so many other conflicts around the globe, it is odd to see nations such as the United States aping humanitarian responses to conflicts which they helped to significantly worsen and enable. Taking the United States and Brazil at their word on environmental action, refugee aid and collaboration on Venezuela for reasons of human rights is difficult to do when Washington’s decades of Latin American policy and undermining of governments and national economies contributed so much to the situation today — not to mention the obvious and ongoing relevance of Venezuela’s oil industry to America and Brazil’s interest in Caracas’ crisis. Nonetheless, the fact remains that for millions of Venezuelans and Brazilian and American workers — particularly those whose jobs may not be overly environmentally-friendly — Trump and Bolsonaro may be the best friends they’ve currently got.