United Nations

Bolsonaro becomes persona non grata at the United Nations

The United Nations General Assembly used to be a gala event for Brazilian diplomacy. Thanks to a procedural quirk, Brazil always delivers the opening address, a tradition established at the second UNGA in 1947. With world leaders and diplomats hesitant to speak first, Brazil’s Oswaldo Aranha offered to make the inaugural address — and it has been that way ever since.

But gone are the days when Brazil’s opening speech was an event to look forward to. In 2003, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva kicked off his address with a live performance from legendary musician and then-Culture Minister Gilberto Gil, drawing a standing ovation from the dignitaries in attendance.

For the last three years, Brazil’s opening salvo at UNGA has been delivered by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro — and on no occasion has he elicited more than groans and disapproving head-shakes from the audience. Tuesday’s attempt was no different.

In a clunky and monotonous speech, Mr. Bolsonaro provided United Nations observers with a sample of what Brazilians are subjected to every day: a tirade of ideological waffle about the president saving the country “from the brink of socialism” and anti-scientific declarations about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indeed, Mr. Bolsonaro’s visit to New York City could not have gone worse with regard to Brazil’s image abroad. After lying at least five times and distorting another seven facts in his speech — which included endorsement for unproven Covid-19 drugs — the president was also told off by British PM Boris Johnson for not being vaccinated and became an international laughing stock after being kicked out of a pizza joint, being forced to eat his New York slice on the sidewalk.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was provided by U.S. President Joe Biden, who reportedly took care to avoid running into Mr. Bolsonaro in the UN corridors. Brazilian diplomats had worked hard to secure at least a handshake with Mr. Biden, but the message from POTUS was clear: Jair Bolsonaro is radioactive.