Ideology and trade pose Iran dilemma for Bolsonaro government

. Jan 10, 2020
Ideology and trade pose Iran dilemma for Bolsonaro government Man passing under a towel shaped like a U.S. Dollar bill in the Isfahan bazar. Photo: BalkansCat/Shutterstock

A week after a U.S. drone attack killed Iran’s top military official, General Qassim Suleiman, in Baghdad, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took to Twitter to post a picture of his political nemesis, former President Lula da Silva, next to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran from 2005 to 2013. The picture came with a quote from the Brazilian Constitution, which states that “Brazil defends peace and repudiates terrorism.” 

Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters answered the tweet with comments praising U.S. President Donald Trump, saying Brazil should “stop supporting bloody dictatorships.”

</p> <p>Unfortunately, such comments are not motivated by adamant support for democratic values, as Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s praise of brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet did not raise many eyebrows among his supporters. It has more to do with the fact that, in Latin America, Iran has built closer ties with left-leaning administrations.</p> <p>During Mr. Ahmadinejad&#8217;s time in office, the country established fairly good relations with South America&#8217;s largest countries Brazil and Argentina.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the latter case, however, the proximity of the left with Tehran is troubling. Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who led the nation between 2007 and 2015, will face trial on charges that she helped cover up Iran&#8217;s role in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more. In 2019, Argentina&#8217;s Supreme Court of Justice upheld an arrest order against Ms. Kirchner, but her office granted her immunity. Ms. Kirchner <a href="">denies all charges</a>.</p> <h2>Iran: how close is too close?</h2> <p>Both Brazil and Argentina have struggled to decide which tone their ties with Iran should take. On the business end, however, the relationship has thrived. According to a former senior official of the Brazilian government, who asked not to be identified, Iran&#8217;s appetite for agricultural goods trumps any morals.</p> <p>“Iran is a big commodity buyer, which both Argentina and Brazil depend on. While the European market offers more resistance to the Middle-Eastern nation, South America has no trouble in shipping their grains to Iran,” the source told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>In 2019 alone, between January and November, Iran imported USD 1 billion worth of Brazilian corn, making it the second-most important destination for the product. One year prior, Iran was the largest importer of Brazilian corn, buying up some 6.3 million tons.</p> <p>Therefore, besides Brazil&#8217;s clear alignment with Washington—which surged overnight with Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s election—major Brazilian producers are frightened of the idea of losing such an important market.</p> <p>&#8220;Producers from the states of São Paulo, Parana, and Rio Grande do Sul—Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s electoral base—have no interest in seeing the president attack the country that buys their products the most.”</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1216168"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>With or without a Kirchner</h2> <p>In between Ms. Kirchner’s time in power (first as president and now as VP), Argentina was under the liberal and right-wing administration of Mauricio Macri, a billionaire businessman that had conducted the country with a different diplomatic approach.</p> <p>However, as more of a moderate than President Bolsonaro, Mr. Macri, put aside his terrible relationship with Ms. Kirchner and did not try to use his opponent’s recent past to threaten Iran, being aware that <a href="">agribusiness was his biggest ally</a> among a list of <a href="">economic failures</a>.</p> <p>Also, Argentina is the world’s third-largest corn exporter and the main global supplier of oil and soybean meal, regardless of the ideology of the ruling administration.</p> <p>According to Argentina’s former deputy secretary of industry and commerce Miguel Ponce, ideology cannot interfere in what countries pursue in business terms—especially during the trade war between the U.S. and China.</p> <p>“Argentina&#8217;s relationship with Iran is strained because the country acknowledges Iranian participation in the 1994 attacks. However, there is a need to &#8216;de-ideologize&#8217; diplomatic relations between countries to avoid further disrupting trade ties,” he told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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