Brazilian diplomacy keeps mum on Chile’s “virus of populism” remarks

populism Brazilian diplomats took Sebastián Piñera's remarks about the "virus of populism" in Latin America as a direct jab. But it wasn't.
Sebastián Piñera, President of Chile. Photo: Manuel Elías/UN Photo

Earlier this week, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera delivered strong remarks at the UN General Assembly to condemn what he called the “virus of populism” and “a new form of threat to democracy” spreading across Latin America. 

“In our region, a new form of threat to democracy has emerged, which is no longer external as before, but comes from within,” said the Chilean president, addressing the assembly. “The main threat comes from democratically elected governments, that is, with original legitimacy, that maneuver to remain in power, overwhelm the independence of the other powers of the state, co-opt the agencies in charge of supervising electoral processes, and, often crush their opponents, incurring in open illegitimacy of their exercise of power.”

Sources told The Brazilian Report that Mr. Piñera’s message was aimed at Nicaragua (where President Daniel Ortega has ordered the arrest of multiple opposition members) and Venezuela (where President Nicolás Maduro clings on to power despite a flat-out socioeconomic collapse, thanks to support from the military). 

Brazilian officials were left reeling, believing Mr. Piñera’s words could have been directed at President Jair Bolsonaro — whose conflicts with the Judiciary and electoral authorities raised fears about the health of Brazil’s democracy.

We asked the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry to comment on Mr. Piñera’s remarks.

“[We] do not comment on speeches made by heads of state of foreign governments, but we are satisfied with the coordination we maintain with the Chilean government and other countries in the region in international and regional multilateral bodies, to defend principles and values such as democracy, the rule of law, political freedoms and human rights,” said the ministry, in a statement.

Seasoned Brazilian diplomats point out that, since former Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo left office, Brazil has become much more even-handed with regard to Venezuela and other authoritarian regimes in Latin America, such as Cuba and Nicaragua.