Bolsonaro to follow Trump playbook at Biden’s democracy summit

democracy biden bolsonaro
Protesters wearing masks of several world leaders — including Jair Bolsonaro, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin. Photo: Bruno Mameli/Shutterstock

The much-touted Summit for Democracy kicked off today, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is scheduled to speak tomorrow in a pre-recorded three-minute video, and his participation will be a reminder to Mr. Biden that the legacy of former President Donald Trump is alive and well in Brazil. 

The Brazilian leader will defend the deregulation of speech on social media, in response to platforms’ efforts to crack down on far-right hate speech and disinformation. Mr. Bolsonaro and members of his family have had several of their posts removed for containing false information — including a live broadcast in which the president linked Covid vaccines to AIDS. The Supreme Court has opened an inquiry into his declarations.

Despite his constant attacks on Brazil’s electronic voting system, Mr. Bolsonaro will nevertheless commit to “free and fair elections” and the defense of human rights and minority groups. He will also support more female participation in politics — just days after sponsoring a bill making it easier for parties to circumvent electoral requirements to spend at least 30 percent of campaign funds on female candidates.

Washington sees Mr. Bolsonaro as an authoritarian figure, and his presence — and platform to speak — says a lot about what Mr. Biden’s Summit for Democracy is really about. The White House touted the event as a way “to set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal,” but invited illiberal countries such as Poland and Niger — while excluding leaders such as Bolivia’s democratically-elected President Luis Arce.

As GZero’s Carlos Santamaria noted, “what America really intends, those absent from the event think, is to form a club of Western-aligned democracies along with some fledgling ones elsewhere that the U.S. wants to have on its side to counter China and Russia.”