Chilean government summons Brazilian ambassador over Bolsonaro comments

Chile bolsonaro debate boric
Jair Bolsonaro entertained good relations with former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, but has engaged in petty fights with Gabriel Boric. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

The Chilean Foreign Ministry on Monday reacted to attacks made by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro against Gabriel Boric of Chile during Sunday’s presidential debate in São Paulo. In his final remarks, Mr. Bolsonaro said Mr. Boric is “the same [guy] who burned down the subway there.”

The Brazilian president echoed accusations that Mr. Boric has received from Chile’s hard right for his participation as a student leader in street protests a decade ago.

Brazilian Ambassador Paulo Roberto Soares Pacheco was summoned to clarify the comments to Secretary General for Foreign Policy Alex Wetzig. Summoning an ambassador is a kind of high-level, public display of disapproval. Having Mr. Pacheco talk to an underling is a particular insult to the Brazilian government.

In a statement, Chilean diplomacy said it regretted “the political use of bilateral relations for electoral gain.” It added that statements like the ones by the Brazilian leader “not only erode the bond between the two countries but also erode democracy, lowering confidence between the two peoples.”

Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola said Mr. Bolsonaro’s words were “unacceptable.” She added that “[Chile] understands that this is not the way to do politics.”

In his closing remarks during the debate, Mr. Bolsonaro tried to fearmonger about what a return to power of the left might mean — in a dig at the election’s frontrunner, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. 

The president tried to associate his main rival with other left-leaning leaders in the region, from the authoritarian Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua to Argentina’s Alberto Fernández, as well as the recently-elected presidents of Colombia and Chile, Gustavo Petro and Gabriel Boric, respectively.

“Lula also supports the president of Chile, the same who burned down the subway there,” said the Brazilian head of state. “Where is our Chile headed?”

Relations between Chile and Brazil have been tense since Mr. Boric took office, and neither side has taken the first step towards a rapprochement. The new government’s choice to represent the country in Brasília is Sebastián Depolo, a sociologist who once tweeted that President Bolsonaro is “worse than [Donald] Trump,” and said Brazil was witnessing the “beginning of fascism.”

The Brazilian government has yet to grant credentials to Santiago’s pick for ambassador, a tacit way of saying that it doesn’t want to deal with Mr. Depolo. By not offering up a new name, Mr. Boric is drawing out the struggle.