Biden inauguration ushers in uncertain period for Brazil-U.S. relations

. Jan 20, 2021
biden bolsonaro inauguration latin america Authorities tightened security measures ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration after new warnings of violence. Photo: Paparacy/Shutterstock

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Today, the impact of the Biden inauguration on Brazil’s foreign policy. Revived impeachment talks put pressure on Bolsonaro. And how the coronavirus could make Brazil older.

Biden inauguration shows need for Brazil foreign policy reshuffle

Joe Biden will be inaugurated today as the 46th U.S. president, bringing the Donald Trump era to an end. The transfer of power is also set to be an inflection point in Brazil-U.S. relations, which were characterized by

the <a href="">total alignment</a> of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Mr. Trump&#8217;s White House — a position that included aggressive remarks towards Mr. Biden and challenges of the legitimacy of his election.</p> <ul><li>Brazilian diplomacy has kept in touch behind the scenes with members of the Biden team — but neither Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo or Mr. Bolsonaro have had any official contact whatsoever with the incoming U.S. administration. Brazil was the last G20 nation to officially recognize Mr. Biden&#8217;s election win in November.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Sources within the Foreign Affairs and Economy Ministries, as well as the presidential palace, have told Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares that there is a growing concern around what bilateral relations will look like with Brazil&#8217;s second-largest trading partner.</p> <ul><li>For the U.S., Brazil is <a href="">not deemed as a trading partner that is important enough</a> to force Mr. Biden into stomaching Mr. Bolsonaro. Indeed, the country will not even figure among the U.S.&#8217;s top priorities when it comes to Latin America. But Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s environmental policies are expected to be a point of friction between the two nations —&nbsp;and could cost Brazil support from the U.S. for its bid to join the OECD, which <a href="">came from the Trump White House</a>.</li></ul> <p><strong>Trade.</strong> Brazil-U.S. trade saw a 23.8-percent drop in 2020, hitting the <a href="">lowest point in a decade</a>. While much of that decrease is connected to the pandemic, trade flows with the EU and Mercosur suffered much smaller falls (-13.8 and -17.7 percent, respectively).</p> <ul><li>On Monday, Mr. Trump decided to lift a ban on travelers from Europe and Brazil due to fears of <a href="">new coronavirus variants</a>, a move <a href="">quickly rejected</a> by Mr. Biden&#8217;s aides. That will disrupt business trips from Brazilian executives and delay the bounceback of commercial relations between the two countries.</li></ul> <p><strong>Insular diplomacy.</strong> Diplomatic sources have told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> about fears of Brazil&#8217;s growing isolation from the rest of the world, and that the wedge could grow even wider in the Biden era. Under Mr. Bolsonaro, Brazil has adopted a diplomatic style that could be summed up as &#8220;America First,&#8221; championed by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo (who once wrote that Mr. Trump was the West&#8217;s <a href="">only salvation against globalism</a>) and Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the president&#8217;s sons who also <a href="">acts as a foreign policy advisor</a>.</p> <ul><li>That posture is not only bad for Brazil&#8217;s soft power, but has also been a roadblock for the country&#8217;s vaccination efforts. Vaccine inputs have been held back in both China — which has been at the receiving end of Sinophobic antagonization from the Bolsonaro administration — and India. In both cases, voices within the administration admit that Brazil&#8217;s diplomacy has been an utter failure.</li><li>House Speaker Rodrigo Maia has initiated direct negotiations for vaccine inputs with the Chinese Embassy, in a rare bypass of official diplomatic channels — which shows just how strained relations have become.</li></ul> <p><strong>Pressure.</strong> There is a growing clamor for Mr. Araújo to be fired as Foreign Minister, but his utmost loyalty to the president has kept his job secure for the time being. Meanwhile, some see sacrificing the pro-Trump Foreign Minister as being a positive display of goodwill to Joe Biden and China, creating a possibility to reset relations with both global powers.</p> <p><em>— with Débora Álvares</em></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The I-word is back on Brasília&#8217;s lips</h2> <p>Despite Brazil being one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus —&nbsp;with over 8.5 million confirmed cases and 211,000 deaths — Jair Bolsonaro saw his <a href="">approval ratings hit their highest level</a> in the second half of 2020. As we explained in <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, this was thanks to the coronavirus emergency aid program, the biggest cash-transfer initiative in the country&#8217;s history, reaching 67 million people and driving poverty rates to their lowest levels in at least 16 years.</p> <ul><li>But this program was halved in September and expired in December, already throwing at least 11.6 million people <a href="">back below the poverty line</a> — and the president&#8217;s approval ratings are <a href="">starting to erode</a> as a result. To make matters worse, the government&#8217;s anti-vaccine stance and the massive health crisis in the North region have once again revived talks of impeachment.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Recessions are usually <a href="">bad omens for Brazilian presidents</a>, and Mr. Bolsonaro is set to face a multi-headed crisis in 2021. Talks of impeachment are no longer confined to the left, and even centrist politicians admit to it being a possibility, if conditions worsen further.</p> <p><strong>Yes, but … </strong>President Jair Bolsonaro still enjoys the solid support of one-third of the electorate — which has been consistent throughout his term. While that is not the approval of a strong leader, it could be just enough to avoid ousting. Other impeached presidents only faced political trials after seeing their approval ratings drop to the single digits.</p> <ul><li>Moreover, an impeachment can only move further if political forces can trust the sitting Vice President. And VP Hamilton Mourão, a retired Army general, has given nothing away.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Overlooked effects of the pandemic: fewer babies</h2> <p>During the pandemic, demand for birth control increased in Brazil. Sales in pharmacies rose by nearly 2 percent in 2020 — and 6 percent more contraceptive pills were distributed in public health units, with producers observing an 8-percent increase in revenue when compared to 2019. Indeed, the number of births in the country <a href="">fell 8 percent</a> last year.</p> <ul><li>Brazilian women have reported fears of consequences of Covid-19 infections on babies, and said they would be unwilling to remain in isolation for the majority of their pregnancy and early stages of the baby&#8217;s infancy. Moreover, pregnant women cannot receive coronavirus vaccines, as they were not included in clinical trials to measure their effects.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The pandemic is set to further lower Brazil&#8217;s birth rates —&nbsp;especially in higher-income households — and accentuate an already-steep aging trend among the population.</p> <ul><li>Brazil’s senior citizen population is set to <a href="">triple over the next 30 years</a>, according to World Health Organization data. By 2050, the population over 65 will account for almost a third of the entire country.</li></ul> <p><strong>Consequences.</strong> Discussions around the aging pace of a population are usually centered around its impact on the pension system. But just as the Brazilian pension system will require major adaptations to shoulder the burden of an aging population, so too will the country’s public healthcare network — which is inadequate in caring for the elderly, 75 percent of which rely exclusively on public hospitals for their healthcare, according to the Health Ministry.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/5025981"><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>The Bolsonaros. </strong>A 25-judge panel in Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s top state court will decide on Monday at which level of the justice system Senator Flávio Bolsonaro — the president&#8217;s eldest son —&nbsp;will face trial for <a href="">embezzlement</a>, criminal organization, and money laundering. The senator is trying to escape a trial court judge who initially presided over the case and is considered to be <a href="">tough on defendants</a>.&nbsp;</li><li><strong>Stock market. </strong>After short-lived euphoria about the emergency approval of two coronavirus vaccines in Brazil, investors turned their attention to lingering doubts over vaccination logistics. As we reported, a <a href="">lack of inputs could disrupt domestic production</a> of shots and delay inoculations. Despite a positive international scenario, the Brazilian stock market had a <a href=";utm_source=SD&amp;utm_medium=X&amp;utm_campaign=XV-MI-SD-NL-BSD-X-X-NOITE-X-X">day of losses</a>, as investors believe that the longer it takes for a successful immunization program, the more likely it is for the government to recreate cash-transfer solutions —&nbsp;thus jeopardizing fiscal targets.</li><li><strong>Banking.</strong> Just two months after being launched, the Central Bank&#8217;s <a href="">instant payment system PIX</a> already accounts for 78 percent of all bank transfers made in Brazil. The massive use was possible thanks to an intense awareness campaign by the monetary authority —&nbsp;as well as the fact that the system imposes fewer costs on banks and customers.</li><li><strong>Self-conscious.</strong> Facing pressure due to a violent second coronavirus wave and with impeachment talks gaining steam once again, President Jair Bolsonaro tried to defend himself by comparing his administration to predecessors. &#8220;I won&#8217;t say I am an excellent president. But there&#8217;s a lot of people wanting to get back to what the previous ones were, have you noticed? It&#8217;s impressive, they miss a … ,&#8221; he <a href=",nao-vou-dizer-que-eu-sou-um-excelente-presidente-diz-bolsonaro,70003586753">said</a>, without finishing his sentence.</li><li><strong>Chloroquine.</strong> The Socialism and Freedom Party (Psol), has <a href="">filed a motion</a> asking the Supreme Court to forbid the government from &#8220;inducing or incentivizing the use of unproven treatments against Covid-19.&#8221; The motion mentions chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, nitazoxanide, and ivermectin — all part of the government-backed &#8220;<a href=",saude-preve-gastar-r-250-milhoes-para-por-kit-covid-em-farmacias-populares,70003547892">Covid kit</a>&#8221; — none have proven efficacy against the coronavirus.&nbsp;

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