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Bolsonaro’s foreign policy is “amateur and improvised,” says diplomat

. Jan 26, 2020
Bolsonaro's foreign policy is "amateur and improvised," says diplomat During the G20 Summit, Jair Bolsonaro takes a picture with then-Argentinian President Mauricio Macri. Photo: Clauber Cleber Caetano/PR

Foreign policy is a minefield, often having to contradict itself due to complex global realities. However, the Jair Bolsonaro government has surpassed all limits, battling imaginary enemies and defending the interests of its ideological support base, and not Brazil. This is the view of qualified diplomat Antonio Freitas, the creator of the Tapera Taperá project, a non-profit cultural center in downtown São Paulo.

Mr. Freitas is also critical of the administration’s exaltation of the Mercosur–European Union trade deal, as the conditions of the deal are not yet clear. What’s more, he considers the Brazil–U.S. subservience as akin to that of a dog and his master. Regarding Brazil’s foreign policy guidelines for the coming years, the diplomat is succinct: the government’s attitude is amateur and improvised.

“It is a government that is not concerned with making a foreign policy that serves the long-term national interest, but rather with the interest of a specific group that can help it guarantee a runoff in the 2022 elections.”

Antonio Freitas sat down with The Brazilian Report for an exclusive interview, the highlights of which are below.

</p> <p><strong>After a year of President Jair Bolsonaro, do we have a more detailed view of his foreign policy agenda?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It is difficult to judge because there is no official diplomacy guide for this government. There was the inauguration speech made by Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo, delivered to Congress, but that had been drafted at the end of the Michel Temer government. Then, there was Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s speech at the United Nations [when] which was just a collection of affirmations and stupidities. There is a lot of amateurism and improvisation.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>And what about the government&#8217;s actions, do they show signs of a path that is being followed?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>There will always be differences between the speeches and the realities of foreign policy, in any government, but the actions of the current administration present great contradictions. On the one hand, there is a crusade against globalism, while on the other, there is this desperation to join the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD), which is the globalist organization par excellence.</p><p>There is also the discourse of sovereignty, which conflicts with the government intervening in the internal affairs of neighboring countries, as in the case involving Juan Guaidó, in Venezuela, and criticism of the Argentinian elections. We can also compare this nationalist rhetoric with the government&#8217;s repeated gestures of submission to the U.S.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Is this a government that is working to please public opinion?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It is a government that is not concerned with making a foreign policy that serves the long-term national interest, but rather with the interest of a specific group that can help it guarantee a runoff in the 2022 elections. Some examples were the announcement of moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and the reckless involvement in the conflict between the U.S. and Iran. In the background, there is a fight against the Enlightenment, the French revolution, the Renaissance&#8230;</p></blockquote> <p><strong>How do you evaluate the Mercosur-European Union free-trade deal?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Negotiations were resumed during the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/12/27/brazil-president-temer-numbers/">Michel Temer government</a>, and the terms have not yet been made public. But all signs point to Brazil having yielded enough. The simple fact that we have export quotas for primary products shows that there are problems. The agreement exchanges the South American industrial market for the European agricultural sector. Apparently, we gave up markets in exchange for crumbs. I find it very complicated to celebrate a deal when we&#8217;ve delivered everything the other party wants. It is an unbalanced situation.</p><p>But the deal is on hold. There were several setbacks, such as the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/09/08/bolsonaro-macron-brazil-pick-fights-france/">attacks on the president of France</a>, Emmanuel Macron, and criticism of Germany. It is also necessary to consider the new Argentinian government, which is not going to be on board with this agreement. A bad deal is worse than no deal. I don&#8217;t think it&#8217;s a victory for the Bolsonaro government.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Was Brazil&#8217;s position in the crisis between the U.S. and Iran correct?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>It was quite reckless, irresponsible, and questionable, even going against constitutional principles. Brazil&#8217;s decision broke decades of Brazilian foreign policy, implemented since the 1920s, which favored prudence and placed the country as a mediator in these conflicts. We have significant trade relations with Iran. And what will the Americans give us in return for this canine-like loyalty? The U.S. only respects those who respect themselves. They are very pragmatic.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What can we expect from the Brics, as nationalistic leaders form the majority of the bloc?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>Brics is in an inflexible moment. Cooperation between the Brics countries seemed interesting, but it was superficial in fields outside of the economy. We recently had a summit in Brazil, but little was said about the meeting. No major announcement was made. These nationalisms helped to cool the multilateral dynamic somewhat.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>And what was the role of the Brazilian government in this scenario?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The Brazilian government also has its degree of responsibility, because the country which hosts&#8217; the meeting has a significant degree of maneuvering in the meeting&#8217;s agenda. And the government did not give due attention to the meeting. But nothing prevents this situation from changing in the future if the Bolsonaro government were to abandon its position of subservience to the U.S.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>On the back of this relationship of subservience, how is the military relationship between Brazil and the U.S.? And what about the much-discussed </strong><a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2019/03/11/brazil-usa-alcantara-space-station/"><strong>Alcântara base</strong></a><strong>?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The base would serve to launch rockets, not to house soldiers. I don&#8217;t see it as Brazil giving up part of its sovereignty. But we have to see what Brazil will gain in return. The money paid for the area could come already allocated, couldn&#8217;t we use it in some parts of the area? Would we have access to the entire area of the base? It is necessary to see what the terms of the agreement would be.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>In the past 20 years, South America has moved from a predominance of left and center-left governments to a series of right-wing victories. What is your view on this shift?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>We are in the process of transition, in a dispute to define the path that the continent will follow. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela are in dispute, and Argentina has made a complete about-turn. Brazil is in dispute because we do not know how far Bolsonarism can go, if the right is going to launch a different candidate, disconnected from the madness proposed by Bolsonarism, and whether the population is going to vote for the Workers&#8217; Party to return to power.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Is there a contradiction by the Brazilian government in sharply criticizing the Venezuelan regime and maintaining relations with Saudi Arabia, which is accused of not respecting freedom of the press and women&#8217;s rights?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>International politics is full of contradictions, and countries have their own issues. For Brazil, the importance of what happens in Venezuela is much higher than what happens in Saudi Arabia.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>What should we expect from the Brazil-Argentina relationship with the change of government?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>The statements made by the Brazilian government before the [Argentinian] elections were staggering, as was the visit by the Argentinians to former President Lula in jail. But I want to believe that pragmatism will win out. I hope that bilateral meetings and conversations are already taking place to prepare the groundwork for a relationship. There are many common interests, mainly in the economic field.</p></blockquote> <p><strong>Was Brazil&#8217;s vote in favor of the embargo on Cuba prudent? Principally because the island is gradually opening its markets?</strong></p> <blockquote class="wp-block-quote"><p>When there is a more significant opening, many countries will offer to do business, and Brazil might not be one of them. It was an unnecessary vote, which only panders to the ideological support base of Bolsonarism. We are <a href="https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/legislativo/eduardo-bolsonaro-diz-que-o-comunismo-e-pior-que-o-nazismo/">fighting &#8220;communism&#8221; in 2020</a>, but where is this communism that I can&#8217;t see? This struggle is added to the battles against other imaginary enemies, such as globalism.

 
Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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