Brazil’s de facto Foreign Minister

. May 17, 2019
eduardo bolsonaro

“Nuclear bombs guarantee peace,” said Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro to students of Brazil’s Superior School of War. “It’s like [U.S. President Donald] Trump says: ‘a great nation begins with a great military.'” In isolation, this could be yet another episode of a Brazilian congressman going rogue. And, to be honest, talk about nuclear bombs is hardly among the strangest things Brazil’s Congress has seen—which includes a senator wearing Superman gear, and a congressman blowing up confetti on the stand during proceedings to impeach a president.

But Eduardo Bolsonaro is not just another congressman. Since his father took office as Brazil’s head of state, he has launched his unofficial diplomatic career, shadowing his father on international trips and even setting up his own international meetings. In Brasília, he has become known as the country’s de facto Foreign Minister.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">At 34, the lawyer and former federal marshal Eduardo Bolsonaro is serving just his second term in the House of Representatives, but he has already snatched the chairman position at the Foreign Affairs Committee, thanks to his record-setting 1.8 million votes in October 2018 and his father&#8217;s win in the presidential race. Usually, this role is hardly a thrilling one, with the head of the committee being tasked largely with analyzing bills related to foreign policy which are submitted to Congress.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But Eduardo Bolsonaro&#8217;s actions are less focused on his work in the House (where he has spoken only two times since the start of his latest term), and directed more toward a diplomatic role—thanks to him having a higher profile than the actual Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araújo. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This year, alongside his father, Mr. Bolsonaro met with Donald Trump in the Oval Office—while Mr. Araújo threw a tantrum for being left outside. He also went on a roadshow through Europe, visiting far-right politicians such as Italy&#8217;s Matteo Salvini and Hungary&#8217;s Viktor Orbán, as well as hosting foreign ambassadors at a Brasília luncheon and visiting the Venezuelan border. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Not to mention his proximity to former White House advisor Steve Bannon, who founded a transnational far-right populist movement—simply dubbed, The Movement—and elected Eduardo Bolsonaro as his Latin American ambassador.</span></p> <div id="attachment_17559" style="width: 1096px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-17559" class="size-full wp-image-17559" src="" alt="matteo salvini eduardo bolsonaro" width="1086" height="652" srcset=" 1086w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1086px) 100vw, 1086px" /><p id="caption-attachment-17559" class="wp-caption-text">Italy&#8217;s PM Matteo Salvini and Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro</p></div> <h2>Which hat is on?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s international role began even before the current Congress took office. During the transition period from the Michel Temer administration to Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s term, Eduardo met with conservative foreign leaders and helped organize the Conservative Political Action Conference, which took place in December in Foz do Iguaçu. His father, president-elect at the time, took part via videoconference.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Amancio Jorge Oliveira, a Ph.D. in political science and International Relations professor at University of São Paulo, points out that Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s actions are not necessarily unseen, and consist of what is called congressional diplomacy. His evaluation of Mr. Bolsonaro, however, is not without caveats. &#8220;The problem is that he acts more on his own than as a representative of the Legislative branch,&#8221; says Mr. Oliveira. &#8220;You never know whether you&#8217;re seeing Congressman Bolsonaro, citizen Bolsonaro, or the president&#8217;s son.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While Mr. Bolsonaro publicly plays down the title of &#8220;de facto Foreign Minister,&#8221; he has certainly been playing the part. That much was evident during his whistle-stop tour around Europe in April. The visits he made to Italy and Hungary bore no formal ties to the Brazilian government. Yet, the president </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">praised</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> his son on social media: &#8220;I thank Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, who has always opened paths for us and presented us in an honorable way to countries which once mistrusted us.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;There&#8217;s nothing to say that he can&#8217;t do what he is doing. But it is clear that he is overstepping his bounds,&#8221; says Rafael Villa, associate professor at the University of São Paulo&#8217;s Political Science and International Relations Department.</span></p> <div id="attachment_17560" style="width: 600px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-17560" class="size-full wp-image-17560" src="" alt="maga brazil eduardo bolsonaro" width="590" height="320" srcset=" 590w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 590px) 100vw, 590px" /><p id="caption-attachment-17560" class="wp-caption-text">Eduardo Bolsonaro wants Brazil in total alignment with the U.S.</p></div> <h2>The consequences for Brazilian diplomacy</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s prominence in the government&#8217;s foreign policy is unprecedented in recent Brazilian memory. Unless there is a declaration of war, the ratification of an international treaty, or a request for information based on international cooperation deals, the lower house plays no relevant part in the country&#8217;s diplomacy. The Senate, on the other hand, has slightly more involvement, having the power to confirm the president&#8217;s appointment of ambassadors.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Experts agree that Eduardo Bolsonaro&#8217;s actions as a de facto Foreign Minister deflates the importance of Brazil&#8217;s traditional diplomacy. Moreover, it compromises the very structure of the state, in which lawmakers should monitor the government, not act on its behalf. &#8220;In no other case has there been such confusion between the Executive and Legislative branches. There seems to be a lack of understanding about what the state is, and how its institutions are meant to operate,&#8221; explains Elaini Silva, Ph.D. in international law and professor at São Paulo&#8217;s Pontifical Catholic University.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It also sends mixed messages to international partners, who can be confused about who exactly is Brazil&#8217;s representative—is it the diplomats? Or the president&#8217;s son? &#8220;President Bolsonaro&#8217;s excessive conservatism has already put a dent in Brazil&#8217;s image abroad, which only gets more affected by this confusing configuration,&#8221; observes Mr. Villa.

Beatriz Farrugia

Beatriz Farrugia has ten years of experience working for international news agencies. She is currently an editor at ANSA and holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations from Fundação Getulio Vargas

Don`t copy text!