What is in store for Brazil-Argentina relations?

. Aug 25, 2019
What is in store for Brazil Argentina relations? Alberto Fernández

Argentina primary elections were established in 2009 as a way to limit the number of candidacies on the final presidential ballot, with tickets receiving less than 1.5 percent of votes being excluded from the race come October. At first, the primaries were used to decide which candidates would represent their parties, but now—with usually only one candidate per party, the PASO (Simultaneous and Mandatory Open Primaries) has become something of an election predictor.

On August 11, voters gave an astonishingly wide lead

to the left-wing ticket, headed by Alberto Fernández and his running mate, Senator and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The duo got 47 percent of votes, against incumbent Mauricio Macri&#8217;s 32 percent. If this result is repeated in the final election, Mr. Fernández will win without the need for a runoff. As of now, he is already being treated as president-elect.</p> <p>From this side of the border, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has established Mr. Fernández and Ms. Kirchner as his political foes. Mr. Bolsonaro sought to stoke fears of a leftist win the day after the result, prophesying that their victory would turn the Argentinian-bordering state of Rio Grande do Sul into “a new Roraima,” invoking the specter of Venezuela’s economic collapse and the outpouring of <a href="">Venezuelan migrants into Brazil’s northernmost states</a>.</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <p>True to his style, Mr. Bolsonaro chose not to engage in geopolitical pragmatism. He could have defended the recently-signed Mercosur-EU trade deal (which was dubbed by Ms. Kirchner as a death blow to Argentina&#8217;s industry), and incentivized the soon-to-be-elected ticket to avoid the Kirchnerist economic recipe of overspending. Instead, the Brazilian leader called the duo &#8220;left-wing criminals.&#8221;</p> <p>Before the election, Mr. Bolsonaro sounded warnings that “if Christina Kirchner’s guys win, Argentina will have a lot of problems … what’s at stake is liberty and democracy.” Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo called Fernández a “Russian doll,” bringing former Brazilian President Lula and the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez inside. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes entered the fray after the primary, proclaiming that if Ms. Kirchner came back to power and wanted to “close Argentina’s economy,” Brazil would leave Mercosul.&nbsp;</p> <p>From Argentina, Alberto Fernández has hit back at Bolsonaro, calling him a “racist, misogynist, and a violent type,” while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of the two nations’ relationship. “With Brazil, we are going to get on splendidly. Brazil will always be our main partner. [Jair] Bolsonaro is a passing phase in the life of Brazil, just as [Mauricio] Macri is a passing phase in the life of Argentina,” said Mr. Fernández.</p> <h2>Why is Jair Bolsonaro so wary?</h2> <p>To answer this question, one must bear in mind that Mr. Bolsonaro has built much of his political brand and career in opposition to the ghost of what he calls an &#8220;international authoritarian leftist movement.&#8221; He has repeatedly called for an “end” to the left in Brazil in ominous tones, and sees the Latin American leftist parties as engaging in a kind of conspiracy, intent on placing the region under communist rule.</p> <p>Two months ago, Mr. Bolsonaro broke an international tradition of staying neutral about other countries&#8217; elections. Leaders do that for a very simple reason—they must deal with whoever wins. But Mr. Bolsonaro, speaking in Buenos Aires, was very clear about his wishes to see Mr. Macri re-elected.</p> <p>From across the Río de la Plata, Mr. Fernández and Ms. Kirchner also have made <a href="">no secret of their preferred governing partner in Brazil</a>: former President Lula. The Kirchner-Lula alliance is well-known, and both members of the ticket regard his imprisonment as unjust. Mr. Fernández said he would call on his Brazilian counterpart to release Lula and to hold new elections in which Lula could compete—a sure way to tick off Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p>However, the rising tensions between South America&#8217;s two biggest economies go deeper than warring political ideologies and alliances. Perhaps more significantly, Argentina and Brazil often follow similar historical patterns, in the sense that their economies experience similar cycles of growth and recession and they are often (but not always) governed by ideologically similar leaders.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Argentina, the left won three presidential elections in a row before narrowly losing to Mr. Macri in 2015. In Brazil, the pattern was slightly delayed: the <a href="">Workers’ Party won four presidential elections</a> from 2002 to 2014 before losing to Bolsonaro in 2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, only four years after his defeat of Kirchnerism and his embrace of austerity and foreign investors, Mr. Macri is on the cusp of suffering a sound electoral rejection. While he is more socially liberal than Mr. Bolsonaro, their economic policies are quite similar: cuts to public spending, structural reforms, embrace of foreign investors, and privatizations of state-held assets. Mr. Bolsonaro’s economic policies will face a similar test in 2022—if the economic reforms he has sponsored fail to generate growth, as Mr. Macri’s have thus far, he could face a similar fate.</p> <h2>Rising tensions</h2> <p>As the Kirchnerists are set to take power, Brazil and Argentina are on track for historical tensions not seen since the 1980s.&nbsp;</p> <p>The left-wing duo wants to renegotiate Argentina&#8217;s loan with the International Monetary Fund, and could put in place protectionist measures that would hurt Brazilian industry, as the neighboring nation is Brazil&#8217;s third-largest trading partner. Ms. Kirchner herself has praised certain aspects of Donald Trump’s trade policy earlier this year.</p> <p>If Mr. Fernández does indeed takes office, there will be a heightened ideological polarization between the two countries, as Argentina likely pursues a political economy contrary to those set out by Messrs. Bolsonaro and Guedes. Whether Mr. Bolsonaro seeks to paper over those as differences as much as possible, as Mr. Fernández seems to be willing to do, remains to be seen. If the bluster of the campaign season carries over into government, then Argentine-Brazilian relations will be in for a very rocky ride. 

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Jeremy Ross

Jeremy Ross is an intern at the Brazilian Report. He is a Masters student in Global History at the Freie Universität Berlin and the Humboldt University of Berlin.

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