Flag of Cuba on military uniform. Photo: Bumble Dee

That the administration of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is tightly linked to the agenda of his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump is well explored and reported. However, if this wasn’t already made patently clear by Mr. Bolsonaro making a subservient military salute to Mr. Trump’s ex-security advisor John Bolton, or the president’s son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, sporting “Make Brazil Great Again” baseball caps, then Brazil’s latest diplomatic decision can leave no-one in any doubt as to where Mr. Bolsonaro’s allegiances lie. For the first time in 27 years, Brazil has moved to vote against an annual United Nations resolution to condemn the U.S.’ economic embargo on Cuba.

</p> <p>Of the organization&#8217;s 193 member states, 187 voted in favor of the motion to repudiate the embargo. Colombia and Ukraine abstained, Moldova refused to vote, leaving just Brazil, Israel, and the U.S. to oppose the resolution.&nbsp;</p> <p>Going against the grain on a near-unanimous vote represents yet another case of the Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s quarreling with the United Nations.</p> <p>In September, the former Army captain shocked the world with his <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/09/24/jair-bolsonaro-un-general-assembly-speech-unga/">aggressive, ideology-filled speech</a> to open the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Later, the organization <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/10/16/maduro-makes-bolsonaro-look-palatable-to-un-human-rights-council/">showed concern</a> about Brazil’s conservative agenda in the run-up to the UN Human Rights Council vote, though the country successfully managed re-election.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Brazil is not in the good graces of the global community, things are equally <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/09/07/chile-brazil-prominence-south-america-diplomacy/">unstable on a regional level</a>. In December 2018, Havana dealt Brazil a blow by announcing its <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2018/12/20/doctors-problems-brazil/">withdrawal</a> from Brazil&#8217;s white coat diplomacy More Doctors program, created in 2013. Jair Bolsonaro’s election—and his inflammatory statements about Cuban doctors—was the main reason behind the island nation&#8217;s retreat.</p> <p>Despite compromising the country’s neediest areas by causing the absence of at least 16,000 doctors, Mr. Bolsonaro and his closest figures maintained that Cuba&#8217;s exit was positive, saying that the socialist regime withheld most of the doctors&#8217; salaries and restricted their freedoms. Now, once again, the Brazilian government are blaming the island nation.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Enough of flattering Cuba,” Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo tweeted. The conservative diplomat, known for his conspirational anti-left threads, blamed the work of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/10/26/sao-paulo-forum-lula-left-latin-america/">Forum of São Paulo</a> for the island’s “engine of oppression and corruption.” He called the unprecedented vote a call “for truth.” Donald Trump would be proud. </p> <h2>Will Brazil get anything in return? </h2> <p>Criticism of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s approach to the U.S. has branded it as servile. Indeed, after a number of concessions granted to Washington D.C. since the beginning of the year, Brazil has received no concrete returns from the U.S.</p> <p>In March, when Jair Bolsonaro and his delegation first traveled to North America, Brazil’s primary goal was to gain Mr. Trump’s blessing and take the first step toward membership of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). They returned triumphantly but were later left embarrassed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Seven months later, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, told the OECD Secretary-General José Ángel Gurría that Washington D.C. would only support the accession of Argentina and Romania for the time being, souring the mood in Brasilia. Mr. Pompeo’s statements were intercepted by <a href="https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/u-s-turns-down-brazil-s-oecd-bid-after-publicly-endorsing-it-1.1329594"><em>Bloomberg</em></a> in August, leading to a deafening “I told you so” from the Brazilian opposition. </p> <p>President Trump rubbished the claims as “fake news” and re-endorsed his “absolutely clear support to Brazil’s for full OECD membership.” But the message was clear that Brazil would have to wait its turn. Experts and the politicians wonder whether this U.S. support will ever actually materialize.</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The joint statement released with President Bolsonaro in March makes absolutely clear that I support Brazil beginning the process for full OECD membership. The United States stands by that statement and stands by <a href="https://twitter.com/jairbolsonaro?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@jairbolsonaro</a>. This article is FAKE NEWS! <a href="https://t.co/Hym9ZATHjt">https://t.co/Hym9ZATHjt</a></p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1182446696598511617?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 11, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <h2>Gifts from Brazil</h2> <p>During Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s trip to Washington D.C. in 2019, Brazil offered the U.S. access to hold space launches from the <a href="https://brazilian.report/money/2019/03/11/brazil-usa-alcantara-space-station/">Alcântara Launch Center</a> in Maranhão state, <a href="https://brazilian.report/money/2019/03/18/visa-exemptions-tourism-brazil/">visa-free</a> travel for U.S tourists and full-support on the Venezuelan crisis. In return, only promises. After Trump said he would designate Brazil as a NATO ally (which is geographically and legally impossible), it turned out to be only Major Non-NATO member nomination, which can help the purchase of U.S. military technology and weapons.</p> <p>A new unilateral decision from the giant economy has thrown cold water on the Brazil meat market. Unlike the government expected, the U.S. sustained its ban on the purchase of <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/daily-briefing/2019/11/05/brazilian-big-banks-losing-battle-asset-management/"><em>in natura</em> Brazilian beef</a>, a massive setback to Agriculture Minister Teresa Cristina. From January to March 2017—before the prohibition—Brazil exported 11,800 tons of fresh meat to the U.S., in moves worth USD 49 million.&nbsp;</p> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/1078967-52-when-jair-met-donald.js?player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>On November 17, Ms. Cristina will meet her U.S. counterpart Sonny Perdue, in an attempt to re-establish ties. But that is where the problem lies, as Tanguy Baghdadi, international relations professor at Ibmec-RJ, tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.&nbsp;</p> <p>“At this moment, Brazil has no foreign policy, only domestic policy,” he says. According to the expert, Brazil’s intention to leave its diplomacy to boil down to friendly ties with the U.S. and harsh treatment of other countries shows that Jair Bolsonaro is not interested in a regional leadership role.&nbsp;</p> <p>The relationship with Washington is one of the few points that the government&#8217;s main factions of support can agree on.</p> <p>“The military sees the U.S. rapprochement as a possibility for technology gains and military cooperation. The ideological wing is also interested in the U.S., as they see Brazil as a western country and the U.S., as a western leader. Also, they see Mr. Trump as a guy who will redeem the west and dialogue well with his nationalist and anti-globalist base,” Mr. Baghdadi explains.&nbsp;</p> <p>Therefore, even if the economic liberals which help hoist the government—such as Economy Minister Paulo Guedes—don’t fully agree with the votes against Cuba at the UN General Assembly, it’s not necessarily their problem.</p> <p>“The liberal wing sees the U.S. favorably, setting it as a reference country in terms of economic policy. <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2019/04/24/brazil-deal-china-relations/">China-Brazil relations</a> are good for the pragmatic liberals, but not the ideological wing. Saudi Arabia deals are no problem to the conservatives, but a bother to the liberal crew. The U.S. is the only consensus that unites all government wings.”</p> <p>Taking the Cuba embargo vote as a yardstick, Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro has to remember there are 187 other countries on the planet, and that Donald Trump and his platform won&#8217;t last forever. 

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BY Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.