Who should Brazil cheer for in the U.S. elections?

. Feb 02, 2020
Who will Brazil cheer for in the U.S. elections? Photo: Aspects and Angles/Shutterstock

Tomorrow’s Iowa caucus will kickstart the U.S. presidential election cycle, and Brazil will be paying close attention to the American political decision. Local markets may be affected, but the outcome may also have crucial repercussions on Brazil’s relationship with its richer and more powerful neighbor to the north.

But who will Brazil be cheering for?

</p> <p>That depends on who you think represents the country. If by Brazil we mean the Jair Bolsonaro administration, then the re-election of Donald Trump is the only positive outcome possible.</p> <p>However, for those opposed to the current president, having one of a broad field of Democratic candidates in the White House would be a political victory—undoing Mr. Trump&#8217;s administration and its ties to Brazil, as well as creating a host of problems for Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p>Either Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bloomberg, or Elizabeth Warren could create immediate problems for Brazil on the international arena, with pressure over protecting the Amazon and defending free press, criticizing authoritarianism and leaving a much more closed channel for Jair Bolsonaro, along with more support for strengthening democracy in Brazil.</p> <h2>The Iowa caucus and the Democratic field</h2> <p>Two of the U.S. Democratic Party&#8217;s main contenders have been publicly critical of Jair Bolsonaro, and openly supportive of his opponents, particularly former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, released from jail last year.&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Iowa caucus favorite Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren have been vocal about Brazil and critical of their perception of a rise in authoritarianism, especially with regard to American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has recently been the subject of a <a href="">criminal complaint from federal prosecutors</a> over his exposés concerning Justice Minister Sergio Moro. The pair also signed petitions to suspend trade with Brazil due to the <a href="">Amazon fire crisis</a>.</p> <p>Such an about-turn in <a href="">U.S.-Brazil relations</a> would come as a significant threat to the Bolsonaro government—meaning Brazil&#8217;s opposition is rallying behind a certain senator from Vermont.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="551" src="" alt="Iowa caucus u.s. elections" class="wp-image-31105" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption><em>Source: FiveThirtyEight</em></figcaption></figure> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Bolsonaro&#8217;s nightmare</h2> <p>Bernie Sanders, who leads the polls ahead of tomorrow&#8217;s Iowa caucus, has previously called Jair Bolsonaro a &#8220;far-right authoritarian&#8221; and a “threat” during the 2019 Amazon fire crisis.</p> <p>“We should pay attention to this: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right authoritarian, is rapidly destroying the Amazon rainforest. He is a threat to working people, minorities, journalists, and a habitable planet. No wonder [Mr.] Trump loves him so much”, he <a href="">wrote on Twitter</a>.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1078967"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>The Democrat also argued that Jair Bolsonaro is personally responsible for the aforementioned persecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald.</p> <p>“The free press is never more important than when it exposes wrongdoing by the powerful. That is why President Bolsonaro is threatening Glenn Greenwald for the ‘crime’ of doing journalism. I call on Brazil to end its authoritarian attack on press freedom and the rule of law,” <a href="">he wrote</a>.</p> <p>Mr. Sanders has also been open in his support for Lula, defending his legacy as president and celebrating his release from prison. “As President, Lula has done more than anyone to lower poverty in Brazil and to stand up for workers. I am delighted that he has been released from jail, something that never should have happened in the first place.”</p> <p>According to historian Andre Pagliarini, a lecturer at Dartmouth College, a Bernie Sanders presidency would be a disaster for Jair Bolsonaro. <a href="">Writing in Jacobin</a>, Mr. Pagliarini argued that Mr. Sanders&#8217; comments &#8220;evoke another challenge Mr. Bolsonaro may face, this time from abroad: the loss of a powerful, if capricious, ally in Donald Trump.&#8221;</p> <p>The historian compared the possible relationship between Messrs. Bolsonaro and Sanders to the pressure Jimmy Carter put on Brazil&#8217;s military dictatorship in the late 1970s.</p> <p>According to Thomas Traumann, a former spokesman for ex-President Dilma Rousseff, Bernie Sanders is the most anti-Bolsonaro of the U.S. candidates. That said, he highlighted former Vice President Joe Biden as the best Democratic option for Brazil&#8217;s current president.&nbsp;</p> <p>Mr. Traumann has a personal and historic relationship with the Biden family and <a href="">introduced Ms. Rousseff to Joe Biden</a> in 2013. In a <a href="">recent article</a>, he calls the former U.S. Vice President a moderate, suggesting he would develop pragmatic relations with Brazil, even under Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p>In fact, Mr. Biden served in the White House during the presidencies of Lula and Ms. Rousseff—developing good relations with both—but also publicly praised a good meeting he had with Michel Temer just after Ms. Rousseff&#8217;s impeachment and defended a strong partnership between Brazil and the U.S.</p> <h2>The &#8220;Trump of the Tropics&#8221; support the real Trump</h2> <p>While Brazil&#8217;s opposition could be relatively pleased with any Democratic candidate winning this year&#8217;s U.S. presidential race, the Bolsonaro government will be desperate for a Donald Trump re-election.</p> <p>Jair Bolsonaro, once nicknamed the &#8220;Trump of the Tropics,&#8221; is a huge fan of his American counterpart and never misses an opportunity to show his support. When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to further impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro <a href="">jumped to his defense</a>, saying the Republican president is &#8220;loved by the people&#8221; and &#8220;will be re-elected.&#8221;</p> <p>The entire foreign policy of the Bolsonaro administration has been focused on aligning Brazil with the U.S., believing that following Donald Trump&#8217;s example would lead to benefits for Brazil. So, another four years for Mr. Trump would be a big win for the Brazilian government.</p> <p>The “bromance” between the two is so strong that during the 2019 UN General Assembly, the Brazilian press reported that Mr. Bolsonaro bumped into Mr. Trump in the lobby and declared himself to his American chum, saying “I love you!”—to which Mr. Trump replied: “Nice to see you again.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if the relationship seems a bit one-way, Jair Bolsonaro has proven that he holds some sway with the U.S. president, underlined by Mr. Trump&#8217;s support for Brazil&#8217;s accession to the OECD, and the U.S. decision to suspend tariffs the president had threatened to slap on Brazil and Argentina.</p> <p>Along with the government, most businesses in Brazil will probably prefer a second term of a Donald Trump presidency. Even if some of the decisions of the US president may seem harmful to Brazil, the proximity between the Bolsonaro and Trump governments is generally good news for Brazilian investors.&nbsp;</p> <p>This repeats a trend noticeable within Brazil, where businesses and investors minimize and ignore much of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s rhetoric in support of the economic agenda of cabinet minister Paulo Guedes. If Mr. Bolsonaro manages to bring advantages to Brazil because of his links to the U.S. President, the financial community will happily see Donald Trump win another four years.

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Daniel Buarque

Daniel Buarque is a Brazilian journalist and author of the book Brasil, País do Presente (in English: Brazil: Country of the Present). He is currently completing a doctorate on Brazil’s global image at King’s College University in London.

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