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Brazil’s role in the United Nations: before and after Bolsonaro

. Jun 26, 2020
President Jair Bolsonaro with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo: Alan Santos/PR President Jair Bolsonaro with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter, which established the biggest and longest-lived experiment in global political cooperation in modern history. Brazil’s role in the organization has changed a lot over the years — from peripheral actor to aspiring power and now an almost-pariah status. It is safe to say that the country’s relationship with the UN has never been colder, not even during the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. 

If the UN was seen as a forum to legitimize Brazil’s position on the international scene, the order now — with Brazilian diplomacy being run by self-proclaimed anti-globalists — is to join efforts aiming at removing any influence the international body might have on global governance.

</p> <p>Just this week, Brazil supported a resolution proposed by countries run by authoritarian governments —&nbsp;China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Syria — that would limit the powers of the UN Human Rights Council to monitor abuses and crimes, turning it in a hollow cooperation venue.</p> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s place in the UN</h2> <p>Despite not having a huge role in World War II, the end of which sparked the creation of the United Nations, Brazil has always played a notable part in the UN. It was one of the founding members and delivered the opening address at the first UN general assembly, a tradition held until today.</p> <p>Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Euclides de Sousa Aranha assumed the presidency of the organization&#8217;s assembly in 1947 and had a hand in mediating conflicts concerning the partition of Palestine and the subsequent creation of the State of Israel.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1766182"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/1766182-bolsonaro-flips-off-the-world.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-1766182&amp;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>A reputation in tatters</h2> <p>The current Brazilian administration has demonstrated much less willingness to collaborate with the United Nations, thanks to the Jair Bolsonaro government&#8217;s ideological anti-globalist zeal. In the president&#8217;s first appearance before the international body, he delivered a <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/09/24/jair-bolsonaro-un-general-assembly-speech-unga/">bizarre address</a>, attacking Brazil&#8217;s indigenous communities and warning of the specter of communism in his country — claims which were as prejudiced as they were outlandish. As of the end of 2019, Brazil was targeted by at least 37 complaints in the United Nations.</p> <p>According to professor and International Relations Ph.D. Heitor Loureiro, Brazil&#8217;s radical foreign policy shift — which has undermined the diplomatic reputation enjoyed by the country since 1945 — harks back to the 1920s, when Brazil made a surprise exit from the League of Nations, the precursor organization to the UN.</p> <p>“In a certain way, what happens today in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro is very similar to what happened with Brazil in the old League of Nations, where decision-makers gave little or no importance to a multilateral forum. And this space is, and was, valuable for Brazil. As a country that is not a world power, Brazil can’t set international standards. So it is important to adapt to them,” the expert told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <h2>Bolsonaro is not alone</h2> <p>While embodying the country&#8217;s rebellion against &#8220;globalism&#8221; in the shape of the United Nations, President Jair Bolsonaro is not alone in his crusade. Much of the ideological spins on Brazil&#8217;s foreign policy are spearheaded by <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/06/03/brazil-foreign-minister-ernesto-araujo-president-bolsonaro/">Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo</a>, a proud anti-globalist and warrior against the antisemitic and right-wing conspiracy theory of &#8220;cultural Marxism.&#8221;</p> <p>Under the current government, Brazil&#8217;s diplomatic role has become progressively more isolated. With <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/12/18/foreign-policy-brazil-year-1-bolsonaro/">Mr. Araújo’s efforts</a> to move Brazil away from a policy of good relations with other nations, inducing <a href="https://veja.abril.com.br/mundo/chanceler-critica-onu-e-multilateralismo-diante-do-conselho-de-seguranca/">attacking the UN</a> during its Security Council meeting in May and <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/11/08/brazil-endorses-cuba-embargo-cozying-up-us-donald-trump/">cozying up to the U.S.</a>, the country has perhaps never been so ostracized on the international stage.</p> <p>The direct effects of this have been limited to rhetoric, such as the recent example of members of a U.S. House committee issuing an open letter declaring their <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/06/05/us-house-committee-wants-no-business-with-bolsonaro/">opposition a trade deal with Brazil</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>“What this Brazil, led by Mr. Bolonaro and Mr. Araújo, does by denying the importance of the UN — and delaying payments to the organization’s collective, breaking out of its international <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/01/10/brazil-united-nations-pact/">immigration pacts</a>, or hounding the organization for being &#8216;politically correct,&#8217; the country renounces a history of respect in the name of populist and empty rhetoric. Emulating what the U.S. does, sure, but without the same hard power Washington has,” Mr. Loureiro adds.

 
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.

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