"Brazil-Africa Relations during the Bolsonaro Presidency"
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez and Scott Morgan
International Policy Digest
21 November 2018
Originally published: https://intpolicydigest.org/2018/11/21/brazil-africa-relations-during-the-bolsonaro-presidency/
Incoming Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, has been labeled by the global media
as the South American version of President Donald Trump. One more
reason to add to the list of resemblances between the two may be a potential disengagement with Africa once the Brazilian politician assumes the presidency in January.
How has the dream of former President Lula da Silva
(2003-2011) for South-South cooperation soured? He was in power when the
concept known as the BRICS was first coined by Jim O’Neill.
This term evolved into an initiative in which Brazil joined the Russian
Federation, India and China (South Africa joined later) to form a new
bloc that would provide investment opportunities to emerging economies
without some of the conditions that other donors such as the United
States and the European Union often add. The leaders of these five
states, including Brazilian President Michel Temer, most recently met in South Africa for their annual summit.
Alas, Bolsonaro’s interest in strengthening ties with the U.S. and
Europe may put in jeopardy Brazil’s participation in the BRICS
initiative, as well as Brasilia’s engagement with Africa.
Brazil and Africa have a long history, dating back to the era of slavery. As a 2016 report by the German Marshall Fund
explains, “around 11 million black Africans were forcibly brought to
the American continents during the slave trade period. Brazil received
approximately 4 million, making it the country with the most slaves in
the world.” Brazil opened embassies and consulates in various African
states in the 1960s as Brasilia supported self-determination and the end
When Lula came to power, he wanted to make Brazil a global leader,
and he also encouraged South-South cooperation. At first it was the five
Portuguese speaking countries (Sao Tome and Principe, Angola,
Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Mozambique) that were the initial points
of contact as Brasilia sought to step out onto the World State under the
tenure of the Worker’s Party. Lula was also a frequent visitor to
Africa: a 2010 BBC article
about Lula’s final trip to Africa as head of state explains how he
visited “27 African countries on 12 different occasions, more than all
his predecessors combined.” But under the term of Dilma Rousseff the
government considered closing some embassies in Africa.
As for what can we expect once Bolsonaro comes to power? A 26 October article in Quartz Africa
suggests that, “if little is known about Bolsonaro’s views on foreign
policy in relation to Africa, his running mate, General Hamilton Mourão,
has been very clear. During a recent speech he criticised Lula da Silva
and Dilma Rousseff’s South-South diplomacy claiming that it had
resulted in costly association with “dirtbag scum” countries (African) that did not yield
any ‘returns.’” Scholarships that help African Students travel to
Brazil to study could also be in jeopardy. This is problematic, as a
relatively cheap and very effective way to promote cultural ties is to
have such exchanges take place at the educational level.
Nevertheless it is assumed that the military initiatives and commercial contracts between Brazil and some of its African contacts will continue. For example, in July, the Brazilian aerospace company EMBRAER and Sahara Africa Aviation
“signed a multi-year Pool Program Agreement for spare parts and support
covering more than 500 components for their two recently acquired
Embraer ERJ 145 jets.” Similarly, Denel Dynamics of South Africa and
Brazil’s Mectron, Avibras, and Opto Eletrônica are jointly developing
the A-Darter short-range imaging infrared
(IIR) air-to-air missile (AAM) system. In other words, there are valid
and practical reasons for Brasilia to continue its engagement with
Moreover, there is the question of Brazilian participation
in UN peace missions on the African continent, now that the UN mission
in Haiti, MINUSTAH, in which Brazil had a prominent role, is over. For
some time, there was the belief that the Temer presidency was going to deploy
troops to the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the
Central African Republic (MINUSCA), a crucial but struggling mission
(the authors of this commentary published an article in IPD, titled “Brazil to Join UN Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA,” in December 2017 about that possibility) however this has yet to occur. Brazilian Air Force Colonel Alexandre Corrêa Lima has joined
the international staff of the United Nations Integrated
Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic
(MINUSMA, in French), arriving in early September, but no massive
deployment has occurred.
There are plenty of questions about what can we expect once President
Bolsonaro assumes power next year. The future of Brazil-Africa
relations may not be at the top of anyone’s list of Brazilian foreign
policy priorities right now, but given how Brazil’s history of
South-South cooperation could abruptly come to an end in the near
future, it should be.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors
alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with
which the authors are associated.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
"Trump, Bolsonaro, and the Future of US-Brazil Relations"
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez
20 October 2018
Originally published: https://providencemag.com/2018/11/trump-bolsonaro-future-us-brazil-relations/
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” 1 Corinthians 15:33
Jair Bolsonaro will become Brazil’s next president after winning the South American nation’s October 28 runoff elections. The seasoned politician is well-known for a series of controversial and offensive statements, which include homophobic, sexist, and racist insults, as well as support for Brazil’s former military dictatorship. And yet, he emerged victorious with around 58 million votes.
Can the US government work with such a leader? Answering this question requires a discussion about the eternal conflict in international relations: choosing between national interests and morality.
(Some of) Bolsonaro’s Declarations
In spite of successfully campaigning as an “anti-establishment” candidate, Bolsonaro is anything but that. In 1991 he became a federal deputy for Rio de Janeiro to the lower chamber of Congress, and he has been reelected six times since then. He is also a retired army captain.
Throughout his tenure in Congress, he has often made extremely controversial and offensive remarks. For example, he stated in a 2011 interview with Playboy that he “would be incapable of loving a homosexual son… I would prefer my son to die in an accident than show up with a mustachioed man.” He also insulted female lawmaker Maria do Rosario in 2003, stating “I would not rape you, because you’re not worthy of it,” and then pushing her away (video in Portuguese). Similarly, he has critiqued quilombolas, individuals of African descent, declaring that “they don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation anymore.”
Nevertheless, his ideological stances have also earned him support from certain segments. For example, his constant praise of the Brazilian military, even his controversial support of the 1964–85 military regime (he has said that “the dictatorship’s mistake was to torture and not kill”), has earned him support from the armed forces. It certainly helps that he is a retired officer himself, while his vice president, Hamilton Mourão, is a retired army general.
President-elect Bolsonaro will take power on January 1, 2019, and his main priorities will likely be domestic, such as improving citizens’ security, improving the economy, and battling corruption. This last issue was a pillar of his presidential campaign, as he profited from the population’s anger at the never-ending series of corruption scandals, such as Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato), which led to the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
Can the US Government Work with President Bolsonaro?
The short answer is yes. Leaving his offensive remarks aside, President-elect Bolsonaro has said what that the Trump White House wants to hear in terms of foreign policy. For example, he has repeatedly criticized Venezuela. Likewise, there are ongoing discussions about whether Brazil may move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following the US example, in order to improve bilateral ties with Israel (particularly regarding defense issues).
Trade between the two countries is high and benefits the US (which President Trump will like). According to the US Trade Representative, “the US goods trade surplus with Brazil was $7.8 billion in 2017, a 93.6% increase ($3.8 billion) over 2016 [and it] has a services trade surplus of an estimated $19 billion with Brazil in 2017, up 9.6% from 2016.” Even more, there is also the multibillion-dollar deal between Boeing and EMBRAER (a powerful Brazilian aerospace company), which could be extremely lucrative for both sides. Even more, Paulo Guedes will be the new super minister of the economy, a move that has increased confidence from international investors, as he is regarded as one of the “Chicago Boys.”
Washington-Brasilia relations soured during the Obama-Dilma Rousseff era when Edward Snowden revealed that US intelligence agencies were monitoring foreign leaders, including the Brazilian president at the time. Bilateral relations have improved since then, but they could always be better, particularly at a time when the US needs strong allies in Latin America as the socio-economic and political crisis in Venezuela worsens. In other words, the pieces are in place for a Washington-Brasilia rapprochement. Trump and Bolsonaro’s similar attitudes and ideologies bolster this theory, and some specialists to argue that they would get along quite well should they ever meet.
With that said, from a moral point of view, Washington should not work with Bolsonaro. His aforementioned statements mean that state protection and support for minorities and the LGBTQ community in Brazil will be at risk once he assumes office. There is also concern about the future of Brazil’s indigenous communities and Amazonian environment, given Bolsonaro’s support of agro-businesses.
Similarly, the president-elect’s repeated praise for the 1964–85 military regime, which is known for torture, disappearances, and executions, is also concerning. He appears to plan to take strong measures to combat crime and lawlessness. However, one of Brazil’s (many) problems is its history of law enforcement officers who carry out human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions. Latin America does not need another leader who supports draconian measures in the name of public safety.
There are plenty of common objectives at the foreign policy and trade levels that could ensure the US and Brazil under Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro could have a mutually beneficial relationship. Even an alliance could be in the making. Nevertheless, Bolsonaro’s lengthy history of racist, sexist, homophobic, and violent statements makes him the type of leader that the White House should stay away from.
Alas, geopolitics tends to favor national interests and the personal preferences of those in power, rather than morality and respect for human rights. In short, sadly, national interests tend to trump human rights.
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues in the Western Hemisphere. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.