BRAZIL FIRST? BOLSONARO’S FOREIGN POLICY

Throughout Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to power, his controversial views on domestic issues have been front and center. But as the right-wing populist prepares to take office early next year, it’s also worth considering how he may seek to change Brazil’s foreign policy and global role.


Since the 1990s, Brazil has frequently made common cause with other developing countries to advance mutual interests, even when it required taking stances in opposition to Europe and the United States. Brazil has long seen itself as a progressive force in global affairs on a range of issues, including the development of global responses to climate change. From the mid-2000s onward, the then-ruling Workers Party (PT) made a particular point of strengthening Brazil’s ties with the other large developing countries of the “Global South”, like China, India, Russia, and South Africa.

Bolsonaro has pledged to smash all of that. He wants to refashion Brazil’s foreign policy in a way that both supports and replicates US President Donald Trump’s transactional, assertively nationalistic approach to global affairs. Here are the areas where Bolsonaro may seek to move boldly and quickly to put his stamp on foreign policy.

China – Bolsonaro is no fan. He’s criticized China’s political system and repeated long-standing Brazilian concerns that Chinese firms buy up Brazilian land and resources while undercutting its manufacturers. Earlier this year, he ruffled feathers in Beijing by making an official visit to Taiwan. He clearly seeks to pivot away from Beijing, but he’ll have to trade carefully: China has been Brazil’s largest trade and investment partner for almost a decade, and key industries such as agriculture and mining are eager to avoid clashes with an important source of both demand and investment.

Venezuela  The president-elect will likely support tighter sanctions and stricter measures to stop the flow of Venezuelan refugees into Brazil as its northern neighbor’s economy continues to collapse. He may find an ally in Colombia’s new security-minded president, Ivan Duque, whose country has absorbed more Venezuelan refugees than any other. If talk about a possible US-backed military intervention heats up again, watch the military-minded Bolsonaro closely.

Israel – Bolsonaro says he wants to follow Trump’s lead by moving the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This would be popular among Brazil’s large evangelical population, a solid base of support for the devout Bolsonaro. However, it would cause frictions with Brazil’s huge meat industry, which counts Arab countries among its largest export markets.

The environment – Bolsonaro is a climate change skeptic, and although he has backed off earlier pledges to remove Brazil from the Paris Climate Accord (which would entail a messy fight for him in Congress), he has promised to ease environmental licensing requirements for infrastructure projects, Brazil’s lucrative cattle, forestry, and mining industries. It isn’t clear how much that would impact the already-accelerating deforestation of the Amazon, but environmental activists are already concerned.

Trade – Brazil is a highly protectionist country. Bolsonaro’s economic team wants to change that – by lowering some of Brazil’s tariffs, leaving behind a cumbersome regional customs union in South America and, over the longer term, striking new agreements with the European Union and the US.

In contrast with domestic policy, where Bolsonaro will have to slog through a fractious congress, foreign policy is an area where the Brazilian president is largely unconstrained. If the going gets tough at home, Bolsonaro may look abroad for some quick wins.

Technology has played a big role in accelerating globalization. While it's our business to advance technology, we also believe that technology should respect and even help protect the world's timeless values. That conviction has led us to announce a new and fourth pillar to Microsoft's AI for Good portfolio – our $125 million, five-year commitment to use artificial intelligence to tackle some of society's biggest challenges. This new pillar will focus on AI for Cultural Heritage. Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.