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.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

More Show less

The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

More Show less

In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

More Show less

With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.