(Q24N) Brasilia – Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections marks a setback for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the so-called “tropical Trump” who professed fervent support for Donald Trump and, according to analysts, is isolated abroad and more vulnerable at home.
So far, the Brazilian leader has been silent about the victory of the Biden, as has the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
While Obrador indicated that he will wait for the resolution of “legal issues” to pronounce himself and Bolsonaro has simply kept silent.
Elected in 2018 and a candidate for reelection in 2022, Bolsonaro modeled his political rise in the style of Donald Trump.
Both known for their ability to rant on social media and agitate their conservative bases, Bolsonaro and Trump are two of the most visible faces of the new right that re-emerged in the world four years ago.
More vulnerable to pressure
A 65-year-old former Army captain, Bolsonaro welcomed and encouraged comparisons, confessed his admiration for Trump and cultivated close relations, to the point of breaking with the Brazilian diplomatic tradition by openly supporting the re-election of Trump.
Bolsonaro, faithful to the belligerent style he shares with Trump, also staged clashes with Biden during the presidential campaign.
During the first presidential debate with Trump in September, Biden claimed that the United States should push Brazil to better protect the Amazon rainforest, a statement Bolsonaro called “disastrous.”
“Regrettable Mr. Joe Biden, from all points of view regrettable,” Bolsonarot said in a tweet.
A series of events that could lead to an uneasy relationship with the Biden administration, eager to regain US leadership in the international community.
In particular, Biden seeks to promote the fight against global warming, a sensitive issue for a Brazilian president skeptical of climate change and under whose government there has been an increase in deforestation and fires in the Amazon.
Trump’s departure also exposes Bolsonaro to further criticism and pressure.
“Trump’s defeat weakens Bolsonaro, makes him look more isolated. It means more negative attention to Bolsonaro, who will become the face of the new right. And it will draw more attention to his actions in the Amazon, in part because we will have a president from the United States talking about the issue,” Brian Winter, vice president of the Americas Society / Council of The Americas institute, told AFP.
“In short, there is the possibility that Bolsonaro is the ‘old man of the bag’ for a part of global opinion,” he added.
Although Bolsonaro may ignore Biden, in Brazil there are key sectors that will not be able to do so.
“For many Brazilian companies (the risk) is very clear. If Brazil becomes an outcast (…) it is bad for business, in a country that cannot afford to lose customers given the economic situation,” said Winter, alluding to projections that Brazil, hit by the coronavirus, will face a recession record in 2020.
The United States is Brazil’s second largest trading partner, a bond that Bolsonaro proudly assures, has managed to strengthen in recent years. The South American nation tried to position the two countries as the leading figures in the Western Hemisphere.
So why risk cultivating thorny relationships with Biden?
“There is not much strategy, it is more a question of showing constant support for Trump, motivating that internal base in Brazil that has a very positive vision of Bolsonaro and Trump,” said Cristina Pecequilo, professor of international relations at the Federal University of Sao Paul.
Bolsonaro “thinks more about the internal benefits of that speech than about the consequences it will have on relations” with the Biden administration, he added.
The Brazilian president will have to bet on pragmatism with Biden, estimated Paulo Sotero, from the Brazil Institute of the Wilson Center, based in Washington.
“It will take a lot of work to establish a dialogue and it will depend on Bolsonaro’s ability to interpret the moment correctly,” he said.
“He should quickly change some close associates,” in particular the controversial Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, Sotero observed.
However, it would be wrong to underestimate Bolsonaro, he warned.
His popularity remains high in the polls, and having emulated the rise of Trump, he no longer needs “the air of legitimacy” from the outgoing US president, Winter reflected.
“I am not the most important person in Brazil, just as Trump is not the most important person in the world, as he himself has said. The most important person is God,” Bolsonaro said at a public event on Friday, when Trump’s defeat it became more and more predictable.
“One of the lessons that 2020 will likely leave is that just because of Trump’s defeat, that kind of policy is not going to go away,” Winter concludes.