Are United States President Donald Trump and his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, about to become best buddies? And does this mean Trump is developing a soft spot for the South American country? There certainly are signs that seem to suggest this.
Bolsonaro has been wooing the US “dealmaker-in-chief” for a while now, but when he met Trump in Washington on Tuesday, it seemed that something was missing for a veritable bromance to blossom.
Even so, Bolsonaro signed an agreement to jointly run a Brazilian missile base with the US. The deal over the Alcantara site could generate millions in revenue for Brazil, but it still needs to be ratified by the country’s congress. Bolsonaro also got Trump to publicly support Brazil joining the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and perhaps even NATO.
Parroting Trump’s rhetoric
One might have expected Bolsonaro, a public supporter of Trump, to have achieved more during his visit. But why would Trump want to support someone who mirrors his own rhetoric? Because Bolsonaro doubts climate change is real and opposes economic globalization, like his US idol? And because he lashes out at his critics, as Trump does? Hardly.
Bolsonaro appears to have realized that his attempts to ingratiate himself with Trump haven’t led to much. Which is why he also briefly met with Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Trump won’t care about this diplomatic affront. Bolsonaro is not all that interesting to him at the moment. For weeks, Trump has been focused on and enthralled by Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president, Juan Guaido.
All show and no substance
It must be disappointing for Bolsonaro. He’s done so much to win Trump’s affection. Like when he announced in January 2019 that Brazil would follow the US and move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Or when he said he wanted to leave the United Nations migration pact and Paris climate accord. Not only that, he even scrapped visa requirements for US citizens traveling to Brazil.
But aside from this last promise, everything else turned out to be nothing but hot air. Bolsonaro and his foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, soon realized that relocating their country’s embassy to Jerusalem would jeopardize Brazil’s lucrative exports of halal meat to the Arab world. And that leaving the Paris climate accord would mean negations over a free trade deal between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur would be terminated.
It turns out that despite all the rhetoric Bolsonaro and Trump do not actually have that many shared interests. Both have droned on about all their commonalities, yet in reality this is all show and no substance.
Little common ground
Case in point: Venezuela. While Bolsonaro and Trump both hate everything to do with the “socialism of the 21st century” and can’t wait to see Present Nicolas Maduro gone, neither can agree on a strategy towards the country. Bolsonaro, for example, has categorically ruled out a military intervention in Venezuela, which military figures in his own cabinet vehemently oppose.
Or take China. Why would Bolsonaro join Trump’s anti-China campaign if this jeopardizes Brazil’s important trade relationship with Beijing? After all, Brazil exports twice as many goods to China as the US.
Or take the question of free trade. The US has struck a free trade deal with 11 Latin American countries — but Brazil isn’t among them. Why? Because both countries produce the same goods. In fact, they’re global competitors when it comes to meat, soy, maize and cars.
So while the Brazilian and US governments share a nationalist and anti-globalist worldview, Bolsonaro and Trump do not actually have much in common, politically speaking. That is great news for the international community. The world is just too complex for far-right populists to join forces.
Opinion article first appeared at DW.com