opinion   |   oped

EDITORIAL: Trump should cease strong support for Jair Bolsonaro

With the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil and Donald Trump still in the White House, the two most populous countries in the Western Hemisphere will soon be led by the far right.

After Jan. 1, when Bolsonaro takes office, the United States and Brazil will likely be closer allies than before. And in these particular circumstances, that’s not a good thing.

Bolsonaro is a threat to Brazil’s young democracy. He has consistently praised the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964-1985.

In 1999, when asked whether he would shut down Congress if he were president, he said, “There’s no doubt about it. I’d do a coup on the same day."

He went on to say, "Congress today is good for nothing, brother, it just votes for what the president wants. If he is the person who decides, who rules, who trumps the Congress, then let’s have a coup quickly, go straight to a dictatorship.”

So while Trump has demonstrated authoritarian tendencies, Bolsonaro is much more extreme, explicitly endorsing dictatorship.

Bolsonaro’s shocking statements against women, gay people, Afro-Brazilians and leftists are too numerous to list here. They echo some of Trump’s most outrageous comments, but are generally a lot more explicit.

Normally, an extremist authoritarian ascending to the top of a large democracy like Brazil would elicit a display of concern by the U.S. government. That’s not the case here. Instead, Trump has shown nothing but enthusiasm for Bolsonaro’s win, despite the highly questionable circumstances under which the election was conducted.

Trump quickly called Bolsonaro to congratulate him on his victory. Trump tweeted about the call, saying, “We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else!” 

National Security Adviser John Bolton praised Bolsonaro and described him as “like-minded,” while announcing sanctions against what he called a “troika of tyranny” in Latin America: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — all governments Bolsonaro has railed against.

Bolsonaro supports Trump, too. At a rally for Brazilian exiles in Florida last fall, Bolsonaro assured the crowd he would be an ally to Trump. He even slammed “fake news” and saluted the American flag as supporters chanted “U.S.A.!”

Those aren’t the only pages Bolsonaro has taken out of Trump’s playbook. He pledged to follow Trump’s footsteps in withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. And though he has slightly tempered these promises recently, he also promised to move Brazil’s Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

This is not to say Bolsonaro and Trump are one and the same. Bolsonaro comes more from the Cold War-era anti-communist far right than the modern “alt-right.” He speaks of communists and other leftists as internal enemies in Brazil, and sees leftist countries as Brazil’s main international foes.

Still, the two leaders are a dangerous combination. More members of Congress should be speaking out about this. Rep. Ro Khanna, D–Calif., circulated a letter expressing concern about Bolsonaro and calling for the U.S. to respond to any human rights violations he may oversee.

Only a dozen representatives signed the letter, all Democrats. More lawmakers should take steps to counter the president’s embrace of Bolsonaro.  

Trump and his administration ought to at least cut back on this newfound pro-Brazil rhetoric in order to ensure stability in the international community.

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