‘Trump of the Tropics’: five things you should know about Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro’s visit with Donald Trump
- Controversial South American president is visiting Washington to talk trade, the Venezuela crisis and China’s influence in South Africa
US President Donald Trump welcomes a South American admirer to the White House on Tuesday.
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics”, is visiting Washington to talk trade, the Venezuela crisis, Chinese influence in South Africa – and perhaps how his campaigning and governing style mirrors that of the American president.
Here are five things you should know about the new Brazilian leader and his trip north:
1. He’s a Trump fan
Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, was elected president of Latin America’s largest and most populous nation last fall on an anti-corruption and pro-gun agenda.
Bolsonaro, 63, ran as an outsider who is unafraid to speak his mind and shake up the establishment. Echoing Trump’s calls to “Make America Great Again”, he campaigned on a nationalist slogan of “Brazil before everything, and God above all”.
Like Trump, he’s a hardliner on immigration (he once complained that “the scum of the Earth” was showing up in Brazil), dismisses bad press coverage as “fake news” and has an affinity for Twitter.
2. He’s controversial
Bolsonaro has appalled critics and thrilled supporters with his views on abortion, the environment, immigration, race, women and more. He was charged with hate speech by Brazil’s attorney general and was stabbed and nearly died while campaigning for the presidency.
In one of his more controversial remarks, he told Playboy magazine in 2011: “I would not be able to love a gay son. I would rather he die in an accident.”
He once denigrated a fellow lawmaker by saying: “She’s not my type. I would never rape her. I’m not a rapist, but if I were, I wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it.”
He told a Brazilian newspaper in 2018 how he spent the housing allowance he received as a congressman: “Since I was a bachelor at the time, I used the money to have sex with people.”
3. Why is he in the US?
Bolsonaro’s visit to Washington may be more political than anything. He is hoping to assuage voters who drove his election: ultra-conservative nationalists who are aligned with the religious right in the US.
“He’s looking to appease and placate his base,” said Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Steve Bannon, the former Trump political adviser, has spoken with Bolsonaro during his trip to Washington, and has said the two are in the vanguard of a movement to promote nationalism.
“They’re very similar,” he said. “It’s about economic growth and making their countries great again.”
4. What’s on the agenda?
Bolsonaro and Trump will meet privately in the Oval Office and then have a working lunch in which they are expected to talk about trade and the Venezuelan crisis, among other things.
The Trump administration sees Bolsonaro’s visit as a chance to remake the relationship between the two countries and create a “North-South axis” on economic issues as well as regional and international foreign policy affairs.
Brazil wants the US to grant it “major non-Nato ally” status, which would help the country buy military equipment and technology. The US wants permission to allow commercial space launches from a site in Brazil.
5. Turmoil in Venezuela
US officials also are hoping Brazil can help them deal with the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela.
Brazil has sided with the Trump administration in recognising National Assembly leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela and in trying to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro out of office.
Brazil has allowed the US to position humanitarian aid for Venezuela along Brazil’s northern border. Brazil’s military still has a good relationship with the Venezuelan military. US officials believe Brazil could act as an intermediary with the Venezuelan military and could encourage them to protect civilians and pressure Maduro to step down.