By DW – Deutsche Welle (Germany’s public international broadcaster)
BONN, GERMANY – What was supposed to be an award ceremony for the Brazilian president as “Personality of the Year” in the U.S. turned out to be political mudslinging. The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, along with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, wanted to honor Jair Bolsonaro at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
It is an annual gala that is generously sponsored by Brazilian and North American companies: a regular event where investors and business people alike are promised exclusive access to the award winners.
But it all went wrong this time. First, the sponsors of the museum pressured the event holders and called for the event’s cancellation due to Bolsonaro’s right-wing populist, inhumane views.
The first sponsors backed out when the location for the award ceremony was moved to a hotel. Then, New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke up saying that the Brazilian president was not welcome “because of his homophobic and racist views”.
Because of the resistance, Bolosonaro’s diplomats moved the event to Dallas, Texas, where the Brazilian president’s 24-hour visit (May 15-16th) barely attracted any attention at all.
De Blasio mocked Bolsonaro, calling him too much of a coward to show up in New York.
Internal politics can mostly explain the mayor’s attitude. As a member of the Democratic Party, he wants to revamp his reputation as a real human rights activist.
The fact that he does not hesitate to insult the democratically elected president of Brazil mainly shows how weak Brazil’s international reputation is. It is not known whether De Blasio had previously protested against the performances of more economically influential dictators of the Middle and the Far East.
Conservatives are also giving Bolsonaro the cold shoulder. None of his conservative supporters in the U.S. are coming to his defense either. He had to pick up his award in his local province. Not one high-level American economic or political interlocutor could be persuaded to attend the event in Texas.
Brazil is rapidly losing its significance in global politics. The problem did not start with Bolsonaro’s taking power at the beginning of the year, but his presidency has accelerated this development. Brazil’s international influence began diminishing about five years ago, at the same time as the Brazilian economy began to decline.
Until then Brazil had mostly depended on its “soft power” to achieve its foreign policy goals, in contrast to the “hard power” of Russia, the US, or China. Joseph Nye, the U.S. expert in foreign relations, coined the phrase.
According to him, a country uses “hard power” when it enforces its claim to leadership primarily by means of its economic, financial, and military power.
Brazil’s diplomats traditionally employ “soft power,” a point which was reinforced in the 2000s when Brazil became the eighth largest economic power and provider in the world as a significant supplier of raw industrial materials and energy.
Brazil persuaded its trade partners by employing diplomats who were engaging and who gave a positive image of a multi-ethnic, tropical culture that was able to put aside divisions between black and white, rich and poor.
That tactic helped Brazil achieve surprising diplomatic success in discussions of climate and world trade because the Brazilian diplomats could forge surprising alliances across continents and between industrial nations as well as emerging and developing ones.
But Brazil’s “soft power” has been waning for a long time. For one thing, because the country reached its zenith of economic success ten years ago in the areas of agriculture, energy, and raw materials, and increasingly became a competitor of the industrial nations. Economic power does not well suit a tropical “soft” power.
As Brazil has declined economically, it has also lost its power of persuasion: A “soft power” without a dynamic economy is not very persuasive.
Brazil’s loss of image has now accelerated: President Bolsonaro is pursuing a domestic and foreign policy of polarization, as he promised during his campaign that he would do, and which won him the votes of many Brazilians.
His clear determination of a friend-enemy dichotomy won’t allow any more surprising global alliances to be formed. Brazilians will have to prepare themselves for a world in which they are no longer received with open arms, as they once were.