Opinion by Michael Royster
São Paulo, SP – On April 10, Jair Messias Bolsonaro will commemorate (or perhaps just remember) his first 100 days in office as Brazil’s President. It is customary for pollsters and pundits to analyze presidential performance and public opinion during that period; the Curmudgeon is unable to resist the temptation.
A Data Folha survey last week indicated that 32 precent of those polled thought he was excellent/good, 30 percent thought he was bad/terrible, while 33 percent thought he was so-so/okay/average (“regular”): in short, a three-way tie between yes, no, and maybe.
The Curmudgeon’s opinion is (a) he hasn’t done much at all; and (b) he hasn’t done very well in most areas.
Let’s start with foreign affairs, where he’s done quite a bit, albeit most of it controversial. Generally speaking, his world view pivots around that of the USA and its current president. After Davos, his first foreign junket was to the USA, then Chile, and eventually Israel.
In the USA, Bolsonaro was received by President Trump, much of whose campaign strategy and rhetoric Bolsonaro copied in his own campaign. Before the White House meeting, he spoke to a collection of egregious far right figures generally regarded as unacceptable to most conservatives, among them Olavo de Carvalho and Steve Bannon.
While in the US, Bolsonaro delivered two long-sought benefits. First, he authorized use of the military base in Maranhão for USA space program launches; that use had been vetoed years before by Brazil’s Congress due to concern about sovereignty over US-occupied territory.
Next, Bolsonaro announced that US citizens would no longer need visas to come to Brazil as tourists or on business, even though Brazilians still need visas to visit the US. All prior Brazilian administrations had insisted upon reciprocal treatment.
What did Bolsonaro get in exchange for these measures? A promise to support Brazil’s entry into the OECD club of “developed” free market countries, joining Chile and Mexico and 34 other nations. To do so, though, Brazil will have to renounce its treatment by WTO as a “developing” country.
In Chile, Bolsonaro exchanged pleasantries with President Piñera, while repeating prior encomiums about Chile’s former military dictator Pinochet. Bolsonaro agreed to participate in a conservative multi-nation compact called “PROSUL,” designed by Piñera to replace “UNASUL,” the ineffectual entity set up in 2008 by leftist South American governments.
While campaigning, Bolsonaro had promised to transfer the Brazilian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, echoing Trump’s announcement. Just prior to his Israel trip, however, he announced Brazil would only open a commercial office there. Even this minor step has caused acute discomfort in Brazilian agribusiness circles, as most Arab countries – huge markets for Brazilian protein exports – are aghast.
A brief word is in order on socio-economic basketcase Venezuela, from whose fate Bolsonaro promised to save Brazil, after Lula/Dilma/PT had led us along the primrose path to the brink of the precipice. Bolsonaro recognized Juan Guaidó as president immediately after Trump did, and participated in the farcical movement of food and medical supplies to the Venezuelan border, where they remain.
Brazil’s foreign ministry, once respected worldwide for its poise and independence, is now a laughing stock. Foreign Minister Araújo has little diplomatic experience, is a sycophant of Donald Trump, an acolyte of flat earth astrologist Olavo de Carvalho, and even believes in the absurd “global Marxist” conspiracy theory. It’s depressing.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS RATING: (3 out of 10, tending downwards)