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LATIN AMERICA | 11-10-2020 17:27

Brazil-US turbulence ahead in case of Biden victory

Diplomatic relations between Brazil and the United States are likely to become more turbulent in the event of a Joe Biden victory in November.

Diplomatic relations between Brazil and the United States are likely to become more turbulent in the event of a Joe Biden victory in the US presidential election, as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is a fervent admirer of Donald Trump.

Nicknamed the "Tropical Trump," Bolsonaro lashed out last week when the Democratic candidate threatened his country with economic sanctions over deforestation in the Amazon.

The Brazilian leader described Biden's remarks as "disastrous and unnecessary" and said they threatened "cordial relations" between the two countries.

However, he has previously expressed a willingness to adopt a "pragmatic" attitude in the event of a Biden victory.

As soon as he came to power in January 2019, Bolsonaro broke with Brazil's tradition of multilateralism to forge ever closer ties with the Trump administration.

And when the Republican president was infected with Covid-19, the Brazilian wished him a rapid recovery so that "his re-election campaign won't be affected."

"You will win and you will be stronger, for the good of the United States and for the world," said Bolsonaro.

His son, Eduardo, came in for sharp criticism from US Democrats in July after he shared a pro-Trump video on his Twitter account.

Pragmatism

Brazil's ambassador in Washington, Nestor Foster, admitted last month that a Biden victory would lead to a "redefinition" of his country's diplomatic priorities. But he said Brazil would manage the shift "with a certain pragmatism."

"We are open to dialogue. I have a lot of contact with personalities from the Democratic Party and we have good friends there," the ambassador said in an interview with the Brazilian economic daily Valor.

Critics of Bolsonaro believe he is acting as a Trump puppet, providing unwavering support without any real upside. 

Matias Spektor, professor of international relations at Brazil's Getúlio Vargas University, said a Biden victory in the November 3 election would mark the end of "the red carpet being rolled out for Bolsonaro at the White House".

An immediate consequence would be that "Brazil would find it more difficult to trade with the United States, its second-largest trading partner."

"This would reduce Bolsonaro's room for manoeuvre, not only with regard to the environment, but also to human rights," said Spektor.

China and 5G 

That would not necessarily mean relations between the two countries would deteriorate sharply, given the US need to maintain a strong ally in the trade war against China. And Brazil exports soya, meat and iron ore on a massive scale to the Asian giant -- its biggest trading partner.

The stakes are all the more considerable since the Brazilian government is due to put out calls for tenders for its 5G network in the first half of 2021, with the Chinese group Huawei in the running along with Europe's Ericsson and Nokia.

The US ambassador to Brazil, Todd Chapman, has already warned that Brazil could suffer "consequences" if it chooses Huawei.

"For better or worse, I would anticipate that relations with Brazil remain relatively stable, including regarding technology/5G, Venezuela, and trade," Jonathan Wood, an analyst at global consultancy Control Risks, told AFP.

"Certainly, a Biden administration would be likely to leverage Trump-era initiatives – such as designating Brazil to be a major non-Nato ally – as part of a broader regional engagement strategy, including oriented towards competition with China," said Wood.

According to Matias Spektor, Brazil is the only South American country where the United States has a "real opportunity" to curb Beijing's growing influence.

"Even if Bolsonaro's image is negative in terms of the environment and human rights, there will always be people in Washington to say that Brazil is the country where we can act against China," he said.

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by Jordi Miro, AFP

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