Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, tried to ingratiate himself with Donald Trump ahead of their face-to-face meeting Tuesday — by denouncing immigrants and the "dirty" left.
The retired military officer, who embraces his “Trump of the Tropics” moniker, will have a private sit-down in the Oval Office Tuesday, before holding a joint press conference with Trump.
And the pair have much in common.
Bolsonaro not only derides the press, espouses nationalist values, dismisses negative media coverage as “fake news”, and uses Twitter to broadcast to the world, he also holds extremely Trumpian views on national borders.
“The vast majority of potential immigrants do not have good intentions,” the Brazilian president told Fox News Monday. “They do not intend to do the best — or do good to the U.S. people.”
Besides speaking to Fox News, Bolsonaro, who arrived in Washington Sunday, visited the CIA, addressed the Chamber of Commerce and told a room of conservative thought leaders — including Steve Bannon — that he wants to rid Brazil of the “dirty ideology of the left.”
Bolsonaro’s three-day visit is about “opportunities for defense cooperation, pro-growth trade policies, combating transnational crime and restoring democracy in Venezuela,” according to the White House.
For the Brazilian, the trip also offers a chance to restart his presidency, following three months of crisis and controversy.
Domestically, Bolsonaro is facing calls to explain his family’s link to a violent gang that controls much of Rio de Janeiro and is suspected of carrying out the execution of lawmaker Marielle Franco.
Those calls intensified last week when a picture surfaced of Bolsonaro with his arm around Élcio Queiroz, one of two men recently arrested for the 2018 assassination.
During the Fox News interview aired Monday, Bolsonaro brushed off allegations linking him to Rio’s militias.
“I only learned about Marielle Franco after she was killed,” Bolsonaro told the broadcaster. “She was a councilwoman, and I have never ever heard anything about her life. And one further point: What kind of motivation could I possibly have to be the mastermind of some kind of murder like that? I didn’t even know her.”
The Brazilian admitted that Queiroz, a former police officer, did live in the same gated community but said he never saw him. Bolsonaro also addressed claims that his youngest son, Renan, had dated the suspect’s daughter.
“I asked him, ‘Did you date her?’ and he said, ‘Well, I dated just about every girl in the gated community. I can’t remember.’”
Earlier Monday, Bolsonaro made a surprise visit to the CIA — a first for a Brazilian president. He was there to discuss “international themes in the region,” according to his son, Eduardo, a Brazilian lawmaker who is also on the trip.
In a tweet likely to raise eyebrows in Brazil, Eduardo described the CIA as “one of the most respected intelligence agencies in the world.” The Agency has traditionally been viewed with suspicion in much of South America.
This view solidified in 2013 when Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency had been tapping the phones of former President Dilma Rousseff for several years.
Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. is Brazil’s second-biggest trading partner behind China, and a key reason for Bolsonaro’s trip is to bolster commercial ties.
"Nowadays, you have a president who is a friend of the United States who admires this beautiful country," Bolsonaro told an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday.
The U.S. has a $27 billion trade surplus with Brazil, which U.S. officials believe creates an opportunity to bring the nations’ business communities closer, particularly on energy infrastructure.
Ahead of Bolsonaro’s speech, the two countries signed a number of bilateral agreements, including one that allows the U.S. to launch satellites from Brazil’s Alcantara Aerospace Launch Base. Brazil also announced an end to visa requirements for U.S. tourists who visit the country.
Bolsonaro told the Chamber of Commerce that similar to Trump he had mounted an insurgent campaign and had overcome the underdog tag to win, despite facing a torrent of “fake news” and biased media.
“We want to have a great Brazil just like Trump wants to have a great America,” he said.
Cover image: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during a discussion on US-Brazil relations at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC on March 18, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)