WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump welcomed a South American admirer to the White House on Tuesday.
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” visited Washington to talk trade, the Venenzuela crisis, space launches – and how Bolsonaro’s campaign in part mirrored Trump’s.
Here are five things you should know about the new Brazilian leader and his trip north:
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’s not afraid 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.
Upon Bolsonaro’s arrival at the White House, Trump greeted him at the door of the West Wing, and the two later exchanged pleasantries in the Oval Office.
Trump said he was honored Bolsonaro’s campaign had been compared to his and that the U.S. and Brazil have “never been closer.”
Bolsonaro said through a translator he was pleased to meet with Trump, particularly after what he described as decades of “anti-U.S.” presidents in his country.
The two leaders then exchanged gifts: soccer jerseys. Trump presented Bolsonaro with a U.S. jersey bearing the number 19 and the Brazilian leader’s name. Bolsonaro gave Trump a Brazilian No. 10 jersey, which was the number worn by the nation’s soccer legend Pelé.
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.”
Bolsonaro’s visit to Washington was perhaps more political than anything. He was hoping to assuage voters who drove his election: ultra-conservative nationalists who are aligned with the religious right in the U.S.
“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.”
Folllowing their Oval Office meeting, Bolsonaro and Trump had a working luncheon to talk about trade and the Venezuelan crisis, among other things.
The Trump administration saw 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 regional and international foreign policy affairs.
Brazil wants the U.S. to grant it “major non-NATO ally” status, which would help the country buy military equipment and technology. The U.S. wants permission to allow commercial space launches from a site in Brazil.
After their lunch, Trump said at a news conference with Bolsonaro that he’s inclined to support giving NATO privileges to Brazil and that the U.S. and Brazil are finalizing an agreement so U.S. companies conduct space launches from Brazil.
“It’s actually an incredible location when you study it and when you see it,” he said. “Because of the location, tremendous amounts of money would be saved. To put it very simply, the flights are a lot shorter. Brazil’s proximity to the equator makes it an ideal launch location.”
U.S. officials also hope Brazil can help them deal with the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela.
Brazil has sided with the Trump administration in recognizing National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela and in trying to force Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro out of office.
Brazil has allowed the U.S. to position humanitarian aid for Venezuela along Brazil’s northern border. Brazil’s military still has a good relationship with the Venezuelan military. U.S. 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.
Asked at the news conference about the prospects of U.S. military action, Trump said: “All options are open; I think of all possibilities.”
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard
Far-right congressman Jair Bolsonaro won the presidency of Latin America’s largest nation Sunday as voters looked past warnings that the brash former army captain would erode democracy and embraced a chance for radical change after years of turmoil.
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