Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro cited President Donald Trump’s “make America great again” slogan during a speech to the South American trading bloc Mercosur on Wednesday, defending regional sovereignty and insisting that he wanted Brazil and the other members of the bloc to be “great” individually, as well.
The conservative Bolsonaro assumed the presidency of Mercosur this week, a six-month rotating position he took over from Argentine President Mauricio Macri in Santa Fe, Argentina, on Wednesday. He used his address to the trade organization’s members – Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay – to call for an “autonomous, democratic” South America, lamenting the fate of the bloc’s suspended fifth member, Venezuela.
Together, the Mercosur nations form the fifth-largest economy in the world and boast a $3.5 trillion collective GDP. For Venezuela to return to the bloc, it must once again become a democratic nation, according to the organization’s bylaws.
Bolsonaro has made improving relations with the United States a top initiative of his administration, which took office in January after a turbulent 2018 presidential election in which he survived a stabbing assassination attempt by a self-declared socialist.
“We do not want one big South American nation,” Bolsonaro said in his Mercosur speech Wednesday. “We want every country in South America to be autonomous, be democratic, and for each country to be great.”
“Like Trump says, he wants America to be great, I want a great Brazil, a great Paraguay, a great Bolivia, Uruguay,” Bolsonaro continued. “All of our countries [to be great], that is our vocation.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales, a leftist ally of the socialist dictatorship in Venezuela, attended the summit as Bolivia is in negotiations to become an official member of Mercosur.
Bolsonaro took the occasion to address the dire humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and urge his neighbors not to fall down the same path of electing socialists like Venezuelans did – something not even the people of Cuba, the oldest leftist regime in the hemisphere, have done.
“How can a country as rich as Venezuela get to this point? We all know how this was born, through populism, through the irresponsibility of a power project by a country that had no limits,” Bolsonaro explained.
“We ask every voter who can to commit to freedom, democracy, and prosperity so that our leaders can occupy these positions in their respective nations,” he said. “We do not want to see what happened in Venezuela to happen in another country.”
Addressing the job of Mercosur president, Bolsonaro promised to work towards a “lean and dynamic Mercosur.” He applauded Macri’s work, under whose tenure the bloc achieved its greatest success yet: a comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union, decades in the making. In June, the two sides announced a framework for cutting trade tariffs that would result in all countries involved saving a collective $4.5 billion in tariffs and duties, according to E.U. and Mercosur leaders.
Closer ties to America are a cornerstone of the Bolsonaro foreign and economic policy, and the president has worked to improve personal relations with Trump as well as formal diplomatic ties. The two met most recently in Osaka, Japan, for the annual G20 summit. Trump took the opportunity to praise Bolsonaro for his electoral victory and his work as president.
“We’re with a gentleman who had one of the greatest election wins anywhere in the world, as far as I’m concerned, and he was very proud of his relationship with President Trump — President of Brazil,” Trump said in Japan. “I think we can say that Brazil and the United States are as close or closer as they’ve ever been.”
Bolsonaro, for his part, referring to himself as a “great admirer” of Trump’s “even before your election” and stated that Brazil and America “have a great deal in common.”
“We’re two major countries — great countries — and, together, can do a great deal to the benefit of our two peoples,” he said. “Brazil is endowed with assets that the world does not have, and I will be able to engage in talks with President Trump to establish a full partnership to the (inaudible) development of our nations.”
Bolsonaro has publicly suggested appointing his son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro to the post of Brazilian Ambassador to Washington. As of Wednesday the Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported that Brazil’s Foreign Ministry is in the process of nominating the younger Bolsonaro to the post. Those without official diplomatic positions must be 35 for the president to appoint them as ambassadors in Brazil; Bolsonaro turned 35 of July 10.
“He is friendly with Trump’s children, speaks English and Spanish, and has very great experience in the world,” the president said of his son. “He could be an appropriate person and would handle messaging perfectly.”
In March, Eduardo Bolsonaro criticized the prior socialist administration of interim President Michel Temer and his predecessors – socialists for over a decade – as having neglected ties with Washington.
“[America] is the greatest power in the world, the greatest military power, the number one economy. A criticism I’ve been making for a long time: there was a certain lack of affection from Brazil to the United States. We have a lot to add,” Bolsonaro said during an official visit to Washington.