Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a staunch conservative and longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, sent a letter to his successor Joe Biden on Wednesday congratulating him on his inauguration and floating the possibility of a new Brazil-U.S. free trade agreement.
The extensive letter, in which Bolsonaro sends Biden his “highest esteem and consideration,” also urges Biden to join Bolsonaro in demanding reform of “international governance” institutions like the United Nations and greater cooperation in science and technology.
Bolsonaro’s statement, which he published in full on Twitter, follows a tempestuous 2020 between the Brazilian president and then-presidential candidate. During a debate against Trump last year, Biden – already struggling to attract Latin American voters – threatened to destroy the Brazilian economy if Bolsonaro did not accept $20 billion to be used for Amazon Rainforest conservation. A baffled Bolsonaro responded by calling “John [sic] Biden” a “coward” and asserting, “OUR SOVEREIGNTY IS NOT NEGOTIABLE.” Bolsonaro later implied that he was prepared to go to war with the United States, one of Brazil’s most longstanding political allies, when Biden became president.
In the letter he published Wednesday, Bolsonaro appeared committed to changing the tone of the two leaders’ relationship.
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) January 20, 2021
“I have the honor to congratulate Your Excellency on this day of your inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America,” Bolsonaro wrote. “Brazil and the U.S.A. are the two largest democracies in the Western world. Our people are united by the tight bonds for fraternity and by a firm appreciation for fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, and the pursuit of prosperity through liberty.”
Bolsonaro described himself “personally” as a “great admirer of the United States” and explained that he has used his tenure to “correct the mistakes of previous Brazilian administration, who separated Brazil from the U.S.A., contradicting the sentiment of our people and our common interests.”
Bolsonaro became president in 2018, in the heart of the Trump era. During Biden’s term as vice president under former President Barack Obama, Brazil was in the middle of a long stretch of socialist rule under the far-left Workers’ Party (PT), which endeavored to bring Brazil deeper into the orbit of rogue states like Cuba, China, and Russia. Despite this, Obama praised former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva – sentenced to decades in prison for corruption – as “the most popular politician on earth.”
In his letter, Bolsonaro continued to request that Biden consider a “comprehensive free trade agreement” with Brazil.
“In the economic sector, Brazil, like the entrepreneurs of our two countries, is interested in a comprehensive free trade agreement that generates more jobs and investments and increases the global competitiveness of our companies,” Bolsonaro wrote. “We already have as a base the recent commerce facilitation protocols, good regulatory practices, and the fight against corruption, which has certainly contributed to the recovery of our economies in the post-pandemic period.”
Bolsonaro also wrote that Brazil and America have “enormous potential” to cooperate in science and technology, as well as national defense, noting that the two countries are already cooperating on space development. He added that he hoped that the Biden administration would also support Brazil’s efforts to reform the World Trade Organization (WTO), to “avoid distortions by economies that do not follow market rules” – an apparent jab at China. Similarly, Bolsonaro urged Biden to help Brazil fight the weakening of international institutions through “an agenda that is also contrary to democracy,” echoing complaints from the Trump administration that the Chinese Communist Party had become too influential at venues such as the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), leading to a catastrophic failed response to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic and the exclusion of critical allies such as the nation of Taiwan.
While Bolsonaro has styled himself the world’s most vocal opponent of communism, his policies towards China have been conciliatory. Bolsonaro visited Beijing in 2019, signing million-dollar trade deals and expanding the Communist Party’s influence in the Brazilian economy. Bolsonaro also gifted Xi Jinping – the world’s most powerful communist leader and administrator of the world’s largest known concentration camps – a soccer jersey as a gesture of goodwill.
In a nod to Biden’s threat to destroy the Brazilian economy, Bolsonaro offered in his letter a willingness to cooperate on “sustainable development and the protection of the environment, particularly in the Amazon.” The president boasted that Brazil, unlike the United States, “as one of the cleanest energy matrices in the world and, along with the U.S.A., is one of the biggest producers of biofuels.”
Bolsonaro concluded by noting that the United States was the first country to recognize Brazil’s sovereignty in 1822 and inviting Biden to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial in the next year.
“In wishing Your Excellency full success in the exercise of your mandate, I ask you, Mr. President, to accept the vote of my highest esteem and consideration,” Bolsonaro concluded.
The friendly letter appears to be an attempt to reset a relationship that began aggressively, with Biden threatening in September the full destruction of the Brazilian economy, the largest in South America.
In response to a question about climate change – in a debate that did not pose any questions about foreign policy – Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris climate agreement “first thing,” a promise he kept on Wednesday. He then abruptly threatened, “Brazil, the rainforests of Brazil are being torn down, are being ripped down … I would be gathering up and making sure we had the countries of the world coming up with $20 billion, and say, ‘Here’s $20 billion. Stop, stop tearing down the forest. And if you don’t, then you’re going to have significant economic consequences.’”
“The Democratic candidate to the US presidency, Joe Biden, stated yesterday that he could pay us as much as US$20 billion to stop the ‘destruction’ of the Amazon Rainforest adding that, if we did not accept this offer, he would then impose serious economic sanctions on our country,” Bolsonaro replied in a statement following the September debate. “What some have not yet understood is that Brazil has changed. Its President, unlike the left-wing presidents of the past, does not accept bribes, criminal land demarcations, or coward threats towards our territorial and economic integrity. OUR SOVEREIGNTY IS NON-NEGOTIABLE.”
Bolsonaro went on to call Biden’s rant “unnecessary” and “difficult to understand.”
In November, Bolsonaro again referred to Biden’s remarks during a press conference about his government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, appearing to threaten a military attack on the United States.
“There was recently a great candidate to head of state who said that if I don’t shut down the Amazon fires he is going to put up commercial barriers,” Bolsonaro said. “How are we going to face that? Diplomacy alone is not enough. When the saliva runs out, you need gunpowder, otherwise it doesn’t work. We have the gunpower. They need to know we have it. That’s the world.”
Bolsonaro openly expressed support for Trump during the 2020 campaign, telling supporters after his election loss in November, “hope is the last thing to die.”