Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a close ally of Republican President Donald Trump and one of the few prominent world leaders still not to have congratulated Democratic President-elect Joe Biden on his election win, asked whether the vote in the U.S. was really over.
The Brazilian leader, who had vowed to be the first to congratulate Trump on his re-election, still has not congratulated Biden, who has been projected to win the majority of both the popular and electoral vote.
The Brazilian leader’s posture could herald a rocky start in relations with Biden, whose agenda with Brazil would likely include addressing Amazon deforestation and human rights.
He also took a swipe at Biden referring to him as a “candidate” and taking issue with a comment Biden said during a U.S. presidential debate that Brazil should fight deforestation with foreign help or face unspecified “economic consequences.”
“We saw recently there a great candidate for head of state say that if I don’t put out the fire in the Amazon, he will put up commercial barriers against Brazil,” Bolsonaro said.
“And how can we deal with all that? Just diplomacy is not enough … When saliva runs out, one has to have gunpowder, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
The Internet in Brazil quickly reacted with a flood of memes about a possible military clash between the two countries. In one of them titled “Updated Map After the 60-minute War” the map of Brazil appears with the name: South Hawaii.
Talking to supporters outside his official residence, Bolsonaro was asked what he thought of the American election result.
“But has it finished, have the elections already finished?,” he asked the supporter, breaking into a smile before posing for selfies.
This month, Bolsonaro celebrated the suspension of studies involving a vaccine to be manufactured by the Butantan Institute, in São Paulo, together with Chinese company Sinovac, and said that Brazil should “stop being a country of sissies” and stop worrying about the Covid-19 pandemic.
In October he had talked against mandatory vaccine against corona virus. He also has defended drug distribution without scientific proof, vowed not to buy vaccines from Chinese manufacturers and classified the covid-19 as a “little flu.” Commenting on the pandemic advance he said : “So what?”
There were two notable holdouts among the world leaders who rushed to congratulate Joe Biden on his victory in the U.S. elections: the leaders of Latin America’s two largest countries, both of whom have been seen as friendly to President Donald Trump in different ways.
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, sometimes dubbed “the Trump of the Tropics” for his populist, off-the-cuff style, has kept silent on Trump’s loss. And Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador refused to congratulate Biden at this point, saying he would wait until the legal challenges over the vote were resolved.
Trump and the two Latin leaders are united by some surface similarities: They dislike wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic, and all three can loosely be described as populist and nationalist. But the motives of the two Latin leaders may differ.
Bolsonaro and his sons — who like Trump’s children play a role on the political scene — seem to be actively uncomfortable with the outcome of the U.S. race. Bolsonaro, who previously expressed hope for Trump’s reelection and whose son wore hats with the logo “Trump 2020,” has kept largely silent, but his sons haven’t.
Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro posted images on social media questioning how Biden’s votes were rising so quickly in later counts, while Trump’s weren’t.
The younger Bolsonaro also questioned networks’ decision to cut away from Trump’s speech on Wednesday alleging vote fraud, calling it an attack on freedom of speech.
However president Bolsonaro has been adopting a more pragmatic tone, following the guidance of his advisers.
At the beginning of last week, some of the more ideological elements in Bolsonaro’s office believed in a Trump victory, but since then, the diplomatic staff has made contact with Biden’s campaign.
López Obrador’s cordial relationship with Trump, meanwhile, was often seen as unusual for a left-leaning politician, but it had a workmanlike basis.
In part, that is political realism: In 2019, Trump threatened to apply crippling tariffs on Mexican products unless López Obrador cracked down on Central American migrants crossing Mexico to reach the U.S. border. Mexico complied, rounding up migrants and busing them back to their home countries.
But there were also moments of seeming real friendship between the two. López Obrador is one of the few world leaders still willing to heap praise on Trump.
“President Trump has been very respectful of us, and we have reached very good agreements, and we thank him because he has not interfered and has respected us,” López Obrador said.
And López Obrador angered many at home and in the U.S. Democratic Party when he made his first — and so far only — trip abroad as president over the summer to meet with Trump to celebrate the enactment of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement, which both leaders viewed as fixing problems with the old North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990s.
López Obrador didn’t meet with Biden or his campaign team during that trip, and the wounds are still apparently there, even though the Mexican president said he knows Biden and had “very good relations” with him.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, the Democratic congressman for Texas’ 20th District, wrote in Spanish in his Twitter account that the unwillingness to congratulate Biden “represents a true diplomatic failure on the part of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, at a moment in which the incoming Biden administration is seeking to start a new era of friendship and cooperation with Mexico.”
Mexico was able to easily crack down on migrant caravans in 2019 and 2020 because appeasing open U.S. pressure is fairly understandable if distasteful at home; but asking Mexico to do so without open threats would be more politically costly for López Obrador.
The Mexican president might fear reprisals in the short time Trump has left in office, but his failure to patch up any hurt feelings with the Biden team is already exposing López Obrador to criticism at home.
“To quote (Mexican singer) Juan Gabriel, ‘What do you gain?'” the newspaper El Universal said in an editorial Sunday. “Donald Trump will be president for two more months, but Joe Biden will be president for four more years! And we have already started off this relationship on the wrong foot.”