Bolsonaro's Foreign Policy Plans for Latin America

A few days after the most polarized Brazil general elections in its modern history, the elected president, Jair Bolsonaro (PSL), started to align the presidential transition and nominate his cabinet members for 2019.

So far, Bolsonaro has not yet disclosed who will head the Itamaraty, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yet, the new president has already signaled that he intends to choose a career diplomat to command the agenda.

Without clear advice in the international arena and with a campaign full of controversy and friction when it comes to Brazil’s relationship with the world, it is undeniable that the new president’s first moves are still abstruse.

It is quite true that, during his campaign, Bolsonaro indicated the intention of getting closer with the U.S. without hiding the affinity and the admiration he has for the North American president, Donald Trump – something that appears to be mutual, since Trump was one of the first world leaders to contact Bolsonaro after the election results.

Read more: Brazil Caught in the Crossfire of US-China Trade War. Here’s What to Expect

Such rapprochement raises doubts about Bolsonaro’s preferences and the reflexes of electoral results throughout Latin America, especially in regard to security, foreign policy, and trade. Yet, what surprised was the announcement that Bolsonaro chose Chile as his first foreign visit.

A deprecated Latin America? It doesn’t seem so

Bolsonaro broke the tradition of the last Worker Party’s governments, which had Argentina, Brazil’s largest local trading partner, as the destination for the first official visit. The new president seems to draw a strategic approach with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, with whom he had a long talk after winning the election.

The future Chief of Staff of Bolsonaro’s government, Onyx Lorenzoni, who is currently responsible for coordinating the relationship between the future administration and the Congress, called Chile a great Latin American reference as he announced Bolsonaro’s first trip. “It has a good education, generates technology and nowadays trades with everyone.

We need to to be humble and look at this example with attention”, said Lorenzoni, also calling Chile Latin America’s beacon of stability – which indicates the aspiration to maintain a healthy relationship with the nation.

In fact, the small country of 17 million inhabitants and several established free trade agreements is one of the promises of economic growth for 2019 among Latin American countries. In addition to leading the Human Development Index (HDI) in the region, with the longest life expectancy, the nation has been part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) since 2010, an organization popularly known as the “rich country club” something that even Brazil, although being the largest Latin American economy, hasn’t yet accomplished.

This meeting with one of the most open economies in the world should be seen as a strong indication of what is to come.

The guiding policies presented by Bolsonaro to the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) during the running defended greater trade liberalization, as it is, according to the document, one of the most effective alternatives to promote long-term economic growth.

The plan, known as the “Path to Prosperity,” seems to be celebrated by liberal economists thanks to the possibility of boosting international trade, which can also act as a technological, competitive and positive productivity shock for Brazil.

Political scientist Daniela Drummond, a doctoral student from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) and the University Lusófona of Porto, believes that healthiest relations will be with countries like Chile. “This country today follows a neoliberal policy such as the one Bolsonaro intends to follow, prioritizing private property and the supremacy of the financial market, in addition to privatizations and social security and tax reform, even if this model presents problems. Today, Chile is one of the most open economies in the world, but this economic opening has also brought greater pressure to the workers, although it has good points”, says Drummond.

Mercosur not to be despised, but revised

Mercosur, much celebrated in the years of PT, nevertheless, seems overvalued in the eyes of Bolsonaro. Brazil president-elect has already stated that he will not abandon the bloc despite the imposition of some ties and the problems of integration among member countries. However, he says that he will take away the character of power instrument that it has acquired over the past few years, as well as, in his words, its “ideological bias”.

As a result, a natural revision in a commercial bloc like this, especially in a period of crisis, would enable Brazil to prospect new partners in Latin America and reassess dependencies. “This position does not seem very good, because we need to maintain good relations with our neighbors, after all, we are the largest country and the largest economy in Latin America. The beginning of the government seems a bit confusing and the economy of the country really needs to be reorganized in order to grow again, without forgetting the social achievements”, says Drummond.

Mercosur itself has been trying a rapprochement with Chile for years now in order to reach Asian markets faster. It is worth to remember that Chile, as well as Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, are part of the Pacific Alliance, a trade bloc created to deepen the connection between these economies and Asia. Bolsonaro seems to be heading in this direction.

“Bolsonaro will seek an alliance with more liberal countries and governments economically and with a more right-wing stance, which tends to privatize. This shows a close relationship with the big economies that certainly have an interest in our public companies, since they are very profitable, despite the problem of misappropriation that has always occurred, not only in the last 16 years. And certainly with the US and China, which are the great world economies”, says Daniela.

Bolsonaro will seek an alliance with more economically liberal countries and governments and with a more right-wing stance, which tends to favor privatizations. This shows a close relationship with the big economies that certainly have an interest in Brazil’s public companies, since they are very profitable, despite the problem of misappropriation that has always been there, not only in the last 16 years. And certainly with the US and China, which are the great world economies”, says Daniela.

What to expect, after all?

In order to cool off the concerns of those that fear the future of Brazil relations with neighboring countries, the political scientist says it is not easy to make a conjuncture analysis about a president with such contradictory positions. “Bolsonaro will get closer to countries that prioritize economic development and care less about the social agenda”, says.

It is no secret that Colombia must be a strong partner of Brazil, even by the anti-left-wing ideas that both governments will have in common. Other countries that met the criteria of cordiality and already expressed the desire to strengthen ties and bilateral relations with Brazil were Argentina (which insisted on collaboration among nations), Mexico and Peru, implying a good prognosis in commercial relations with these partners.
In the meantime, Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela represents a completely different issue.

Considering that Bolsonaro never insisted on hiding the rejection he feels for the political conduct of the country that is plunged in serious crisis and whose economic collapse has been contours of tragedy in recent years. Despite this, the Venezuelan government did not stop appealing to the resumption of relations, as neighboring countries, when officially manifesting about the victory of Bolsonaro.

In fact, there is little to wait until all the tensions, visceral and natural uncertainties of the electoral period are attenuated and, instead, to a more solid and less speculative scenario.