“Americans see Trump in Bolsonaro,” says James N. Green in an interview

posted 7/11/2022 5:58 AM / updated 7/11/2022 5:59 AM

(credit: Personal archive)

Since President Joe Biden took over the White House in 2020, relations between Brazil and the United States have distanced. An ally of former President Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro was the last G20 president to congratulate Biden on his victory at the polls. The US president, in turn, met with Bolsonaro only once, in a formal manner. Sectors of the American government have shown concern about Bolsonaro’s undemocratic outbursts. American parliamentarians even sent a document to the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in which they ask for a report on the actions of the Brazilian Armed Forces in the elections.

Professor of Brazilian history and culture at Brown University and president of the Washington Brazil Office (WBO), James N. Green explains that the government of Joe Biden is interested in following the Brazilian elections this year. For him, Americans see great similarity between what former President Donald Trump did to delegitimize the electoral process with what President Jair Bolsonaro is currently doing in Brazil.

The WBO, led by Green, forms a bridge with parliamentarians and the US government to disseminate information about the Brazilian reality. The professor points out that whatever the next Brazilian president, there will still be differences between Brazil and the United States. He emphasizes, however, that the choice must follow the democratic process.

Last month, Bolsonaro had his first meeting with Biden, at the Summit of the Americas, in Los Angeles (USA). Was it an attempt at rapprochement between the two countries?

I wouldn’t say there is an approximation. I would say that there is a diplomatic obligation on the Biden government, due to various factors and American interests, to have contact with Brazil. This, taking into account that, until the Summit, Biden had not spoken to Bolsonaro, and Bolsonaro was the last head of state to recognize his government. That is, he has a very strong relationship with Trump, he went to the White House, they made attempts at agreements and understandings. Biden tries to take a much more remote stance. Due to the conjuncture of the interests that the Americans have in Latin America, they wanted to have an important representative at the Summit and, therefore, they invited Brazil and sent (Special Adviser to the White House) Christopher Dodd to do that. Furthermore, last year, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) visited Brazil and made it clear that it was defending American democracy and that it would not support a coup.

What is the American interest in the Brazilian electoral process?

It’s more of a trauma that Americans are experiencing because of the Capitol invasion. They recognize in Bolsonaro a Trump. And this is a very clear analogy in the minds of people who pay attention to Brazil. In the past, when I, at the age of 23, denounced the military dictatorship, Brazil was far, far away, a dictatorship, a banana republic. Today, it is a continental country, and we are a continental country. Brazil has a heritage of enslaved people, so do we. There’s a guy from the far right, Trump, and so does Brazil. The fact is that Bolsonaro already warns that he will not recognize the results of the elections, he already warns that he does not trust electronic voting machines, creating a space to contest the results. It is very similar to what Trump did months before the election, when he already announced that he did not trust the mail to send (ballot) voting, which is an American tradition and has never had any problems. And then (Trump) invented this fraud issue. For months, he spread this big lie about alleged election fraud. When that didn’t work, he mobilized the militias to storm the Capitol.

What is the role of the Washington Brazil Office in the relationship between the two countries?

The idea is to join forces of Brazilians and American Brazilianists in a decentralized, democratic and non-partisan network to support popular social movements and defend democracy in Brazil. It emerged at a meeting of the Columbia University School of Law, to open an office in Washington to defend democracy, with three concrete actions: to work in the US Congress, with senators and congressmen, on progressive issues related to Brazil; to produce knowledge about the Brazilian reality, especially about the relationship between the two countries; and the work of being a voice, a channel, so that Brazilian social movements can articulate their ideas.

How is this job?

We work with advisors and congressmen, educating them about the Brazilian reality, and they take initiatives afterwards. There was a letter signed by 64 American deputies (in 2021), which basically denounced the Bolsonaro government and asked the Biden government to be careful with intimate relations with that government. We will continue this challenge for the next year. If (Luiz Inácio) Lula (da Silva) is elected, it will be a new situation. We will maintain our independence, our non-partisan situation, but working out a progressive foreign relations policy on Brazil. We have a powerful voice, from Americans and Brazilians living in the United States, so we have some legitimacy to talk about the current situation.

What steps should the Biden government take to discourage a possible coup?

We are assembling a delegation of 16 organizations that will go to Washington in July to speak with Congress, the State Department and international NGOs, precisely to make very clear the concern about the possibility of a violation of the electoral process. Our intention is to put pressure on the Biden administration so that when it sees the results on October 30th, which we believe will be clean and correct, it will immediately call the winning candidate to congratulate them, regardless of who is elected. That is our expectation, as I imagine several European presidents and prime ministers will do at the same time. The fact that Biden recognizes the result is a way, too, to prevent the possibility of a coup. Americans are traumatized by what Trump was. And Biden does not want Bolsonaro to be re-elected. Bolsonaro has a certain tendency to copy the United States. It may be that he copies the attempt to mobilize, to invade the STF (Supreme Federal Court), invade Congress, do something to interrupt the counting of electoral results, mobilize people, militias. No one ever imagined the possibility of something like this happening over there in the United States, and it’s totally possible it could happen here.

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