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Trump embraces Brazil’s Bolsonaro, another brash president enmeshed in scandal

Trump embraces Brazil’s Bolsonaro, another brash president enmeshed in scandal
President Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speak at a new conference in the White House Rose Garden on March 19, 2019. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)

President Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, the new Brazilian leader dubbed the Trump of the Tropics, pledged cooperation Tuesday in opposing Venezuela’s socialist government, even as both took aim at a pillar of democracy: the media.

Acknowledging that they have “many views that are similar” during a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden, Trump suggested he might help Bolsonaro’s South American nation gain admission to NATO, promoted trade and technology accords between the two countries and thanked the Brazilian leader for aligning with the United States against Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro.

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“Brazil has been an extraordinary leader in supporting the Venezuelan people's efforts to reclaim their liberty and their democracy,” Trump said, as he called again on the Venezuelan military to shift its support from Maduro to Juan Guaido, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly now widely recognized as the nation’s leader.

“The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere, and hopefully, by the way, it's also arrived — that twilight hour — in our country,” Trump continued, referring to what’s become a theme of his emerging reelection effort against Democrats. “The last thing we want in the United States is socialism.”

Bolsonaro, who took office this year, offered military assistance “to help take freedom and democracy to” Venezuela and echoed Trump’s declaration of a new era of cooperation between the two hemispheric powers. Also in common with Trump, he emphasized his social conservatism and hostility toward the press.

“Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to share liberties and respect to traditional and family lifestyles; respect to God, our creator; against the gender ideology of the politically correct attitudes and fake news,” Bolsonaro said.

Trump noticed, smirking when Bolsonaro’s Portuguese rendering of “fake news” was translated into English, and he accepted it as a compliment.

“I’m very proud to hear the president use the term fake news,” Trump said moments later. He then complained about perceived anti-conservative bias on some social media platforms, in response to a question about a defamation lawsuit that Rep. Devin Nunes, the pro-Trump Republican from Tulare, filed Tuesday against Twitter.

As he reminded reporters that he has “many millions” of Twitter followers, Trump alleged a “collusive” crackdown by social media companies against users who express conservative views: “Things are happening. Names are being taken off.”

Trump lavished praise on Bolsonaro, calling him “brave” for surviving a stabbing during last year’s campaign. He lauded Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo, who was seated in the audience and is now working with former White House advisor Stephen K. Bannon to form a Latin American populist group.

Trump also announced that he plans to designate Brazil as a “Major Non-NATO Ally,” a category for close strategic allies who aren’t members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and said he might lobby for Brazil’s bid to become a member.

The red-carpet welcome for Bolsonaro, who chose Washington for his first foreign visit as president, consummated a long-distance courtship that began during the Brazilian’s presidential campaign last year, when the former army captain ran unabashedly in Trump's image.

As a candidate, Bolsonaro praised the U.S.-backed military government that ran Brazil before the country's restoration of democratic government in 1985, railed against socialism and routinely attacked his foes — including the media — on Twitter.

On his first day in office, Bolsonaro signed executive orders that made it all but impossible for new lands to be designated for indigenous communities and removed LGBTQ rights from consideration by a newly formed human rights ministry; he declared gender-based ideology a threat to Brazil’s Christian values.

The Trump administration heralded his election and has been quick to embrace Bolsonaro. National security advisor John Bolton traveled to Brazil to meet him in November, shortly after the election, and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo led a U.S. delegation to his inauguration in January.

In another similarity to Trump, Bolsonaro has been beset by a number of corruption controversies, a backlash over an offensive tweet and low approval numbers. The trip to Washington, one expert on the region suggested, could help him at home.

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"He's really looking for a bit of oxygen right now, so if Trump praises him, he'll bask in that,” said Alexander Main, the director of international policy at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

On Monday night, Bolsonaro appeared on the Fox News Channel and expressed his support for Trump's signature policy initiative, a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent what the president claims is a massive "invasion" of dangerous immigrants.

“We do agree with President Trump’s decision or proposal on the wall,” Bolsonaro said, in remarks translated to English by Fox. “The vast majority of potential immigrants do not have good intentions. They do not intend to do the best or do good to the U.S. people.”

Earlier Monday, Bolsonaro visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., a sign of the administration's trust and its intention to collaborate on national security matters.

“Brazil's military seems to have a good relationship with the Venezuelan military,” said Main. “I think the U.S. is probably interested in the channels of communication that exist between the two militaries to try and find ways to get Venezuela's military to shift its allegiance.”

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