National security advisor John Bolton was headed to South America anyway. But still, a stopover he made in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday amounted to a notably friendly gesture toward the man who has gleefully billed himself as “Brazil’s Trump” — President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro, the pugnacious far-right politician who swept to victory in Brazil’s presidential election last month, received Bolton at his beachfront home, marking the incoming leader’s first encounter with a high-ranking U.S. official. After the hourlong meeting, Bolton said he had invited the 63-year-old Bolsonaro, who will preside over the world’s fourth-largest democracy, to visit the U.S. soon.
Bolton, who made the visit en route to the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, tweeted afterward that the two had “enjoyed a wide-ranging, very productive discussion,” and predicted a “dynamic partnership” between Bolsonaro and President Trump. On social media, the leader-to-be concurred.
The show of solidarity comes as Trump has alienated many of the United States’ traditional allies, including Britain, France and Germany. And a budding friendship with a figure whose dictatorial sentiments have prompted international concern is also in line with Trump’s professed admiration for autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Saudi Arabia’s now-notorious de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Here is a look at some of the political affinities between Bolsonaro and Trump.
WHAT WERE BOLSONARO’S CAMPAIGN TALKING POINTS?
His populist agenda was much like the message that Trump rode to the White House, with plenty of anger-laced rhetoric and calls to clean up corruption and crack down on crime. He assiduously cultivated a tough-guy image, espousing torture, a restoration of the death penalty and looser gun laws. Critics called Bolsonaro racist, homophobic and misogynistic, but the extremist views he espoused did little to dent his popularity.
Bolsonaro also promised economic salvation, casting himself as a political outsider at a time when voters were disillusioned with mainstream parties — the prelude to a victory that shocked the political establishment, as did Trump’s. And like Trump, Bolsonaro the candidate flummoxed political opponents with scathing personal insults.
WHAT ELSE DID BOLTON AND BOLSONARO DISCUSS?
Trade ties and regional security, among other topics. Bolton’s counterpart in the incoming Bolsonaro administration, Gen. Augusto Heleno, was present at the meeting, along with other top aides. Like Trump, Bolsonaro is planning to tap several retired military officers for his Cabinet.
WHERE DOES BOLSONARO STAND ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
Trump’s climate-change views have isolated him among Western leaders, but in Bolsonaro, he seems to have found a kindred spirit. The U.S. president this week dismissed the findings of an exhaustive report by his own administration that climate change will seriously harm the United States’ economy. The Brazilian president-elect, for his part, has talked about wanting to rescind Brazil’s offer to host the United Nations’ climate conference next year, and has said he may follow Trump’s lead in pulling out of the Paris climate accord. With growing fears over the effects of deforestation, Brazil, with the planet’s largest rain forests, is a key player in climate policy.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro has surrounded himself with climate-change skeptics. His intended foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, has called climate change a Marxist hoax.
WHAT HAVE TRUMP AND BOLSONARO SAID ABOUT EACH OTHER?
Plenty of kind words have been exchanged. Bolsonaro styled himself in the mold of the U.S. leader, frequently professing public admiration for Trump. The U.S. president, for his part, weighed in with a swift congratulatory call when Bolsonaro won the election, tweeting the next day that the two would work closely on trade and security “and everything else!” Before flying down to Rio, Bolton told reporters at the White House this week that Bolsonaro’s election was a “historic opportunity” for his country and his compatriots.
WHAT ABOUT MIDEAST POLICY?
Bolsonaro has indicated he intends to follow Trump’s lead and move his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy — in line with his declaration that the U.S. recognizes the divided city as Israel’s capital — was denounced by Palestinians who said it prejudiced the outcome of any future peace talks.
WHAT ABOUT CHINA?
Like Trump, Bolsonaro made a point of talking tough about Beijing on the campaign trail, accusing the Chinese of economic bullying and “buying Brazil.” But he has softened some of that criticism since his election, taking a more pragmatic stance.
DO BOLSONARO AND TRUMP SEE EYE-TO-EYE ON REGIONAL ISSUES?
Brazil is Latin America’s economic powerhouse, and like Trump, Bolsonaro indicates he’s ready to use that clout to punish neighbors he views as recalcitrant. And like Trump, he has made a particular target of the leftist leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.
WHEN DOES BOLSONARO TAKE OVER?
He assumes office on Jan. 1. Brazilian reports have suggested he would like it if Trump came to his inauguration, but that’s considered unlikely.
AND THE NEXT GENERATION?