Trump and Brazil: The Tale of an Undecided Romance
There are certainly many things that can be said about Donald Trump’s election. For many people, he’s a sign of terror, the end of life, and the start of doom who will return to the "Dark Ages", build an endless wall, deport foreigners, and formalize harassment against women. To these people, Trump is a symbol of backwardness and prejudice. But there’s always two sides to a coin. There’s a huge number of people who think that Mr. Trump is the right answer to a hard task. He’s the man who will fix national problems, bring jobs back to the USA, increase tax revenues while reducing the tax burden, cease the useless wars around the world and end the support to terrorist groups against sovereign nations.
While Hillary Clinton adopted the most belligerent speech against Iran, North Korea and Russia (in particular), Trump adopted a more conciliatory and less aggressive geopolitical discourse. And this was one of the reasons why he received active support from Vladimir Putin, who clearly treated him as a healthier alternative. But Donald is not a complete innovation. For example, he celebrated the recent death of the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Trump is also a manifestation of the traditional anti-communist American spirit, a conservative element welcomed by nationalist Americans.
Much of his polemics, both during his campaign and now after his election - an election that was indeed a "script error" - revolves around gays, women, blacks, and Latinos (and immigrants in general). But the geopolitical issues surrounding Latin America played a major role in this matter. The Hispanic and Latino American population in the USA comprises 50.5 million of people, 16.3% of the total country’s population according to the 2010 census (currently the number is certainly much higher than that). One of Hillary Clinton's greatest rhetorical resources was precisely to please this considerable portion of the population, building the image of her adversary as an anti-Latino in essence. Trump actually made more controversial statements about the Latino population, especially illegal immigrants. His policy is basically built with physical protectionism (attracting jobs back to the USA, now based primarily in China and in Third World countries) and population protectionism (to remove illegal immigrants from the US who are “damaging the economy and tax collection”).
Trump's proposal, however controversial, is not particularly new, and the alarm it generates is more a result of Hillary's support than a genuine aversion to this rhetoric itself. Historically, US policy is a strong one aimed at combat ting illegal immigration, and we can perceive some segregation against the Hispanic and Latino population in the United States. The granting of permanent visas and citizenship is not a simple thing, and, because of the miserable situation in most Latin American countries, there seems to be more prospect to risk a clandestine life in the United States than staying in one’s own countries of origin.
Brazil is the largest power in Latin America, but suffers essentially from the same social problems as its neighbors and more "distant" relatives (in Central America and the Caribbean): slums (called “favelas” in Portuguese), poverty, mass unemployment, excessive violence, and other issues.
Many Brazilians seek the United States as a way to secure better living conditions, even if risking living in hiding. They make the crossing illegally or stay longer than expected on tourist visas, sending most of the money they get to their relatives in Brazil. Generally, they work in manual services (domestic repairs, electrical services, cargo transportation, repairs in plumbing, carpentry, etc.). But there are also a significant number of Brazilians legally residing in the USA, carrying out activities of great technical and specialization level. These people are looking for a specialized market in the USA that they often do not find in Brazil.
In 2014, the Migration Policy Institute registered 336,000 Brazilian immigrants living in the US (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil speaks about 1.3 million Brazilians living in the United States, legally or illegally). Other estimates reach more than one million Brazilian immigrants with 1/5 or 1/3 of them living illegally. The conditions for residence and citizenship in the United States were reinforced by the Immigration Reform and the Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (Ironically, during Bill Clinton’s administration). These policies increased visa requirements for Brazilians, also making it more difficult for those who had previously resided illegally in the United States to make a return, through legal means, to the USA. But most of the causes that foster this immigration are originated by US policy itself and the economic relations between the US and Brazil.
Historically, Brazil has served as a "semi-colony" not only of the United States, but of the major world powers. Behind Brazil’s social problems is a “hidden” power.
Brazil has the largest reserves of fresh water in the world, invaluable mineral reserves, and pre-salt on the Brazilian coast. It is one of the largest producers of soy and meat (especially beef), not to mention a whole variety of vegetables. Coffee and sugar are symbols of Brazil around the world. Brazil is an essential partner for US geopolitical projects, especially in Latin America. We are big exporters of commodities. But, perhaps because of cultural imperialism, there is the mentality that we (Brazilians) need them (Americans) - and not the opposite, that our nation is fundamentally irrelevant, and that we should lean on the great American power that will "save us all" and defend the entire West against the "red wave", the "communist beast" - Russia.
The Brazilian Right, essentially neoliberal, produces the discourse that validates this logic in the relations between Brazil and the United States. It was precisely this Right that strongly supported Donald Trump (but his support in Brazil is not confined exclusively to this sector). Here in Brazil, this Right assumes the title of nationalist, but does not have any effectively nationalist component, as they defend the delivery of national patrimony to foreign capital, the dismantling of the Brazilian state, the logic of unlimited privatizations and Brazil’s submission to the geopolitical Atlanticist project. This is a conscious phenomenon, not only produced exclusively by misinformation, but by the very will of these people and by a desire to fundamentally achieve the "Americanization" of Brazil. This is an inheritance of the Cold War and the military regime imposed on Brazil from 1964 to 1985. The internal ideological logic in Brazil revolves around dualistic concepts such as Left versus Right, Public versus Private, State/Collective versus Individual.
In this dualism, capitalism is essentially good and everything else (seen as “communism”) is essentially bad. Thus, the ultimate symbol of capitalism, the United States, is seen as a superpower essentially serviceable to Brazil, while its opposite, Russia, represents the "project of communist hegemony" for the world. The fact that Putin supported Trump generated controversy among the most angry and extremist sectors of this Atlanticist Right. This thought is illogical and fortunately not hegemonic in Brazil. The number of those who understand Russia and multipolarity as beneficial elements to Brazil is growing significantly, and many here who supported Trump did so without the logic of this stateless Right, by seeing in Hillary an essentially worse agent not only for Brazil, but for the world.
Trump, however, has given no clear signal that he wants to change this pattern of relations with Brazil, nor should we harbor any illusions about it. After all, his motto was and is "Make America Great Again", and this obviously means keeping all the win-win relationships to the US.
However, at least Trump's apparent willingness to create less polarized relations with Russia means, directly or indirectly, that we will have more openness to create more favorable relations for Brazil. The biggest obstacle today is not even Trump or American geopolitics, but rather the internal political class, essentially composed of oligarchs without any commitment to the country, which, with the justification of a "crisis" (essentially virtual and caused by speculators), are pushing onto the people a series of austerity policies, increasing taxation on the poorest, and reducing investments in such sectors as health, education, and security. Meanwhile, they are increasing their own privileges in a situation analogous to what happens in Ukraine and Greece.
The political incapacity of the new government that came to power through political juggling, overthrowing former President Dilma Rousseff, puts at risk any advantage that might be exploited in this new perspective for foreign relations. Put simply, any virtual advantage from the election of Donald Trump will be invalidated by the incompetence and disinterest of the Brazilian political elite. Otherwise, it would be positive to obtain more advantageous relations for the Brazilian economy, attracting the specialized labor that left the country (the so-called "brain drain"), investing in sectors such as technology and information. A kind of "New Deal" would be welcome in Brazil at the present time. But just as the whole logic of US foreign policy is based on a geopolitical structure, on a geopolitical thought called Atlanticism, there is a need to erect something similar for Brazil: a Brazilian geopolitical thought. At the moment, there is an ideological "void", the absence of a project to lead Brazil which, for the moment, is subject of the simple logic of four-year elections and mandates. Meridionalism (Meridionalismo, in Portuguese) is essentially this project, the answer to fulfill this void. The logic behind Meridionalism, a thought essentially constructed by the professor André Martin, is the integration of Brazil into the scheme of multipolar world, making the country a power in the meridians, on the South axis. This means South-South cooperation.
But by becoming a power on the South axis, this would have inevitable consequences for relations with the North Axis countries. At one time or another, rivalry and the old instincts of Manifest Destiny could be resurrected in the United States that, from a likely beneficent partner, would become even more a castrating nation. Even if Trump is actually more concerned with the internal issues of his country, the resolution of these domestic issues inevitably runs up against foreign policy issues. For Trump, it is a matter of first undoing the negative image built around him toward Latinos and then building more friendly and just relations between the United States and Brazil.
This is a difficult task as well as an energetic task. He does not give clear signals of what he wants to do either with respect to Latinos or Brazil - nothing Democrats did not do before, and nothing that Hillary no longer clearly showed. There is a risk to Brazil as the current president, Mr. Michel Temer (who not only failed to do what he had set out to do – to essentially organize the internal situation of the country and the problems left by the previous government - but managed to worsen the situation), is essentially a client of the liberal hegemony project, the Atlanticist project.
Mr. Temer is practically a Trojan horse, a virus intentionally installed. He can represent the nullification of any possibility of paradigm break.
One of the symptoms of this factor were the little results of the Brazilian delegation at the last meeting of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South-Africa), led by Mr. Michel Temer and the current Brazilian minister of foreign affairs, José Serra (who could not even say which countries make up BRICS). The very divisions within the current government call into question any capacity to obtain the best relations and interactions for Brazil, even with a possible "cleaner" scenario with the election of Trump and the relative friendship and stability in relations between Brazil and the United States. The challenges for bilateral relations between both countries are mostly internal, even if external issues are relevant to the current situation in Brazil.
The impact of Trump's protectionist policies is essentially unknown, but it will definitely bring (perhaps negative) impacts to the Brazilian economy, which depends basically on exporting raw material to its largest partner on the continent and to other powers as well. Shortly after the election of Trump, the Brazilian stock market experienced a downturn (an observable phenomenon practically all over the world, especially in Asia): the BM & F Bovespa index dropped 5.1% and the Petrobras’ shares lost 6% of its market value as well. These are the consequences of "Trump Risk". Obviously, this speaks more against the speculative market (which practically functions as a casino) that "plays" with the economy, than specifically against Donald Trump himself. Soon thereafter, market indices not only re-emerged, but showed a slight increase. The reality is that the world market faces constant instability and that this negatively affects an essentially not industrialized country like Brazil, a country that is excessively dependent on external capital and embedded in the globalist market logic.
However, Donald is not a big fan of Latino countries or their culture. His comments on Latino countries, especially on Mexico, are essentially negative. There is tittle-tattle made around him and unproven statements (such as the accusation that he called Brazilian immigrants "Latino pigs"). But the value of partnership with Brazil is something that not even Trump's supposed chauvinism, whether real or not, can deny. Trump has business in Brazil - there is a Trump Hotel under construction in Rio de Janeiro, in the neighborhood of Jardim Oceânico (a high class area). This is the first South American Trump Hotel. Paulo Figueiredo Jr., an important businessman in Brazil and grandson of the last Brazilian president of the Military Regime (João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo), is one of Trump's partners in this venture. Definitely, Brazil is not a country that can be ignored by Donald Trump.
Mr. Michel Temer congratulated Trump on his victory in the presidential elections, and assured that relations between the two countries will not be affected. How this "non-effect" in relations can be harmful to Brazil is something to think seriously about, and this statement is far from being completely positive. There has yet to be a meeting between President Michel Temer and Trump, a ratified agreement, or any constructive or solid contact. Therefore, the future of relations between the two countries is subject to excessive speculation, and there is very little concrete material for a more assertive analysis.
There are three possibilities: either immobility and inertia in the current situation (which is clearly neither good nor desirable for the country); "negative improvement”, i.e.,, the increase in Brazilian exports to the US which could generate more money and GDP growth for Brazil but would only foster the state of dependence on this type of undesirable relations; or "positive improvement,” i.e., an increase in Brazilian gains from the relationship with the United States coupled with an industrialization project and greater dynamization of the national economy.
We have to wait for more concrete events to provide a more accurate analysis. This analysis will most probably not be positive, since the subservience of the current Brazilian government to the Atlanticist ideology will certainly mean the abidance of the current state of "colony" for Brazil. The internal political tension that is now growing in Brazil can change some things at the level of domestic and, consequently, external relations. We’ll have to clean the house first, and perhaps extend the visiting rug to the right guests. And Donald Trump, like Vladimir Putin, may be one of them. The handshake will be warmer in the tropics, and we hope to initiate a Brazilian growth project as a crucial force for the construction of a multipolar world.