Newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has wasted no time in cultivating positive relationships with U.S. president Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fellow right-wing nationalist leaders who have made popular appeals to racism in their respective countries.
The rise of Bolsonaro — who has promoted the purging of leftists and ethnic cleansing of indigenous people, and said some Black people were not “even good for procreation” — is viewed as an assault on the most vulnerable in Brazil, including the poor, Black, indigenous and LGBTQ people.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s March 19 visit with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House only underscores the relationship cultivated between the two men, and their common cause as white nationalist leaders and climate change deniers who were elected based on right-wing populism, a pro-business agenda and appeals to racism. The two men have praised each other, and Bolsonaro is known as “South America’s Trump” and “Trump of the Tropics.” “Trump is an example to me,” Bolsonaro said last year while on a campaign visit to the U.S. “I know there is a distance between me and Trump, but I hope to become closer to him, for the good of Brazil and of the United States. I want to bring lessons from here to Brazil.”
Upon entering office to lead the second-largest economy in the hemisphere — with the largest Black population outside of the African continent — Bolsonaro said he would make Brazil a Christian theocracy, declaring: “God above everything. There is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian and the minority will have to change, if they can. The minorities will have to adapt to the position of the majority.” In his first day in office, Bolsonaro signed executive orders wiping out land rights for indigenous people and quilombolas, the descendants of self-liberated enslaved Black people, and handing control of the demarcation of indigenous land from Brazil’s indigenous agency over to the agriculture ministry, viewed as a victory for agribusiness.
Although the 1988 constitution guarantees ancestral land rights to indigenous and Black people, those who occupy the quilombos, which are located in the rural areas and the rainforest, are subjected to land grabs and deadly violence from mining and agribusiness. “Less than one million people live in those places isolated from the real Brazil,” said a tweet in his native Portuguese from Bolsonaro, who has opposed land concessions for Black and indigenous people. “They are exploited and manipulated by nonprofits. Together we will integrate those citizens and give value to all Brazilians.” A coalition of civil society groups warned the executive orders “are only the first step on meeting Bolsonaro’s campaign promises of dismantling environmental governance, stripping indigenous peoples of their rights and opening up indigenous lands for business.”
Paving the way for logging in the Amazon rainforest, Bolsonaro has raised concerns he is readying for genocide of indigenous people, as he once said: “There is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians.” said Bolsonaro, who also thinks “Indians smell, are uneducated and don’t speak our language,” and that “the recognition of indigenous land is an obstacle to agribusiness.”
Trump congratulated Bolsonaro on his victory on Twitter, saying “the U.S.A. is with you!” The Brazilian leader replied by saying “under God’s protection, we shall bring prosperity and progress to our people!”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended Bolsonaro’s inauguration as the new Brazilian leader announced his plans to move his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and Israel will sell drones with facial recognition capabilities to Brazil. Echoing the ethnonationalist rhetoric of his American and Brazilian counterparts, Netanyahu has said recently that Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people,” and called African migrants and refugees in Israel “infiltrators” who are a threat to the nation.
A senior Israeli official reportedly said that “Brazil will be colored blue and white” with Bolsonaro in charge, referring to the colors of the Israeli flag. And Bolsonaro’s sons signaled their support for Israel by wearing T-shirts with logos of the Israeli army and Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, which are used to maintain the nation’s occupation of the Palestinian lands and the monitoring of Palestinian activists.
Brazilian police say links between Bolsonaro and two ex-police officers who are suspects in the murder of Black human rights activist and politician Marielle Franco are merely coincidental.
The rise of Bolsonaro threatens to undermine the progress people of African descent had made in Brazil in recent years, including an affirmative action program leading to a 268 percent increase in Black college matriculation, and efforts to fight racism and Black youth genocide.
“I’ve faced so many barriers just because I am a black woman — my rights are attacked nearly every day. I am a student at the university in Salvador. I am here to make up diversity quotas, so people don’t think I deserve my place at university, when it’s my right to be here,” said Jamille, a human rights activist, of being a Black woman in Brazil under Bolsonaro. Jamille told Amnesty International she still has hope and inspiration and will defend human rights. “Given the current climate, I am fearful nothing will change, but my hope is that together we create a world that is more welcoming to diversity and less unequal. It’s up to us to create this world together,” she added.
Meanwhile, the words and actions of Brazil’s new president point to a desire to return to past racism and repression. “The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill,” Bolsonaro said in 2016 of the military regime that controlled Brazil from 1964 until 1985. Whatever he does, it appears he will have the support of Trump and Netanyahu.