Minister Ernesto Araújo, who made an analogy between social isolation and concentration camps, poses serious obstacles to the work of his successors. For some issues, the order from Brasilia is to consult the U.S. State Department, and to follow Washington.
Impassive, Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araujo stood by the side of the president of the Republic during the speech that followed the fall of Minister Sergio Moro, one of the allies who embodied Jair Bolsonaro’s electoral victory. Disagreement about the direction of the economy also threatens the image and the longevity of the other electoral guarantor, Paulo Guedes, minister of the economy, but Araujo continues to have carte blanche to destroy Brazilian diplomatic traditions. And not just that.
Some experts have come to doubt that the Bolsonaro government has a clear foreign policy, but Araujo has. His objective, manifested publicly, is to destroy conditions which allowed Brazil to have a diplomacy to call its own, in defense of the national interest. Araujo espouses a suicidal ‘gun’ diplomacy, of a gang, almost entirely revolved around pleasing a radicalized domestic public, which delights in imitating the bellicose gesture of Jair Bolsonaro.
As guidance, this policy upholds an uncritical alliance with the leader of the Christian Western world, the United States, and contradictorily, an alliance with radical nationalistic governments around the world. It is the foreign policy of shooting oneself in the foot: It seeks to minimize, obstruct or simply eliminate channels that permit a country such as Brazil to exercise its own influence over the South American region and the world.
Beyond the free-trade treaties, which the Ministry of Economics commands, leaving the Itamaraty in the background, the only concession Bolsonaro has made to multilateral action so far was praise for the actions of the Brazilian armed forces on peace missions for the United Nations, in which some generals of his government participated.*
In his latest histrionic act, an article in which he accused the effort against the coronavirus as an effort to make room for a supposed “comunavirus,” Araujo, under the pretext of analyzing an article by philosopher Slavoj Zizek, argued that submitting to the national politics and guidelines of the World Health Organization would be “just the first step in the construction of planetary Communist solidarity.” In the Brazilian chancellor’s view, “globalism is the new path to Communism,” and the world battle against COVID-19 is an opportunity “to accelerate” the “globalist project” against which he drives the effort of national diplomacy.
In the article, which caused amazement in diplomatic circles, Araujo described how this “globalist project,” incompatible with Brazilian foreign policy, would act “through climatism or climate alarmism, gender ideology, of racialism or the reorganization of society by race (referring to policies related to affirmative action such as quotas for black people), of anti-nationalism and scientificism.”
Araujo’s carelessness with language, an anathema in diplomatic practice, led to a public censure from the American Jewish Committee, which demanded the chancellor seek forgiveness for making an analogy between social distancing measure and Nazi concentration camps. Araujo did not apologize. He accused his critics of “being unjust and mistaken,” and, rejecting his own analogy, Araujo blamed Zizek for bringing up the subject of concentration camps.
More than just being insubstantial fantasies, Araujo’s diplomatic plan breaks and contradicts a tradition of positioning Brazil as a global actor, qualified and interested in reinforcing international cooperation and negotiation. He opposed, for example, agreements such as the Group of Seven major industrial nations’ communique in favor of “global coordination” to combat the COVID-19 pandemic; and even worse, causes real constraints in international diplomacy.
In the United Nations, Brazil vetoed references to terms such as “gender” in official documents, and voted against references to the promotion of sexual education. In one of those votes, according to a member of the Brazilian delegation in Geneva, a Brazilian diplomat was approached by an African colleague, who complained that the Brazilian position had made it more difficult for him to convince politicians and members of his country’s conservative government of the necessity to support modern U.N. policies that protect women and children in sexual matters.
Brazil, one of the most active founding countries in the United Nations, which was accorded the privilege of being the first to speak at the annual U.N. General Assembly, is today the target of mockery in the organization for statements such as those of Chancellor Araujo and accusations raised by figures close to Bolsonaro, that the United Nations is part of a “globalist” plot against patriotism and Christian principles. Bolsonarist diplomacy openly boycotts U.N. initiatives in order to strengthen its positions in domestic politics, from its war against a supposed “gender ideology” to disdain for global human rights policies.
When he left the seat he gained thanks to the affiliation with paranoid ideas of the ideologue Olavo de Carvalho and his close relationship to Bolsonaro’s third son, Eduardo, Araujo planted serious obstacles in the way of his successors’ work, from helping to eviscerate Brazil’s role in international foreign policy bodies such as the U.N., WHO or Mercosul, or by creating a demoralizing precedent for the Itamaraty on subjects dear to the country’s traditions, such as attachment to the idea of diplomatic solutions to conflicts, opposition to unilateral action, reinforcement of multilateral institutions for making decisions which affect everyone, or the image of Brazil as a trustworthy mediator, capable of producing quality technical proposals.
Araujo will have served as an adjunct with respect to Donald Trump’s policy of paralyzing the mechanisms of the World Trade Organization that act against arbitrary customs barriers. He will have excluded Brazil from the joint effort in, and eventual benefit of, the fight against COVID-19 sponsored by the World Health Organization; and collaborated in a secondary role to void the integration of the Mercosul countries and bury successful South American initiatives for cooperation in defense, commerce and other supranational aspects that affect the future of the region.
With his attacks on international environmental treaties, he will have also contributed to eliminating the legitimacy achieved by Brazil in relevant discussions about how to fight global climate change, thus reinforcing the arguments of ecologists and other activists in Europe against the free trade agreement between Mercosul and the European Union. Experienced diplomats affirm that the trade agreement is dying, not just because of the increase in protectionist pressure on the European continent after the pandemic, but from the friction with two of the principal governments of the bloc, Germany and France, created by Bolsonaro and Araujo. This was one of the few results that expressed Bolsonaro’s foreign policy.
Multinational initiatives, such as the Infrastructure Integration Project for the Americas, promoted by the Inter-American Development Bank, lost their prominence on the agenda of the “anti-globalist” Itamaraty. The most significant work supported by the Itamaraty, the bio-oceanic corridor that will pass through Mato Grosso, has been currently taken over by ProSul, in a government initiative articulated among governments to the right of the political spectrum, initiated by the presidents of Chile and Colombia and communicated later to the Brazilian government.
With respect to the IDB, in recent months it has been increasingly committed to supporting the United States in substituting the Venezuelan representative at the bank, dismissing the one nominated by Nicolas Maduro and nominating a representative chosen by the self-proclaimed president, Juan Guaido.
The role of being subordinate to Trump’s diplomatic policies, moreover, is a role that Araujo managed to impose worldwide on Brazilian diplomats. Officials who have graduated from the Itamaraty, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal, reveal that in questions relating to the Middle East in which Brazil has no clear position, the order from Brasilia is to consult with the U.S. State Department, and follow Washington.
In the governments that took over after the failure of the military regime (the regime which left the country with hyperinflation, a fiscal crisis, unpayable foreign debt, corruption and inefficiency in the public sector along with misery from violence in the large cities), Brazil’s foreign policy changed focus or emphasis, but not substance. And international diplomatic action was used to resolve problems and point to solutions, many times with Brazil being the protagonist.
With Jose Sarney, the project that resulted in Mercosul disarmed the distrust between the Brazilian military and Argentina, and in the government that followed, allowed unexpected cooperation with regard to nuclear material. With Collor, the solidification of a common market helped overcome resistance in the industrial sectors of the two countries and broke down commercial barriers that had added to the inefficiencies in the region’s industrial parks.
In the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Health Minister Joe Serra won victories in the WTO and WHO that eased the production and commercialization of generic medicines. In the Lula government, despite criticism from opponents and veteran diplomats, there was a dose of pragmatism that buried initiatives in Venezuela, Bolivia and other neighboring countries meant to characterize Brazil as a kind of sub-imperialist power benefiting in trade and infrastructure; and even generated an unexpected Brazil-United States agreement with George W. Bush on the popularization of ethanol boycotted by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
While the FHC government argued that, due to the lack of power resources (notably military and economic force), Brazil needed to choose to ally itself with already existing international initiatives that were in its interest, the Lula government in its “active and haughty diplomacy” estimated it could influence the global agenda itself. This generated initiatives that were criticized, such as the effort for an Iran nuclear agreement, but Brazil exerted strong influence in global debates, and had relative success at times, such as the formation of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market nations, and with the WTO, dedicated to defending the interests of emerging countries. In addition to this, Brazil was invited to participate in another G-20 summit, the political G-20 that reunited leaders of rich and emerging countries to discuss joint resolutions to global issues.
There is a consensus among analysts that by antagonizing China, France and other powers, attacking multilateral agencies and directing statements of authorities with the objective of mobilizing his more radical base, President Bolsonaro has compromised Brazil’s decade-long effort of adopting so-called soft power that allows a country to gain results by using the forces of persuasion and convincing by example.
Joseph Nye Jr., who created the notion of soft power, said, “Soft power may appear less risky than economic or military power, but it is hard to use, easy to lose and costly to reestablish.” It is easy to imagine the influence of the “anti-globalist” policy being subordinated to the initiatives of ideological partners, especially the United States of Trump.
It is urgent and necessary to remove the paranoid chancellor from his diplomatic command. The pandemic raised the risk of protectionism and of unilateralism on the part of the great powers, and the increasing influence of China, the first country to get up after the shock of quarantine, will generate an unpredictable response from the other great global actors.
In the coming years, we will have a debate around strategies to deal with new threats to world health with the recovery of the economy and with the reorganization of global commerce and service chains, amid global warming and the increasing influence of Asia in global arrangements. Brazil already had an important role in these discussions, but today is a mere spectator. With the continuation of Araujo or some generic equivalent, Brazil runs a worse risk, that of watching it all as the inconvenient participant in the back of the room, whose proclamations only bother those who are taking seriously the negotiations which affect us all.
*Editor’s note: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducts Brazil’s foreign relations with other countries. It is commonly referred to in Brazilian media and diplomatic jargon as Itamaraty, after the palace that houses the ministry.