Since Joe Biden won the American presidential election in November, the Brazilian opposition has been debating who could be the “Brazilian Biden,” a domestic version of the American candidate capable of uniting more than half the country and defeating a president from the extreme right. The search is futile. First, because the American political party system forces unity around one name, while in Brazil this only happens during the second round. When it happens. Second, because the Brazilian Joe Biden is Biden himself.
Diplomats, consultants and entrepreneurs with business in both countries have repeatedly said that pending issues between Biden and Jair Bolsonaro will dissipate once the new administration takes office. Economic interests will speak louder, they claim. It is an argument that says more about the interests involved than reality.
It is a fact that the United States is interested in having a government in Brazil that rejects Chinese influence on the continent. It is also a fact that the Brazilian market is interested in having access to initial public offerings in New York. For the “nothing will change” group, the cost of a truce is very low. It is enough for the Bolsonaro administration to show a minimum of competence in stopping the devastation in the Amazon and ridding itself of two beasts: Ricardo Salles, environment minister, and Ernesto Araújo, foreign affairs minister. However, they do not know Bolsonaro.
This is an era of political dominance. Bolsonaro will arrive in 2022 without economic achievement and with the disaster of the fight against COVID-19 on his back. He needs ideological discourse to keep his base agitated, and that implies keeping the conversation about national sovereignty alive and trying to pass laws in Congress that favor his agribusiness base, with projects that legalize the possession of lands invaded by farmers in the Amazon and that legalize mining on Indigenous lands. For the loyal base of Bolsonarism, accelerating the deforestation in the Amazon is the soul of the presidential vote. To suppose that Bolsonaro will give up on the agenda of these supporters in order to take criticism from the White House is naive.
For Biden, too, a quarrel with Bolsonaro is not all bad. Without a majority in the Senate, the future president has made centrist appointments, displeasing the leftist base essential to his election. Facing Bolsonaro in defense of the Amazon is a cheap alternative in place so as not to disappoint the ecosocialist wing of the American Democratic Party, led by the popular Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, known as AOC. As the Brazilianist and editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, Brian Winter, projected, “If AOC starts tweeting about Bolsonaro, the relationship will be in trouble.”
Bolsonaro believes he will be able to repeat the same rude behavior with the United States that he directs at China, the European Union and Argentina. Biden may realize political gain from the fight, especially since it will give a voice to the environmental and Indigenous nongovernmental organizations in the United States that so greatly displease Bolsonaro and which have branched out among the left wing of the Democrats. In percentage terms, it is more likely that Bolsonaro and Biden’s relationship will be bad rather than good.
Having a heavyweight to wear down Bolsonaro in 2021 is a dream for the opposition. Divided into grievance and ego, the opposition depends on a victory in the chamber of deputies in February to retain some relevance in the life of the nation. If they lose, which is possible, they will be restricted to writing opinion pieces and editorials that no one reads. Biden (who knew?!) could be the perfect “Biden” to oppose Bolsonaro.