To colleagues who think Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro is the greatest thing since sliced bread for dealing with socialists in Latin America, do as Reagan once said, “trust but verify.”
Bolsonaro’s pre-game has been better than average. He has talked a good talk. And, yes, in politics talking the talk is part of the effort. However, Bolsonaro must also deliver a lot more than pithy sound bites. The fact of the matter is Brazil propped up Cuba, Venezuela, and many other terrible governments, dictators, gross violators of human rights in the region.
Bolsonaro has yet to deliver. And from what I’ve read the past few weeks from him, while promising, is mostly talk. Brazil has a lot to atone for … he may have disinvited Cuba’s Raul Castro and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, but invited other key officials of the ALBA to his swearing in. Why?
Most likely because both nations just inked a massive energy deal and Bolsonaro does not want to insult Bolivia’s left-wing dictator, Evo Morales. So Bolsonaro did not invite Castro or Maduro, he welcomed their emissary, Morales. A win-win for Bolsonoro, but not a win for liberty. Brazil has the political and economic clout to have kept Morales, a dictator and gross violator of human rights, out of Brazil without jeopardizing the deal.
Brazil can be an excellent ally for the United States in South America and the region, but it Bolsonaro a lot of problems to deal with domestically that will consume Bolsonaro’s time and political capital. The left controls Brazil’s bureaucracy whose left-wing leader, former President Lula da Silva, leads behind bars. The Odebrecht scandal remains a drag too (see the article embedded at the end of this post).
As the world’s leading producer of sugar and sweeteners, I am very skeptical of Bolsonaro’s desire for a free Cuba. Why would Brazil want Cuba producing sugar again? Experts say Cuba will not never do this; that the Cuban sugar sector is a thing of the past. They are dead wrong. Then there is travel, another vital sector of economic development in Brazil. The same holds for Cuba.
Travel for Cuba today is what oil is to Iran, an economic essential. I could make similar financial connections and arguments to other nations in the Western Hemisphere, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and just about every ALBA nation. Cuba, however, is the crown jewel for Brazil for short- and long-term economic and other interests.
Will Bolsonaro hold to account Brazilian companies engaging in management practices in Cuba’s travel sector that amount to slavery? Will Bolsonaro discourage Brazilian companies to cease trafficking on properties confiscated from American citizens and companies? Will Brazil help bring to justice Cuban government officials responsible for atrocity crimes and other gross violations of human rights? Without U.S. leadership, and in some cases pressure, I strongly doubt it.
What can Bolsonaro do to earn U.S. trust in the short term? Impose economic sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Help bring down the anti-liberty Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas or ALBA. For starters. Only the United States can lead in the Americas as we should. And it would be a very good thing for Bolsonaro to help President Trump make liberty a reality for millions of Latin Americans living under tyranny.