Tuesday, 18 Dec 2018

The future of Brazil is not clear amid opposing ideologies of ministers

RIO DE JANEIRO – After taking office in a few weeks, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is setting up a cabinet composed of ministers with very different points of view on key issues such as climate change, the economy and China, which raises questions about the direction of the far-right leader. will take the largest nation of Latin America.

Since his election in October, Bolsonaro has appointed a finance minister trained in the neoliberal economy, a foreign minister who describes globalization as "an anti-human and anti-Christian system", supporters and critics of the role of China in the region, several generals and a justice minister who is arguably the most renowned corruption fighter in the world.

Analysts say the eclectic choices made by the former army captain who takes office Jan. 1 announce clashes not only within his cabinet, but probably with Bolsonaro himself, some of their points of view being in contradiction with his campaign promises.

"We are already seeing clear signs of tension," said Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the University and think tank Fundacao Getulio Vargas.

Bolsonaro and his new ministers have not responded to many requests for comment.

The future Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araujo, is undoubtedly the most antagonistic figure of the new government. He has never been an ambassador or high-ranking member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during his almost 30 years of public service.

On his blog, Araujo wrote that he wanted to "help Brazil and the world to free itself from the globalist ideology", and globalism was "an anti-human and anti-Christian system" driven by "cultural Marxism" for promote China.

Like Bolsonaro, who has campaigned against nationalist crime against anti-crime, anti-socialism and "traditional Brazilian values," Araujo considers China and the billions of dollars invested in Brazilian sectors of the country. energy, infrastructure and gas sovereignty of the country.

But the largest economy in Latin America clearly needs China for more than investment: the Asian giant is the top destination for Brazilian exports with 47 billion US dollars, according to data from the Brazilian government.

Araujo's antagonism to China will meet resistance not only from Brazilian companies, but also from other powerful ministers who see China very differently, including the future finance minister, Paulo Guedes.

Guedes, a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, has largely rallied the business community in the Bolsonaro campaign by promising to cut public spending, privatize many industries and increase foreign investment. At the beginning of the campaign, Guedes was introduced to Bolsonaro by the Brazilian businessman Winston Ling, son of Chinese immigrants.

Brazil's position on climate change is another problem that can provoke conflict. The whole world will watch how Brazil approaches the subject as it is home to much of the Amazon's vital rainforest.

Bolsonaro has threatened to withdraw from the Paris agreement and is committed to helping major mining and agribusiness companies expand their activities in protected areas, including Amazonian forests. His foreign minister also expressed his skepticism about climate change, calling it "dogma" used by the left to promote China's growth.

But an overhaul of Araujo's environmental policies and protectionist views could be very costly. Observers say the abandonment of the Paris Agreement could lead foreign markets, such as the European Union, to boycott some Brazilian products.

Guedes and the future Minister of Agriculture, Tereza Cristina, will probably oppose any measure that would jeopardize relations between Brazil and its main trading partners.

"Exacerbated nationalism can not be justified in a globalized world," said Congressman Alceu Moreira, who heads the powerful lobby of agriculture that supported the Bolsonaro campaign.

Moreira argued that protectionism ultimately undermined the efficiency and competitiveness of Brazilian industry.

"We want the people who represent us at the Foreign Ministry to be better qualified," he added, apparently referring to Araujo.

Jose Alfredo Graca Lima, former consul general in New York and Los Angeles, said he thought Guedes would be the predominant voice among cabinet members.

"But I still wonder who will lead, who will play the lead role (in Brazilian diplomacy)?" Said Graca Lima.

And some ministers may even come into conflict with their boss.

Guedes' vision of the free market and privatization has sometimes seemed to contradict that of Bolsonaro, who is nostalgic of the Brazilian military dictatorship of 1964-1985, a time when the state played an important role in the economy.

Sergio Moro, who as a judge oversaw the "Car Wash," one of the largest corruption investigations in history, could also clash with Bolsonaro despite the president-elect's promise not to meddle of its decisions.

With the backdrop of 63,880 homicides registered in Brazil in 2017, Bolsonaro was largely elected on the promise of improving security by tackling street gangs. He proposed easing the gun laws, reducing the death penalty and lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 or 17 years.

Moro will probably not accept such proposals and has already expressed reservations about easing the gun laws. Since his appointment as Super Minister of Justice and Public Safety, Mr. Moro has presented plans to fight white collar crime, but he has become a master of security.

Up to now, the seven retired army members appointed by Bolsonaro are positioning themselves as jokers in the future government.

Elected Vice-President Hamilton Mourao, a retired general, made several polemical statements, such as the defense of torture under the dictatorship of Brazil. However, many observers also see it as the adult in the room.

On various occasions, Mourao has tempered Bolsonaro's most controversial positions, such as the move of the Brazilian Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump.

Brazil is one of the largest exporters of halal meat in the world, while Iran and Egypt are its third and fourth largest buyers of beef, according to data from the Brazilian Association of Beef Exporters.

"This is obviously a question that will have to be well thought out," Mourao told the Folha newspaper in S. Paulo. "We have an important commercial relationship with the Arab world."

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, disseminated, rewritten or redistributed.


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