At the end of his first state visit to Washington DC this week, Jair Bolsonaro hailed his meeting with Donald Trump as a “historic moment”, claiming he was returning home with a sensation of “mission accomplished”. Today, Brazil’s far-right leader begins his second official trip – to Chile, where he is poised to receive a much less warm welcome.
Chilean lawmakers have called for him to be declared persona non grata, saying that they were concerned by the visit from “a president who represents the far right and defends the proliferation of hate speech and endorses violations of human rights”.
The trip triggered an outcry before it even began after an invitation for a lunch in Bolsonaro’s honour instructed male attendees to wear “dark suit or uniform” while women were told to wear a “short dress”. A group of leftist politicians have subsequently refused to attend the event.
The feminist deputy Miate Orsini tweeted: “Not only does the Chilean government decide to receive with honors a president who is xenophobic and misogynistic, but they also asked the female federal deputies who were invited to wear ‘short dresses.’”
Tomas Hirsch, a federal deputy, tweeted, “OBVIOUSLY I will not participate in a lunch with a fascist, violent, dangerous populist like Bolsonaro.”
“I deeply regret that the Piñera government is getting closer and closer to the most extreme governments on the planet,” Hirsch said in an interview, calling Bolsonaro’s visit “absolutely inappropriate”.
He added that Bolsonaro’s visit “validates those who do not accept the basic principles of respecting human rights, diversity and nonviolence.”
Gay and antifascist activists have planned protests against the divisive leader, infamous for discriminating against women, LGBT people, Afro-Brazilians and other minorities.
Chileans have taken to social media to express their discontent with their president’s welcome for Bolsonaro, with #BolsonaroPersonaNonGrata trending on Twitter in the country.
Oliver Stuenkel, an international relations professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas University in São Paulo, said that protests against Bolsonaro are likely the “new normal” on trips abroad.
“In any country with a strong civil society, the president will likely be met with protests,” he said, citing Bolsonaro’s track record of racism, misogyny and comments against human rights, plus more recent allegations of family links to paramilitary groups.
But many Latin American leaders may have to pull off a delicate balancing act: while Bolsonaro may be widely disliked by their voters, he is still the leader of the biggest country – and biggest economy – in the continent.
“A Latin American president can’t avoid meeting Bolsonaro, and they have to be nice enough to get along with him but can’t look like they’re too closely aligned to him because it could hurt them domestically,” said Stuenkel.
Bolsonaro arrived in Santiago, Chile’s capital, on Thursday night and will participate in meetings about regional trade initiatives with the Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera, and the Colombian president, Iván Duque.
Piñera and Duque are expected to try to woo Bolsonaro into joining their “Prosur” agreement, which they say promotes economic and political integration in the region without ideological connections.
Many in Bolsonaro’s administration have dismissed the Mercosur trade block, which is associated with the leftist governments in the region, but they have yet to take a clear position regional relations.
“Bolsonaro is going to be forced to take a stance on something he hasn’t yet… This will certainly set the tone for regional relations,” Stuenkel said, pointing out that Prosur is not a Brazil-led initiative, as most regional policies usually have been.
“It will be interesting to see to what extent Bolsonaro shows that he considers himself the leader of the region. This would be the moment to assert that,” he said. “The future of South America is up for debate at this meeting.”