Biden to raise free elections with Brazil's pro-Trump leader

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Joe Biden is preparing for an awkward first meeting with Brazil's far-right leader, who has raised doubts not only about his own country's voting but about the legitimacy of the US president's election.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who was one of the most outspoken international allies of Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, is taking part in the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where Biden is seeking to champion democracy.

The presidents of the Western Hemisphere's two most populous nations are expected to meet Thursday on the sidelines of the summit.

Bolsonaro will then head to Florida to open a consulate in Orlando and will seek to meet figures from Trump's Republican Party, Brazilian officials said.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security advisor, said that Biden would not shy away from bringing up Brazil's October elections in which Bolsonaro is expected to face former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a leftist icon who was jailed on controversial corruption charges.

"There are no topics off-limits in any bilateral the president does, including with President Bolsonaro," Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One.

"I do anticipate that the president will discuss open, free, fair, transparent democratic elections," he said.

He said that Biden would also speak about climate change with Bolsonaro, a stalwart defender of agribusiness who has horrified environmental activists with his record on preserving the Amazonian rainforest.

Bolsonaro is traveling as he faces accusations of not doing enough to find a British journalist and Brazilian indigenous expert who went missing in the Amazon.

- 'Trump was very good' -

Bolsonaro has appeared to be adopting an election playbook from Trump, who has never recognized his defeat in 2020.

The Brazilian leader has already alleged without evidence that there has been tampering with his country's electronic voting machines.

Bolsonaro has also spoken with sympathy about the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, raising the specter of turbulence in the world's sixth most populous nation.

Just ahead of meeting Biden, Bolsonaro said he had heard reports of irregularities in the 2020 election from unnamed Brazilians in the United States -- despite repeated investigations that have showed no widespread fraud.

"Look, the American people are the ones who say it" on fraud, Bolsonaro said, while adding he would respect "the sovereignty of another country."

"Now, Trump was very good. And we listened to a lot of things that leave us suspicious. We don't want that happening in Brazil," he said.

The Biden administration has largely decided to keep criticism of Bolsonaro out of the public, hoping both to avoid entangling the United States in Brazilian politics and to preserve, where possible, opportunities for cooperation.

The State Department last month said that Brazil has "a strong track record on free and fair elections" and that Brazilians need to have "confidence in their electoral system."

Bolsonaro has trailed in early polls to Lula, who largely worked with the United States during his 2003-2010 presidency but recently raised eyebrows with sharp criticism over Western diplomacy on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Biden hopes that the Summit of the Americas, being held for the second time in the United States, will showcase democracy.

He refused to invite the leftist leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela on the grounds that they are autocrats, prompting Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to boycott the summit.

Benjamin Gedan, director of Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said there should be no issue meeting Bolsonaro as he was democratically elected.

But Gedan said that Bolsonaro's record on both democracy and the environment should be reasons to alarm Biden.

"The Brazilian president has waged a four-year war on trees that has dramatically undermined the global effort to combat the climate crisis. There are vast differences between the two leaders," he said.

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