Fri, 26 Apr 2019

US President Donald Trump and Brazil's new far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro forged a bond over their shared brand of conservative and populist politics on Tuesday, with Trump pledging to give more US support to Brazil's global ambitions.

Speaking at a joint White House news conference Trump said: "As I told President Bolsonaro, I also intend to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally - or ... maybe a NATO ally. I'll have to talk to a lot of people but maybe a NATO ally - which will greatly advance security and cooperation between our countries."

Brazil has pursued a closer relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to make buying U.S. weapons easier and to lower barriers to military and other cooperation with the US.

At the outset of their first meeting, the two populist presidents exchanged football jerseys from their national teams, with Trump's name emblazoned on Brazil's famous yellow shirt and Bolsonaro's on the USA uniform.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain who styled his 2018 campaign on Trump's 2016 run, has declared himself on unabashed admirer of the US president and his politics and the American way of life.

Despite the friendly rhetoric, no major breakthroughs were expected from the White House meeting.

In 2018, Colombia became the only Latin American nation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as a "global partner", which means it will not necessarily have to take part in military action.

Trump also said he supported Brazil's efforts to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club of the world's advanced economies.

Brazil, the world's eighth-largest economy, applied in 2017 to join the OECD, which has around three dozen members including Latin American countries Mexico, Chile and Colombia.

Trade

Trump said he and Bolsonaro would also discuss improving trade between the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere.

"Brazil makes great product and we make great product, and our trade has been never as good as it should be in the past. And in some cases it should be far, far more," Trump said.

China long ago surpassed the United States as Brazil's biggest trading partner and Bolsonaro's economy minister on Monday urged the US to open its market more to Brazil if it wanted to change the status quo.

Before Tuesday's Oval Office meeting, Bolsonaro waived a visa requirement for US visitors to Brazil and later in a Fox News interview on Monday night threw his weight behind Trump's immigration agenda, which includes a wall on the Mexican border.

"We do agree with President Trump's decision or proposal on the wall," Bolsonaro said, in remarks translated to English by the broadcaster. "The vast majority of potential immigrants do not have good intentions. They do not intend to do the best or do good to the US people."

Trump said that he and Bolsonaro will have a "fantastic working relationship" and that "we have many views that are similar".

Pressure on Maduro

Trump warned on Tuesday that the US could impose "a lot tougher" sanctions on Venezuela as he urged the country's military to depose leftist leader Nicolas Maduro.

Bolsonaro echoed his calls for an end to the Maduro regime in Venezuela and an opening of the Venezuelan border with Brazil to allow humanitarian aid in.

"We call on members of Venezuelan military to end their support for Maduro who is really nothing more than a Cuban puppet and finally set their people free," Trump said.

Trump called on Venezuelan authorities to allow US humanitarian aid to flow across the border from Brazil.

Bolsonaro said "re-establishing democracy in Venezuela is a shared interest" with the US.

The two declined to discuss publicly any potential deployment of US troops to Brazil but Trump said, "all options are open. All options are a possibility".

Separately, the US announced on Tuesday new sanctions against Venezuela's state-run mining company Minerven and its president, Adrian Perdomo, in a bid to further cut off funding to the government.

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