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How the Brazilian President's Effort to Bolster Bilateral Cooperation Led to Coronavirus Contamination

Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. (AP)

Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. (AP)

March 21, 2020

President Donald Trump’s March 7, 2020, dinner meeting with Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago will be remembered primarily for bringing the U.S. leader into direct contact with Brazilian government officials who subsequently tested positive for coronavirus, potentially putting the U.S. president at risk. That was not the intended takeaway. Rather, Bolsonaro, a self-described Trump admirer, had hoped to use the meeting to bolster support among his own domestic political base while also seeking to undergird the bilateral relationship with concrete steps that, until the election of both presidents, would have been virtually unthinkable. Coronavirus aside, observers will miss a major, transformational development in hemispheric affairs if they overlook the pro-American shift that Bolsonaro seeks in the bilateral relationship.

Anyone looking at the U.S.-Brazil relationship for more than thirty seconds quickly comes to the realization that, while the potential for cooperation is huge, the reality is starkly different. Despite its size, wealth, democratic traditions, and global ambitions, Brazil has generally not been viewed in strategic terms by most U.S. policy planners, who have simply not devoted adequate time at the most senior levels of government to develop the relationship. This is due in part to Brazil’s physical location in South America, its limited hard power capabilities, and its generally cool institutional relations with the G7 and North Atlantic nations, pillars of the traditional U.S. alliance structure...

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