Brazil’s far-right president and former Army captain Jair Bolsonaro visited President Trump at the White House for the first time on Tuesday. During the visit, Trump announced he would designate Brazil a major non-NATO ally, opening the door for Brazil to receive more U.S. military aid. Trump also suggested Brazil could even become a member of NATO. Both leaders criticized what they called the “fake news” and discussed increasing efforts to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from office. We speak with Maria Luísa Mendonça, director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil. She is a visiting scholar at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at President Trump’s meeting Tuesday with Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro at the White House.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I also know that we’re going to have a fantastic working relationship. We have many views that are similar. And we certainly feel very, very true to each other on trade. I think Brazil’s relationship with the United States, because of our friendship, is probably better than it’s ever been, by far.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tuesday’s meeting marked Bolsonaro’s first trip to Washington since he was sworn in as Brazil’s president in January. Some have described Bolsonaro as the “Trump of the Tropics.” The former military officer has praised Brazil’s former military dictatorship, which ended 33 years ago. He’s spoken in favor of torture and threatened to destroy, imprison or banish his political opponents. Human rights groups have expressed alarm over his past comments about women and the LGBT community. He once told a female lawmaker she was too ugly to rape. He also said he would rather hear his son died in a car crash than learn that his son is gay.
AMY GOODMAN: Bolsonaro’s election last year was aided in part by the jailing of his chief opponent, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who remains in prison. The judge involved in Lula’s case is now Bolsonaro’s justice minister. At the White House, Bolsonaro defended what he called traditional family values, and attacked the news media.
PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated] In conclusion, may I say that Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes, and against fake news?
AMY GOODMAN: Moments later, President Trump praised Bolsonaro’s use of the phrase “fake news.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you look at the networks, you look at the news, you look at the newscasts, I call it fake news. I’m very proud to hear the president use the term “fake news.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: During his remarks at the White House, President Trump vowed to strengthen economic and military ties with Brazil.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As I told President Bolsonaro, I also intend to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally, or even, possibly, if you start thinking about it, maybe a NATO ally—have to talk to a lot of people, but maybe a NATO ally—which will greatly advance security and cooperation between our countries.
AMY GOODMAN: The two leaders also discussed Venezuela and their efforts to topple President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. President Trump threatened to increase sanctions on Venezuela, which is already facing a humanitarian crisis.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But we really haven’t done the really tough sanctions yet. We can do the tough sanctions. And all options are open, so we may be doing that. But we haven’t done the toughest of sanctions, as you know.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about U.S.-Brazil relations, we’re joined by Maria Luísa Mendonça, the director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, visiting scholar at City University of New York Graduate Center.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. The significance of the meeting yesterday, Bolsonaro’s first as president, the former Army captain coming to meet with Trump, and what came out of it?
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: I think that, basically, Brazil gave out many things and didn’t receive anything back. For example, Bolsonaro promised that now U.S. citizens will not need a visa to travel to Brazil anymore, and that won’t be the case for Brazilians coming to the U.S., which is a big change in foreign policy. Brazil has a history of reciprocity in its foreign policy, and independent of the government. It’s part of the Brazilian diplomacy.
Also, Brazilian diplomacy has a history of resolving conflicts through a peaceful process of negotiation. And the discourse about Venezuela is very different than how Brazil has dealt with conflicts in the region historically. Venezuela is being used as an external enemy in Latin American countries as a way to help elect far-right political leaders. That was the case of Bolsonaro in Brazil and also in Colombia. And that’s very dangerous, because a war in Venezuela will have catastrophic consequences in the region.
Another issue that they both talked about is looking at Venezuela as a country that needs humanitarian aid. But that doesn’t make any sense. For example, President Maduro offered to buy agricultural products from Brazil, so they don’t need aid from Brazil. Also, Venezuela is a very strategic partner for Brazil, because Brazil exports industrial products to Venezuela. So, even from a pragmatic perspective, it doesn’t make any sense not to have good relationships with Venezuela and other Latin American countries. Historically, Brazil always had good relationships with Latin American countries.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about President Bolsonaro’s family connections to militia groups in Brazil and the fact that you have a sitting president who some of his family members have been connected to groups—for instance, the killing of Marielle Franco was linked to one of those militia groups. Could you talk about that?
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yes. Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio Bolsonaro, who was a state legislator in Rio de Janeiro, employed the mother and the daughter of one of the heads of this militia group that is being accused of killing Marielle Franco. Also, the two suspects who were arrested in connection to the case, one of them is a neighbor of Bolsonaro. They live in a very luxurious condo in Rio. They are both neighbors, although he’s a former police officer, so how he was able to live in such an expensive condo, that’s something to be investigated. Also, one of the suspects, his daughter dated one of Bolsonaro’s sons, as well. And Bolsonaro himself appeared in a photo with one of the suspects. And he himself and his sons also have praised members of these militia groups in the past. So there are several connections that need to be investigated.
AMY GOODMAN: And why would they want her dead? I mean Marielle Franco, a member of the Rio de Janeiro City Council, human rights activist, LGBTQ activist, who challenged police brutality in one of the world’s most notorious police forces.
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Well, she was one of the city councilmembers that was investigating the militia groups. They had a very long investigation, a detailed report, accusing the militia group—this militia group and other groups—of several crimes. So, I think this investigation was probably part of the problem, you know, that—the reason why people wanted her to be killed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about Bolsonaro’s stances on immigration, something with which he has a lot in common with President Trump, although, ironically, he agreed to lower visa restrictions for Americans coming into Brazil, make it easier for Americans to come to Brazil, but at the same time he’s anti-immigrant. Could you talk about that?
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yes. I think that was one of the reasons why we say that he gave many things to Trump but didn’t get anything back. And also, in an interview to Fox News, he said that immigrants don’t—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, well, you mention that interview. I think we have a clip from it. Let’s play that.
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: OK, OK, great.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Monday, President Bolsonaro appeared on Fox News and defended President Trump’s call to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated] Well, I would believe those who say what they have to say against the wall, if they remove the doors and walls from their own homes, and they, therefore, would allow everyone to come in.
SHANNON BREAM: OK.
PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated] The vast majority of potential immigrants do not have good intentions or do not intend to do the best or do good to the U.S. people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, you were saying about his comments?
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Exactly. He said that immigrants and the Brazilian immigrants coming to the U.S. don’t have good intentions. So, he’s attacking Brazilians here in this country. And, you know, he got a lot of criticism for this. So, it’s unthinkable that a head of state would criticize its own people in a foreign country and at the same time break this tradition of Brazilian democracy of reciprocity, meaning that now U.S. citizens won’t need a visa to go to Brazil, but that won’t be the case for Brazilians coming here.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo. I believe he was in the audience when he was meeting with President Trump. Yeah, let’s go to that moment.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: By the way, I see in the audience the son of the president, who has been fantastic. Would you please stand up? The job you’ve done, during a very tough period of time, is just fantastic. And I know your father appreciates it, that I can tell you. OK? Thank you very much. Fantastic job.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is Eduardo Bolsonaro?
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Well, he’s been the one that built relationships with Steve Bannon, at least as far as we know from the reports that we have seen. And there was actually a dinner prior to this meeting, a few days ago, in which Steve Bannon was present. And they talk about the possibility of expanding a far-right coalition, global coalition, to promote the views that they have.
It’s important to know now that the situation in Brazil is so extreme that this group that took power because of the coup, the political vacuum that was created after the parliamentary coup against President Dilma in 2016, and then the fact that former President Lula was put in jail although there is no evidence against him—so you create this political vacuum that opened the space for a far-right candidate that is connected to the most extreme paramilitary sectors of the military. So, now what we have, the situation that we have, is the military officers in government are the more moderate forces in power in Brazil. So we have a very extreme situation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about President Bolsonaro’s stance on climate change. Brazil was supposed to host a U.N. climate summit and pulled out of that. The impact of that, given the importance of Brazil in terms of the future of our planet when it comes to climate change?
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Exactly. That was also a surprise, because Brazil negotiated being the host of the conference, and then he decided to cancel it. And the situation is very dramatic, because he said that he’s going to allow, for example, mining exploitation in indigenous land. He’s going to cancel all land rights of indigenous people. He has threatened peasant communities.
And also he defends expansion of monocropping of soy in the Amazon. The minister of agriculture is related to the pesticide lobby. And we already are the country that consumes the most amount of pesticides in the world, and they are allowing pesticides that have been prohibited in other countries for many years.
And now the latest is that he is also negotiating with Trump to allow the U.S. to have a spaceship base in Alcântara, which is the Northeast region, that is also close to the Amazon. It’s a very strategic region of the country. And in 2002, that agreement was not approved by Congress, because it would allow military presence of U.S. officers in Brazil, and the Brazilians won’t have access to this space anymore, or to have—you know, even to enter the base. So, it would be the U.S. taking over part of Brazilian territory, in a region where we have hundreds of Afro-Brazilian rural communities, the quilombola communities, that have the same rights to land as indigenous people. And it’s already a struggle for them to have access to land in that region.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we wrap up, we have 20 seconds. But do you think Bolsonaro would engage in a military invasion against Venezuela to topple Maduro?
MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: I think that some sectors of the military in Brazil oppose that, and that there would be a catastrophic consequence if they move into that. So I think it’s important to have resistance here in this country, to understand that the discourse about Venezuela is very similar to the discourse about Iraq. At the end, it’s about, you know, lying, misinformation, to promote a war that, at the end, is about oil.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Maria Luísa Mendonça, we want to thank you for being with us, director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil.
When we come back, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Chico Buarque. The song became an underground protest anthem in the '70s after it was banned by Brazil's U.S.-backed military dictatorship.