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Brazil: Trump Ally Bolsonaro Refuses to Acknowledge Biden Win & Downplays COVID as Death Toll Mounts

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The White House has ordered agencies not to cooperate with Biden’s presidential transition team, and President Donald Trump continues to refuse to accept defeat in the 2020 election, which means Biden cannot receive security briefings or access government funds for the transition. But while the standoff continues in the U.S., other countries are already preparing for a new administration. For more on how the historic U.S. election is playing out internationally, we speak with analysts from around the world, including Maria Luísa Mendonça, director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, where far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has not acknowledged Biden’s victory. “The progressive movements in Brazil can also be inspired by that election here,” says Mendonça. “I think that the U.S. can play a much more positive role in Latin America.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As President Donald Trump continues to refuse to accept President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, the White House has ordered agencies not to cooperate with Biden’s presidential transition team. Joe Biden is not yet receiving daily intelligence briefings, five days after he was declared the winner. At this point after Trump’s victory in 2016, Trump was receiving those daily briefings. The holdup hinges on the little-known-to-the-public General Services Administration, which officially begins the transition and has refused to sign the paperwork to do so. Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma said Wednesday he will intervene if Biden is not receiving the briefings by Friday.

This comes as the State Department is refusing to pass on messages to Biden from world leaders, and Biden’s transition team is coordinating Biden’s calls without State Department support. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has refused to acknowledge Biden’s win and said there would be a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”

Today, we’ll get response to the historic U.S. election from around the world, from Brazil to South Africa, from Turkey to United Kingdom. First, we go to Brazil, where staunch Trump ally President Jair Bolsonaro has not acknowledged Biden’s victory. On Tuesday, as Brazil’s COVID death toll passed 162,000, second only to the United States, Bolsonaro again downplayed the virus and attacked concerned Brazilians, using an offensive term for the LGBTQ community.

PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated] Everything now is the pandemic. We have to put a stop to that. I’m sorry for all those who have died. I’m sorry. All of us are going to die one day. Everyone is going to die. You are going to die one day. There is no point in escaping from that, escaping from reality. We have to stop being a country of sissies. I’m giving the press a full plate.

AMY GOODMAN: The word Bolsonaro actually used was far more derogatory than the one that we translated here.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Maria Luísa Mendonça. She is director of the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, a visiting scholar at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Maria Luísa, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can talk about the significance of the Biden victory and the close relationship between Jair Bolsonaro and President Trump, what the ending of that alliance can mean, and what Jair Bolsonaro is doing right now in Brazil, especially when it comes to COVID?

MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yes, that was a very important victory for Brazilians, because the progressive movements in Brazil can also be inspired by this election here. It’s important to remember that the result of this election in the U.S. is because of the work of grassroots movements here that elected Biden.

And now Bolsonaro in Brazil is even more isolated. And I think that he also plays this game of a fake nationalism when he defends that there should be no regulation, no environmental regulation, and the environmental destruction in the Amazon, in the Brazilian savanna, is increasing. But that is a fake nationalism, because the fires and the destruction of the Amazon really benefits large multinational cooperations, mining, agribusiness, financial corporations.

So, I think that it’s important also for the social movements in the U.S. to make sure that Biden will have a different foreign policy in relation to Latin America, because we have to remember that Bolsonaro is actually a result of a parliamentary coup against President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 that opened the space for this far-right government. So I think the U.S. can play a much more positive role in Latin America, and we need to hold the administration accountable now.

And I think — but, in general, there is a global far-right movement that Bolsonaro and Trump are part of. And I think that the election here in the U.S., the result of the election, will have a positive impact not just in the U.S., but in other parts of the world.


MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: And then, in terms of the — yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: No, please, go ahead.

MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yeah, in terms of the coronavirus response, Trump and Bolsonaro have very similar policies. They really don’t believe in science. They don’t promote any type of protection. They put the population at risk. They don’t express any solidarity for the suffering of the millions of people who have been infected and so many people who have died.

So, also, Bolsonaro even has played down the vaccine. You knoww, he is doing everything he can to postpone a vaccine in Brazil. And Brazil actually has a very good infrastructure for mass vaccination. Historically, the country always had very mass vaccination campaigns. And Bolsonaro is even trying to avoid that, you know, the Brazilian science advance the implementation of the vaccine in Brazil.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Maria Luísa, can you talk a little bit more about that, the fact that Bolsonaro has just rejected a vaccine that Brazilian scientists — it’s a vaccine from China, but Brazilian scientists have also been working on that vaccine. Why did Bolsonaro do that? I mean, it doesn’t make any sense for Bolsonaro to be opposed to these vaccines, given especially the death toll in Brazil, second only to the U.S. Over 160,000 people have died now of COVID.

MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yes, exactly. Brazil has very good scientists that have a lot of experience with mass vaccination. But that’s all ideological. You know, the Bolsonaro position is based on xenophobia, racism and ignoring science. And that, in a way, is similar to Trump, as well. They both have promoted drugs that have no evidence of being effective for the treatment of coronavirus. And, you know, he’s putting the Brazilian society at risk, because even ignoring the effects of a vaccine is something very extreme. And that’s the result, of course, of the influence of the evangelical movement in his government. And so, this is not based on science. It’s just based on far-right ideology.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Maria Luísa, could you say a little more about the relationship between Trump and Bolsonaro? I mean, not only has Bolsonaro not yet congratulated Biden, but his son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, wore a hat with the logo “Trump 2020” leading up to the election. And in the days following the election, as the vote count was happening here in the U.S., he questioned publicly on social media how Biden’s votes were going up so quickly. That’s a highly extraordinary move for someone in a foreign — in another government to make about internal elections elsewhere.

MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yeah, this is also a very big change in terms of the tradition of foreign policy in Brazil. Brazil has had a tradition of being independent, of not interfering in foreign affairs. So, you know, the Brazilian diplomacy has had this tradition historically, and now this position of Bolsonaro and his sons of basically allying with Trump and making Brazil be so dependent on whatever Trump talks about. They have the same discourse. And they also are part of this global organization that is — one of the leaders is Steve Bannon, for example. So, the discourse is very similar between Bolsonaro and Trump. The policies are very similar. So, of course, there is a coordinating effort that is global to advance those views. But that goes against the history of Brazilian foreign policy.

So, I think that now with a change in administration here in the U.S., that can even influence perhaps the position of mainstream media in Brazil, that plays a key role also in manipulating information. And so, you know, I think, hopefully, the decision here, whatever happens here, will have — with the Biden administration and if Biden really has a different type of policy for Latin America, that will have an impact and will advance progressive forces in Brazil, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Maria Luísa, I wanted to play one more clip of the Brazilian president indirectly swiping at Joe Biden during an event on Tuesday. Bolsonaro’s comments come after Biden criticized the far-right leader’s handling of deforestation in the Amazon.

PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated] I recently heard a presidential candidate from a country say that if I don’t put out the fire in the Amazon, he is going to raise trade barriers against Brazil. How do we deal with all of that? Diplomacy is not enough. When there is no more saliva, then there must be gunpowder. But they have to know that we own the Amazon. That’s what the world is like. Nobody has what we have.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Bolsonaro saying “there must be gunpowder.” You know, as we watched in the western United States as the fires enveloped parts of California, Oregon and Washington, they’re actually dwarfed by the fires in the Amazon, the lungs of the world. If you, in 30 seconds, can talk about what he is getting at, and what you think is most critical for Biden to do?

MARIA LUÍSA MENDONÇA: Yeah, I think it’s very important for us to boycott four Brazilian commodities that are the main cause of deforestation and destruction — timber, sugar, soy and beef from Brazil — because these policies, the destruction of the Amazon, is really benefiting large agribusiness corporations, including U.S. agribusiness corporations. So, it’s not about protecting the Brazilian society. It’s protecting large agribusiness corporations, timber companies and mining companies. So, we need to have solidarity, you know, the environmental movements in Brazil and here. We need to build an international environmental movement and make sure that the world also can help Brazil by boycotting these four commodities.

AMY GOODMAN: 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, we’re going to Durban, South Africa, to speak with the former head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo; we’re going to Turkey; and we’re going to Cambridge, England. Stay with us.

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