Where did Ernesto Araújo take Brazil?

Image: Luiz Armando Bagolin


Faced with problems of an international dimension, foreign policy is central to the resolution and approaches society. With Bolsonaro, he became part of the problem and divorced society

What are the impacts of the trajectory of Ernesto Araújo as Minister of Foreign Affairs for the current “place of Brazil in the world”[I]? And what factors led to its downfall? To try to answer these questions, we bring some elements about the Brazilian foreign policy of the neo-fascist government of Jair Bolsonaro. If we consider that the foreign policy of a State must correspond, as Berringer, Maringoni and Schutte quote, in the presentation of the book The foundations of Bolsonarista foreign policy (EdUFABC, 2021), to “his development project and how he relates internationally from the point of view of production”, raising these elements will lead us to a reflection on why Ernesto Araújo symbolizes the construction of a surrender project and passive subordination of the Brazil to the interests of US imperialism.

The first steps of the Bolsonaro government and the turn of Brazilian foreign policy

 The election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 brings with it changes in the Brazilian foreign policy agenda that refer to President Dilma’s coup. During the PT governments, foreign policy was at the center of the political debate. However, since the entry of José Serra as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in May 2016 (when Temer takes over as interim president), we have only accumulated defeats through the establishment of a surrender project. In that first moment, we collected considerable losses: the removal of the Brazilian State from Cuba and Bolivia, the opening of the pre-salt layer to international capital, advances in the negotiation of the European Union – Mercosur agreement in extremely asymmetrical conditions and the focus of Brazil’s entry into the OECD[ii] (since the country will lose the status countries that receive donations. This has important implications from a financing point of view.).

This agenda deepens with Bolsonaro's victory. At the end of 2018, there was much debate about the direction of the new government's Brazilian foreign policy. How far could Jair Bolsonaro sink Brazil? How is the foreign policy of a neo-fascist government configured in a dependent state? The nomination of Ernesto Araújo, a member of the Olavist wing, and his inaugural speech gave us a perspective of what would come next. There is a tendency to dismantle the traditions of Brazilian foreign policy and a commitment to the fight against globalism, communism and cultural Marxism. Ernesto Araújo argued that it was necessary to return to “Western values”, such as Christianity and “individual freedoms”, seeing in Donald Trump's leadership the path to this recovery at the international level. As a result, he claims that confronting cultural Marxism is central, as it would be destroying Western values.

In this tone, 2019 was a year of deepening the foreign policy agenda that the Michel Temer government had initiated. However, with an even more polarized rhetoric built around the creation of enemies to be fought. In practice, if Brazil spent decades turning its back on Latin America and this had changed during the PT administrations, we saw a setback in the Temer and Bolsonaro governments, so that relations with Latin American countries were no longer a priority.

Already in the first month of Bolsonaro’s government, Ernesto Araújo recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela – let us remember that Guaidó proclaimed himself president of the country without any popular legitimacy. The conflict with Venezuela became increasingly tense, resulting in the expulsion of the Venezuelan diplomatic corps from Brazil in 2020. They managed to remain in Brazil upon request of habeas corpus. The only Latin American country with which the Bolsonaro government maintained good relations was Argentina, not because of the history of the bilateral relationship with the Argentine State, but because of the fact that the Macri government resembled the Bolsonaro government program in many respects. With the defeat of Macri and the victory of the Kirchnerist ticket in the 2019 presidential elections, Bolsonaro lamented the victory of Alberto Fernandéz and did not greet the victorious candidate, breaking a diplomatic tradition. And remember, gestures are more than symbols when it comes to diplomacy.

The closest rapprochement with the United States was based on a relationship of explicit passive subordination[iii] to imperialism. An insightful element is that this rapprochement was not constituted through a deepening of the relationship between the Brazilian State and the American State, but rather a relationship between Bolsonaro and Trump, two presidents with ideological alignment. In terms of international politics, this alignment is made clear above all in matters relating to the environment, Venezuela and China. The only difference is the position in which these two states are in the international power hierarchy. While the United States is an imperialist country, Brazil is associated with the USA in the position of a country of dependent capitalism and, under the Bolsonaro government, with a foreign policy project of surrender.

With regard to relations with our main trading partner – China -, a series of contradictions are made explicit. By establishing a relationship of explicit passive subordination to imperialism, Brazil assumes a delicate position on the complex chessboard that is the conflictual relationship between the United States and China in contemporary times. On the one hand, agribusiness and other fractions of the Brazilian bourgeoisie pressure the Bolsonaro government to deepen Sino-Brazilian trade relations, which are fundamental for the profit rates of exporters of commodities Brazilian. On the other hand, there are several statements critical of the Chinese state coming from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other members of the Bolsonaro government, with emphasis on his son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, chairman of the Chamber’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Initially, this conflict between the Chinese and Brazilian states was presented at the level of diplomatic discourse. However, this has been reflected in more drastic tensions in Brazil-China relations, such as in the dispute over the auction of 5G technology in Brazil and in the negotiation of vaccines and inputs for immunizers.

In addition, there was a break in the Brazilian diplomatic tradition of appreciation for multilateral organizations. An example of this was the vote in favor of the economic embargo on Cuba, in 2019, breaking a five-decade tradition in which the Brazilian State voted for the end of the blockade in the UN General Assembly. Another notable fact was the vote against reproductive rights and mentions of LGBT rights in the resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council, in the same year. In summary, Ernesto Araújo fulfilled the role of isolating Brazil from the world, leading the country to a position of “pariah” in international relations, as he himself stated.

Brazilian foreign policy, the pandemic and the departure of Ernesto Araújo

 With the arrival of the pandemic in Brazil, in March 2020, the foreign policy conducted by Ernesto Araújo seems to have further aggravated “Brazil’s place in the world”. The COVID-19 pandemic raised the need to build a global project to combat the virus and, consequently, to produce and distribute the vaccine – also known as the vaccine geopolitics. This demanded that the States treat public health as a matter of foreign policy, giving centrality to the role of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in combating the pandemic. This process made foreign policy return to the center of the Brazilian political debate. However, the inability of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE) to coordinate negotiations for the importation of vaccines was a factor that made Ernesto Araújo's discredit even more explicit.

Everything got worse when, in March 2020, Eduardo Bolsonaro tweeted that the coronavirus pandemic was to blame for China, a statement of xenophobia and prejudice towards the Chinese people. The fact resulted in a diplomatic crisis with the country, from which the Chinese ambassador demanded Brazil's retraction. At the time, Minister Araújo took a stand in defense of the president's son, worsening the crisis. Who fulfilled the role of Araújo was Rodrigo Maia, president of the Chamber at the time, with an official apology to the Chinese State.

The minister continued to reinforce the rhetoric that the virus was an instrument of “Chinese communism” to dispute hegemony with the United States, calling the virus a “comunavirus” in his blog. The icing on the cake was Bolsonaro's declaration that the Brazilian government would not obtain the Corona Vac, because it is a Chinese vaccine that would not transmit safety to the Brazilian population. These statements by the minister and the Brazilian Head of State are based on denialism and the delegitimization of science, elements of neo-fascist ideology. This demonstrates that neo-fascism is also explicit in the conduct of this government's foreign policy. How the authors systematize the presentation of the book  “Bolsonaro’s foreign policy in the pandemic” (Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 2020), the Bolsonaro government articulates “the denial of science to unconditional submission to the US and, particularly, to Trumpism”.

The hostile posture that Araújo adopted in relations with China is a factor that aggravated the difficulties in exporting vaccines and key inputs in the fight against the pandemic. Second The Globe[iv], last month, at a meeting of Brazilian deputies with the Chinese ambassador in Brazil, they heard from the Chinese that, with Araújo at Itamaraty, there is no conversation. Splashes from this conflict resulted in the delay in the shipment of the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) by China to Fiocruz, in January, which impacted the production schedule of the Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine in Brazil. Another regrettable episode was the inability of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to conduct negotiations for the purchase of vaccines and supplies with the Indian State. Again Fiocruz had the forecast to produce 30 million doses for April, but with the delay in the delivery of the active ingredient of the vaccine coming from India, only 18 million will be produced.

At a time when Brazilian foreign policy could have played a central role in building concrete solutions for mass vaccination, through the large-scale importation of immunizers and necessary inputs for the manufacture of vaccines in Brazilian laboratories, once again the conduct of Brazilian foreign policy in the hands of Ernesto Araújo proved to be ineffective and incompetent. If today we have almost 350 dead Brazilian men and women, the responsibility for this also lies in the hands of the former minister.

Nothing more reasonable would be Araújo's departure, after this tragic trajectory at the head of the MRE. But his dismissal from office was not due to the political will of the Alvorada Palace, but to pressure from the Centrão, led by the presidents of the Chamber and the Senate, Arthur Lira and Rodrigo Pacheco. In a statement, Arthur Lira said that the minister lost the ability to dialogue with countries, pointing out that Araújo represents an obstacle to fundamental bilateral relations in the fight against the coronavirus.

Among the latest events that accelerated his departure is the clash with Senator Kátia Abreu (PP), who was accused of defending the Chinese State for demanding a position from the MRE on the 5G auction. In addition, the Itamaraty's diplomatic corps itself showed discomfort with Araújo's actions. We highlight his participation in a Senate hearing, on March 24, to provide clarification on his incompetent conduct of Brazilian foreign policy in the purchase of vaccines. On the occasion, Araújo reinforced the position of the Brazilian State against the breach of vaccine patents and made a speech that had nothing to do with reality, claiming speed in obtaining immunizers. He would say that the trigger was the presentation of a request for impeachment to the chancellor in Congress, who could frame him for a crime of responsibility related, among other issues, to Brazil's lack of engagement in multilateral efforts to face the pandemic.

Even after pressure from the centrão, the Chamber and the Senate, Bolsonaro still resisted Araújo’s resignation, as it would be yet another “loss” for the Olavist wing of his government. However, after increasing pressure, on the morning of the 29th, the minister resigned, paving the way for changes to six more ministers and a crisis in the Bolsonaro government.

Faced with these reasons that led to the removal of the diplomat from the leadership of the Ministry, I tell the reader not to create too many expectations for what is to come in terms of foreign policy. His successor, diplomat Carlos Alberto Franco de França, has a more discreet profile, but does not promise to change the political line of conduct of the MRE. The name had the “approval” of Eduardo Bolsonaro and Filipe Martins, special advisor for international affairs and who makes up the Olavist wing of the government. The diplomat has a career linked to the Itamaraty ceremonial, he has never headed a post abroad and was recently promoted to ambassador, occupying posts in the Brazilian embassies in the US, Paraguay and Bolivia. France established trusting relationships with Bolsonaro by leading the ceremonial at the Planalto Palace. The synthesis is what changes the name, but the surrender project, of passive subordination to imperialism and destruction of Brazil's image in international politics will remain the same.

An important synthesis is that Brazilian foreign policy could have played a central role in combating the pandemic, if the Brazilian State had been involved in multilateral efforts to combat the pandemic, in the construction of bilateral agreements with vaccine-producing countries, among other initiatives that point to a past in which Brazil stood out for conducting an active and proud foreign policy. Another lesson we can learn is that, when we face problems of an international dimension, foreign policy becomes central in resolving these issues and brings society closer. This is a contradiction that we must explore to bring it to the center of the political debate.

Finally, if – on the one hand - the scenario is tragic, on the other hand, it puts us in the perspective that the only possible way out is Bolsonaro’s defeat and the construction of a national development project, which guarantees sovereignty and self-determination of peoples. For this reason, the situation places a centrality on the #ForaBolsonaro campaign and on the collective fight to face the pandemic through the defense of the SUS, the fight for universal access to the vaccine and for the reduction of social inequality that the pandemic has aggravated, guaranteeing emergency aid for 600 reais. A project that puts life above profit is urgently needed.

*Mariana Davi Ferreira é doctoral student in the Graduate Program in Political Science at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) inmember of the Popular Youth Rising.


[I] We borrowed the expression that the authors of the book The bases of Bolsonarist foreign policy: international relations in a changing world use to didactically define the international insertion of the Brazilian State.

[ii] The bases of Bolsonarist foreign policy: international relations in a changing world.

[iii] This characterization has been used by Tatiana Berringer to characterize BR-USA relations in the Bolsonaro government.

[iv] https://outline.com/kKyDyz

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