“Brazil above all”? 18 months after President Bolsonaro took office, his motto is the opposite. The once positive image is destroyed, many lovers of the country are disturbed.
When she meets up with her German friends, she now lowers her head. “In certain circles, I feel ashamed when I say I’m from Brazil,” says Bianca Donatangelo. “It was never like that before.”
The Brazilian is editor-in-chief of “Tópicos”, association magazine of the German-Brazilian Society (DBG). Like many other compatriots, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro drives them to despair.
“It is destroying our country, it is incredibly sad,” she says in an interview with Deutsche Welle. And she is certain: “Brazil won’t get rid of this bad reputation anytime soon, even if a new government comes.”
From World Cup host to outsider
The crash in Brazil is breathtaking. Ten years ago, the country was on the verge of overtaking France as the fifth largest economy in the world. It has now slipped to twelfth place. Per capita income in Brazil is currently one third lower than that of the Chinese.
“Has Brazil blown it?” (Did Brazil screw it up?). Already in September 2013, the British “Economist” addressed the crisis in the largest country in Latin America. At that point, the country’s crash was not yet foreseeable in its true extent.
On the contrary: Brazil presented itself as the host of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. And it was also becoming increasingly self-confident.
Because of the governments of the presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), and his successor Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), Brazil had gained an international reputation.
“The green giant is awakening”
The country has participated in international UN missions in Haiti, Congo, and the Golan Heights. And it was the diplomatic leader in the group of emerging economies, the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
Internationally, most attention was paid to the successful fight against poverty with various social programs, which helped around 30 million Brazilians to advance to the middle class. Brazil correspondent Alexander Busch summarized the euphoric mood in the title of his book, published in 2009: “Economic Power Brazil. The Green Giant Awakens”.
Brazil’s dark side
The euphoria has now evaporated. “The positive image is gone,” says Friedrich Prot von Kunow, President of the German-Brazilian Society, who was ambassador to Brazil from 2004 to 2009.
The diplomat currently sees “no social progress, but rather an economic disaster”. His conclusion: “From a German point of view, a personality like Bolsonaro is inconceivable. It is also very difficult for me personally.”
For the Brazilian Bianca Donatangelo, the dark side of her homeland is revealed under the Bolsonaro government. “In Brazil, four women are murdered every day and discrimination against black and indigenous people is deeply rooted in society”; she explains. “But these topics are often suppressed.”
Bolsonaro continues to drive Brazil’s international isolation. Like his political role model, US President Trump, he threatens to leave the Paris climate agreement, quit the World Health Organization, and move the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
“Bolsonaro is even more radical than Trump in the corona crisis,” said Brazil expert Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) University in São Paulo. “The signing of the free trade agreement between the South American market Mercosur and the EU is becoming increasingly unlikely,” he tweeted recently.
Germany and Norway are also at a distance. Due to the dramatic increase in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, they temporarily froze the money for forest protection in August 2019. The German Ministry of Development (BMZ) is looking for new cooperation partners in the country and is running out of existing projects.
“Don’t show the cold shoulder”
German industry in Brazil, which Bolsonaro supported for its liberal economic agenda, is now itself suffering from the country’s loss of image. “There is no question that Brazil and Latin America have become significantly less attractive,” said Philipp Schiemer, head of Mercedes-Benz do Brasil, in an interview with the German business newspaper “Handelsblatt”.
However, Schiemer does not see everything negatively: “The government has made labor laws more flexible so that mass layoffs have not yet occurred as in the United States,” he says. “And she quickly and efficiently organized emergency financial aid for the poor.”
Even if the Brazilian Bianca Donatangelo cannot find anything positive about the government of Bolsonaro: She is convinced that it would be wrong to show Brazil the cold shoulder right now. “Because of the crisis, you can’t just throw the whole history and culture of the country in the trash,” she says. “Bolsonaro is not Brazil.”