Brazil's foreign minister, who bashed China and praised Trump, resigns

Jair Bolsonaro’s ultraconservative foreign minister has resigned after a rebellion from diplomats and lawmakers who accused him of demolishing Brazil’s international reputation and putting Brazilian lives at risk by vandalizing relations with China and the US during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ernesto Araújo, a 53-year-old career diplomat famed for his bashing of Xi Jinping’s China and devotion to Donald Trump, tendered his resignation on Monday, ending what critics call the most calamitous chapter in the history of Brazilian diplomacy.

“One thing’s for sure, he’s the worst foreign minister Brazil has ever had,” said Celso Amorim, who held the post between 2003 en 2011.

Araújo was picked as foreign minister in November 2018, a fortnight after Bolsonaro’s stunning presidential election win, despite never having served as an ambassador.

Under his watch, Brazil’s internationally respected foreign office – known as Itamaraty after the 19th-century Rio palace it once occupied – took a hard-right tack on issues such as reproductive rights and the environment and became a bunker of hardcore Bolsonarian ideologues. Brazil courted rightwing nationalists such as Donald Trump and the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and ditched its hard-won position as a global climate leader. Araújo and other top Bolsonaristas, including the president’s son, Eduardo, also trashed ties with Beijing.

Brazil’s top diplomat – who once declared Trump “the saviour of the west” – repeatedly assailed China’s Communist party leaders and called coronavirus the “communavirus”. More recently Araújo irked Joe Biden by calling the pro-Trump extremists who stormed the Capitol “upstanding citizens” and taking a holiday during the US president’s inauguration.

Jamil Chade, a Geneva-based journalist who covers Brazilian diplomacy, said diplomats had long regarded their boss’s submissiveness to Trump and the Bolsonaro family with disdain. Among foreign envoys Araújo – who has pushed baseless conspiracy theories about the origins of Covid – generated “perplexity”.

But opposition to Araújo’s 27-month stint as minister finally exploded this month with the deterioration of Brazil’s Covid catastrophe, which has killed more than 312,000 Brazilians. Many blamed Araújo’s mishandling of relations with China, India and the US for Brazil’s failure to secure sufficient quantities of vaccines and vaccine components. During a parliamentary hearing last week senators chided the foreign minister with one telling him: “Quit, you’ll save lives”.

Days later diplomats broke ranks in an open letter denouncing the “serious harm” Araújo was doing to Brazilian interests. One exasperated diplomat told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that Araújo, once considered an “eccentric loony”, was now widely seen as a “nefarious, criminal character”. Op Sondag, with Bolsonaro under growing pressure to sack Araújo, one senator, Kátia Abreu, declared: “Brazil cannot keep showing the face of a delinquent to the world.”

Amorim, who served under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, saw little hope of a major foreign policy shift under Araújo’s successor given that Bolsonaro would remain in charge. “In the best hypothesis we’ll go from awful to very bad,” he predicted, adding: “Brazil is utterly isolated … It will take a long time to recover our credibility.”

Chade said Araújo left a toxic legacy of politically-driven witch-hunts, upended allegiances and unpaid embassy rents: “He leaves Itamaraty in ruins.”

“Ernesto’s departure doesn’t ensure Brazil’s foreign policy will change,” Chade added, “but there is no way of changing Brazilian foreign policy without Ernesto Araújo going.”

Kommentaar gesluit.