Venezuela Takes Center Stage in Brazilian Far Right Presidential Campaign

Frontrunner Bolsonaro has vowed to sever diplomatic relations with Caracas and back sanctions while establishing closer ties with the ultra-right government in Israel.

Far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro is the heavy favorite going into the second round of the Brazilian presidential elections
Far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro is the heavy favorite going into the second round of the Brazilian presidential elections

Pays-de-Gex, France, October 11, 2018 ( – Jair Bolsonaro, who took 46 percent of the vote in the first round of Brazilian presidential elections on Sunday, has been using Venezuela as a scarecrow to attack his political opponents, with the runoff scheduled for October 28.

A former army captain during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964–1985), Bolsonaro was a relatively obscure congressman until recently, when he began to rapidly climb in the polls following a controversial electoral court ruling prohibiting leftist frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from standing for the presidency in August. Opinion polls had Lula as the clear favorite to win reelection this October.

A former union leader, Lula was elected to two consecutive presidential terms for the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT). He was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment on corruption charges pending appeal in April, despite no material evidence being presented against him in what has been widely denounced as a politically motivated judicial procedure.

Bolsonaro rose to a surprising 46 percent of the vote after a campaign that grabbed headlines with promises of a heavy handed approach to tackle crime, a string of homophobic, sexist, and racist statements, and praise for the brutal military dictatorship. Bolsonaro has also looked to attack the political project of his leftist opponents by claiming it would “turn Brazil into Venezuela.”

“We will win and break the gears that look to turn us into Venezuela,” read a tweet by Bolsonaro on Wednesday. This was a common message during the first round campaign and one that has been reinforced since Sunday’s victory.

After Sunday’s contest, Bolsonaro supporters circulated an image on social media that painted the Brazilian Northeast as Venezuela. Bolsonaro’s main opponent, Fernando Haddad of the PT, had the most success in this poorer region of Brazil, which effectively denied the former army captain an outright victory in the first round.

Haddad, who was handpicked by Lula to succeed him as the PT candidate, won 29 percent of the vote, while leftist Democratic Labor Party candidate Ciro Gomes won a little over 12 percent.

Image circulated by Bolsonaro supporters on social media after the first round of the Brazilian presidential elections

Brazil had enjoyed friendly relations with Venezuela during the PT governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. While the current unelected government of Michel Temer has joined international efforts to isolate Venezuela and promote sanctions, several PT leaders have defended their northern neighbor.

In turn, Venezuelan leaders have also stood by Lula, joining the international chorus in demanding his immediate release and reinstatement of his presidential candidacy while the appeal process goes on. Last Sunday, during the congress of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on Latin America to react against the emergence of fascism.

For his part, Haddad has looked to avoid the issue of Venezuela, publicly stating that Brazil should be a regional leader and “not take sides.” He went on to say that “the continent needs more cooperation,” as opposed to more war.

However, despite reiterating that Venezuela’s sovereignty should be respected, Haddad did claim that Venezuela’s “environment” was “not democratic”.

Relations between Brazil and Venezuela have been tense in recent months, with reports of xenophobic attacks against Venezuelan migrants and an increased military presence in the Brazilian border state of Roraima. In addition, several hundred Venezuelan emigrants have recently returned from Brazil as part of the “Return to the Homeland” plan.

Tensions might escalate even further in the event of a Bolsonaro victory in the second round. The candidate’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, pledged in an interview that a Bolsonaro government would sever ties and not recognize the Venezuelan government, as well as “play tough,” backing US-led sanctions against Caracas.

Venezuela is not the only country that can expect different diplomatic relations with Brazil should Bolsonaro emerge victorious in the October 28 second round. Eduardo Bolsonaro added that Brazil would reverse its friendly relations with Iran. In addition, the Bolsonaro camp has indicated that they are inclined to recognize occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that Bolsonaro’s first trip, if elected, would be to Israel.

Meanwhile, farther north, Venezuela has also been a hot topic in US congressional races, with midterm elections set for November 6. President Donald Trump, in a USA Today article, accused his Democrat opponents of being “radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela.”

“The main base of the Democrats has shifted so far left that we’ll end up being Venezuela,” Trump later added at a press conference. Democratic Party leaders, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, rejected Trump’s accusations, as they look slated to win a majority in the US House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.