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Brazil's Bolsonaro heads to US to cement alliance with Trump

Jair Bolsonaro. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Brasília - Brasilia, Federal District, Brazil Mar 18, 2019, 06.29 AM (IST)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro left for Washington on Sunday to meet with his US counterpart Donald Trump and cement a budding conservative-populist alliance that, in part, aims to ramp up pressure on Venezuela.

The far-right leader flew out of Brasilia early Sunday with six ministers, among them Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and Justice Minister Sergio Moro, Brazilian media reported.

It was Bolsonaro's first trip abroad for a bilateral meeting since taking office on January 1. He attended the Davos summit in Switzerland in January.

Bolsonaro, who will also meet in Washington with the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), is scheduled to return to Brazil on Tuesday. 

Admirer of Trump

A Trump-Bolsonaro bond could see the leaders of the Americas' two largest democracies working in concert on a range of regional issues.

Most pressing is the crisis in Venezuela, where the US and Brazil — and dozens of other countries — have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president with the goal of forcing President Nicolas Maduro from power.

The tough-talking Bolsonaro has long expressed his admiration for Trump. He echoes the US leader in spurning multilateral organizations and leftist politics, while promoting businesses over environmental concerns at home.

Their shared nationalist sentiment can be seen in another relationship: that of Bolsonaro's son Eduardo, who is a federal lawmaker, with Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon.

Eduardo Bolsonaro announced in early February that he was part of the Brussels-based group known as The Movement, which Bannon set up to promote far-right nationalistic values and tactics.

The older Bolsonaro announced on Saturday that one key result of his current trip would be the signing of an agreement under which the US might gain access to a satellite-launching base in Brazil near the Equator.

Eyes on Venezuela

But most eyes will be on developments surrounding Venezuela, which shares a border with Brazil.

Previous Brazilian administrations took a friends-to-all approach to neighbouring countries. But not Bolsonaro. 

The 63-year-old former paratrooper is vehemently opposed to leftist currents, at home and abroad, and he shares Trump's hostility to the "dictator" Maduro, who took over after the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2013.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that "all options are on the table" with regards to Venezuela, a phrase understood to include military action.

But Bolsonaro, like other members of the mostly Latin American Lima Group, has ruled out military action in favour of a policy of tightening the economic and diplomatic noose around Maduro.

As well as a "private meeting" with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Bolsonaro will sit down with OAS  Secretary-General Luis Almagro, and participate in various forums to promote economic opportunities in Brazil.

The US is Brazil's second biggest trade partner after China.

After his arrival Sunday, Bolsonaro will dine at the residence of Brazilian ambassador Sergio Amaral with "opinion makers" including, according to press reports, Bannon and US-based Brazilian writer Olavo de Carvalho, considered Bolsonaro's ideological guru.

Bolsonaro will be staying in Blair House, the official US state residence opposite the White House used for visiting dignitaries.

After his return to Brazil, Bolsonaro is planning a trip to Chile and then, in late March, to Israel. He forged close ties with Israel's conservative leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the latter attended Bolsonaro's inauguration.