Brazil’s Trump-friendly president heading to the White House

Jair Messias Bolsonaro, Brazilian former military officer and politician who is the President-elect of Brazil. (Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / Agência Brasil / CC BY 2.0)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Brazilian leader who has been dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics” is ready for his first White House visit.

President Donald Trump will meet Tuesday with Brazil’s new president, the hard-right Jair Bolsonaro. The two leaders are expected to discuss a range of issues, including ways to increase U.S. private-sector investment in Brazil and resolve the political crisis in Venezuela. Both leaders are fierce critics of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

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Bolsonaro pledged during his campaign to build closer ties with the U.S. and has often expressed admiration for Trump. He sought to underscore his pro-America stance with a tweet upon his arrival Sunday.

“For the first time in a while, a pro-America Brazilian president arrives in DC,” he wrote. “It’s the beginning of a partnership focused on liberty and prosperity, something that all of us Brazilians have long wished for.”

Bolsonaro continued that message in remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday.

“Nowadays, you have a president who is a friend of the United States who admires this beautiful country,” he said.

The Brazilian president, who arrived in the country with a half-dozen ministers and a goal of expanding trade and diplomatic cooperation between the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere, also made an unusual visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on Monday.

Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, a Brazilian lawmaker accompanying him on his first bilateral overseas trip, described the CIA as “one of the most respected intelligence agencies in the world” in a tweet that was likely to raise eyebrows back home in Brazil, where the U.S. and its spy services have been regarded with suspicion in recent years.

Bolsonaro succeeded a leftist who at times had a frosty relationship with the United States. In 2013, leaks from Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency had wiretapped conversations of former President Dilma Rousseff, leading to several years of tense relations between the U.S. and Brazil.

His insurgent, social media-powered campaign has been likened to Trump’s 2016 effort. Like Trump, he painted himself as representing “the people” standing up against “the elite,” blasted unflattering stories as ” fake news,” and mimicked Trump’s “America First” catch phrase, pledging to put “Brazil First.”

In his speech to the Chamber of Commerce, Bolsonaro made that comparison himself, describing how he has had to contend with “fake news” and tough coverage from established news organizations.

“We want to have a great Brazil just like Trump wants to have a great America,” he said.

The speech came after the two countries signed several bilateral agreements, including one that allows the United States to use Brazil’s Alcantara Aerospace Launch Base for its satellites, and Brazil announced an end to visa requirements for U.S. tourists who visit the country.

Brazil is seeking U.S. help with its efforts to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and to expand trade. The Bolsonaro administration is seeking to reduce public-sector spending and privatize state enterprises to reduce debt and grow its economy.

Venezuela is also expected to be a subject of discussion. A senior U.S. administration official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, noted that Brazil has a close relationship with Venezuela’s military and may be able to serve as a go-between with the security forces that continue to support Maduro.

Brazil, like the U.S., has recognized the leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela’s interim president under the argument that Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate.

“We have to sort Venezuela out,” Bolsonaro said. “We cannot leave them the way they are. We have to free the nation of Venezuela.”