Brazil's new president seeks better ties with the US

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visits the White House this week to strengthen relations between the Western Hemisphere’s largest two economies. Mr. Bolsonaro's political rhetoric is often compared to that of President Donald Trump.

Susan Walsh/AP
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington on March 18, 2019. Mr. Bolsonaro is visiting the U.S. to strengthen relations between the two countries, which had cooled under the previous Brazilian presidency.

The president of Brazil made an unusual visit to CIA headquarters and later spoke of his admiration for the United States on the second day of a trip that reflected his country's shift to a more pro-American stance.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who succeeded a leftist who at times had a frosty relationship with the United States, 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.

He was expected to meet on Tuesday with President Donald Trump to discuss a range of issues, including ways to increase U.S. private-sector investment in Brazil and ways to resolve the political crisis in Venezuela.

"Nowadays, you have a president who is a friend of the United States who admires this beautiful country," Mr. Bolsonaro told an audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

Mr. Bolsonaro underscored the difference between his administration and that of former President Dilma Rousseff by stopping by CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to discuss "international themes in the region," according to his son, Eduardo, a Brazilian lawmaker accompanying him on his first bilateral overseas trip.

Eduardo Bolsonaro 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.

In 2013, leaks from Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency had wiretapped conversations of Ms. Rousseff, leading to several years of tense relations between the U.S. and Brazil.

"No Brazilian president had ever paid a visit to the CIA," said Celso Amorim, who served as foreign minister under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and is a Bolsonaro critic. "This is an explicitly submissive position. Nothing compares to this."

The CIA had no comment on the visit.

The far-right Mr. Bolsonaro was elected last year and is an admirer of Mr. 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 D.C.," he said in the tweet. "It's the beginning of a partnership focused on liberty and prosperity, something that all of us Brazilians have long wished for."

Mr. Bolsonaro's insurgent candidacy against the candidate of Ms. Rousseff's party has been compared to Mr. Trump's victory in 2016.

The Brazilian president made the comparison himself in his speech to the Chamber of Commerce, 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.

A senior U.S. administration official noted that the U.S. does have a $27 billion trade surplus with Brazil and that there are opportunities to bring the nations' business communities closer. He said there are expected to be new initiatives on energy infrastructure.

The 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," Mr. Bolsonaro said. "We cannot leave them the way they are. We have to free the nation of Venezuela."

This story was reported by The Associated Press with contributions from Mauricio Savarese in Madrid and Kevin Freking in Washington.

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