Brazilian Bye to Bolsonaro and the Future of Latin America

Currently, Brazil is undergoing a rocky transition to a new government following the election on October 31st. President Jair Bolsonaro, the incumbent, lost a close election to President-Elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil from 2003-2010. The Brazilian election was followed closely by the international community, as Bolsonaro’s populist government was challenged by Lula’s leftist opposition, as Brazil once again finds itself torn between candidates from total opposite sides of the political spectrum. 

Brazil is an important global player with the 8th largest economy in the world, making it the second largest in the western hemisphere after the United States. It is also a nation full of natural resources and contains the Amazon rainforest, arguably the most important ecosystem in the world. While the Biden Administration will likely rejoice in Bolsonaro’s defeat, it is unclear what Brazil’s relationship with the United States will be under Lula. This is a much larger trend across all of South America, as nations go back and forth between far-right and far-left regimes, with limited U.S. foreign policy being directed to the region. The U.S. relationship with the region has always been a complicated one; focusing on putting out fires from foreign powers and revolutionaries rather than building a cohesive and productive strategy. U.S. rivals have always exploited this weakness, first the Soviet Union and now China and Russia. Some experts claim that it is a costly mistake to neglect the region, as the economies of Latin America could greatly aid the U.S. in decoupling from China. Latin America contains market potential, but it is often seen as an unattractive region for foreign investments. Unreliable politicians and industry prone to nationalization constantly plague the region, a major reason for U.S. hesitancy. China, however, has hedged its bets, helping leaders in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina to consolidate their power for the price of economic benefits. Now, it is likely China will test the waters in Brazil. 

Questions and Background

  • What is Brazil’s grand strategy? How does Brazil see itself as an international player? 
  • How should U.S. policymakers view the annual BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summits? 
  • What should U.S. policy be in South America? 
  • In what ways have China and Russia expanded their influence in South America? Is that a threat to US interests? 

Lula’s foreign-policy ambitions will be tempered by circumstances
Bello. The Economist. November 3, 2022.

The Transitional World Order: Implications for Latin America and the Caribbean
Evan Ellis. Global Americas. March 29, 2022. 

LISTEN: Transition 2021: How Will Biden Handle Latin America?
James M. Lindsay et al. CFR. December 22, 2020. 

WATCH: Brazil’s Presidential Elections: Perspectives from U.S. Ambassadors
Ryan C. Berg et al. CSIS. October 17, 2022. 

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