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High-profile supporters of Donald Trump descended on Brazil to throw their weight behind president Jair Bolsonaro, as the populist gears up for a re-election campaign next year viewed as a key battle for the global anti-establishment right.
A conservative political event in Brasília over the weekend drew in hundreds of the far-right leader’s fans, including a handful of international allies from the US and other Latin American countries, with a bill featuring government ministers, a popular YouTuber and a comedy troupe.
One of the star speakers was the former US president’s eldest son Don Jr, who gave a live video address because of cancelled flights due to hurricane disruption in New York. He said Brazil had “a big decision to make next year”.
“You have someone who believes in freedom, who believes in independence and free will,” he added, without naming Bolsonaro explicitly. “Or, you have the decision next year to go the opposite way: to go with socialism.”
Following Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump in the US presidential race last year, some prominent Trumpists have begun to look towards Brazil as a redoubt for the populist and nationalist brand of politics espoused by both the property magnate and Bolsonaro.
“Do you know how blessed you are to have Jair Bolsonaro as your president?” Charlie Gerow, vice-chair of the American Conservative Union, told attendees. “Do you know the world looks to see what you will do next year?”
Steve Bannon, an architect of Trump’s successful 2016 presidential run, recently described the Brazilian ballot scheduled for October next year as “the second-most important election in the world”.
Yet with discontent over his administration’s handling of Covid-19 and problems in the economy, Bolsonaro is trailing in polls to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is widely assumed to be the other frontrunner. Neither has yet officially declared they are a candidate. The leftist leader and his Workers’ Party are anathema to the Brazilian right.
Long an admirer of Trump, Bolsonaro has borrowed a tactic from the former US president’s playbook by calling into question the integrity of Brazil’s electronic ballot machines and levelling allegations of voter fraud, but without providing evidence.
This has provoked clashes with the country’s Supreme Court, which was one of the many subjects of ire during the weekend’s gathering. It will also be a target of grievances at pro-government rallies scheduled for Tuesday, Brazil’s independence day.
In a surprise appearance at the event on Saturday, Bolsonaro accused one of the unnamed judges of “contaminating our democracy” and described the demonstrations as a “meeting with the truth”.
“The image we want to give on that day is not mine, nor any politicians, but of you all — to show those who want to play with our constitution they can’t keep making fun [of it],” he said.
Billed as the world’s biggest conservative event, the US-style CPAC event on Friday and Saturday played host to a cornucopia of the Brazilian right: from a monarchist restoration movement and anti-abortion activists to alternative media and a comic book publisher.
Alongside the jubilant atmosphere and national colours of yellow and green, there were renditions of the national anthem and collective prayer. Topics of discussions ranged from denunciations of Marxism and threats to freedom of expression, to criticism of big tech, China and Covid-19 restrictions.
Attendee Giovana Vinhas, 18, a law student, said she believed there was leftwing bias among her university professors. “At this event there’s the opportunity to learn more. As I learn more I won’t be fooled and I’ll know how to vote.”
One of the event sponsors was Gettr, a recently launched social media platform that claims to defend free speech and whose chief executive, Jason Miller, is a former senior Trump adviser.
Mark Green, a Republican congressman, pledged to boost ties between the two countries: “You have my commitment that I will fight, even against our own administration, for the relationship between Brazil and the United States to be a strong one, focused on that freedom.”
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice in São Paulo
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