Election 2020

Some Brazilian Americans Favor Trump as Their Bolsonaro

The community leans toward the Democratic Party, but the ‘American Bolsonaro’ could make inroads.

Brazilian supporters of then-presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro cheer on voters arriving to cast their ballots in the Brazilian presidential elections in Orlando, Florida on Oct. 28, 2018.
Brazilian supporters of then-presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro cheer on voters arriving to cast their ballots in the Brazilian presidential elections in Orlando, Florida on Oct. 28, 2018. GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images

The Brazilian American community has grown tenfold since the 1980s, but it has not received much attention from U.S. presidential candidates, who have been more focused on outreach to Spanish-speaking groups during this year’s election campaign. According to a recent poll, nearly 3 in 4 Brazilian Americans favor the Democratic Party candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden. But President Donald Trump could make inroads among the approximately 660,000 Brazilian Americans thanks to one key endorsement he picked up in October—from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Many supporters of the populist Bolsonaro see Trump as his American doppelganger and might be inclined to support him, according to Carlos Gustavo Poggio, an expert in Brazil-U.S. relations at the Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation in Brazil.

“They look at Trump as some sort of American Bolsonaro, subsequently transferring their loyalty from Bolsonaro to Trump,” Poggio said. “These people have developed an affectionate relationship with these presidents and defend them tooth and nail.”

Bolsonaro’s base in Brazil consists mainly of social conservatives from Catholic and evangelical groups, a feature that’s reflected in the Brazilian American community as well, especially in Massachusetts and Maryland. Over the past decade, attendance to the Brazilian congregation of the Assemblies of God, a popular branch of Christianity among Brazilians, grew by nearly 40 percent in the United States. Members of this community, who are mostly pro-life and anti-gay rights, tend to see the Trump administration’s policies as consistent with their values.

During the most recent Brazilian election two years ago, around 90 percent of Brazilian voters living in Miami and Boston, home to the two largest Brazilian American communities in the United States, voted for Bolsonaro. Unfortunately for Trump, many of these expatriates are not allowed to vote in the U.S. election. As of 2017, only 35 percent of all Brazilian immigrants in the United States were naturalized citizens—a fact that potentially explains Trump’s low poll numbers in the community.

This is the case with Christiane, a 38-year-old undocumented Brazilian manicurist in Maryland who asked to be identified only by her first name. Christiane voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 and says that she supports Trump because of “the values he defends, which are family and faith.” She said she likes that Trump “welcomes immigrants and defends liberty.” Christiane is not eligible to vote in the United States.

“The wall he wants to build, it’s not because of the immigrants, it’s because of all the trafficking that happens there,” said Christiane, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 2002. “He’s doing that because he wants the best for the country.”

Republicans are still hoping to make inroads with Brazilians who are eligible to vote—including some who have soured on Bolsonaro. Vane Garcia, a 65-year-old Baptist in Derwood, Maryland, said she campaigned for Bolsonaro in 2018 but that his soft approach to corruption disappointed her. “Trump would never do that,” she said.

“When Trump was elected, God spoke inside my heart and said that he was giving this country a chance to regenerate,” said Garcia, who divides her time between her Christian ministry and campaigning for Trump on social media.

Trump mania has even reached the Brazilian countryside. This month, two billboards featuring a photo of Trump and the slogan “Pro God, pro family, pro life, pro Israel, pro Brazil” were displayed in the city of Governador Valadares, whose population is around 280,000. The billboards’ sponsor, an evangelical Bolsonaro supporter named Edson Delana, told a Brazilian newspaper that he backs Trump because “he defends the family, defends Israel, he hasn’t allowed money to go to abortion. He has courage.”

To be sure, many Brazilian Americans do not identify as socially conservative, and some of the ones who voted for Bolsonaro did so mainly because of his pro-market platform. Among the 260,000 Brazilian Americans in Florida, many are part of Brazil’s nouveau riche elite that prospered in the years the economy in their home country took off. Some of them are now ranked among the top real estate investors in Miami. Many of them are comfortable with Biden’s centrist economic platform. “The Brazilian American community is about as diverse as the country,” said Fernando Cutz, a Brazilian American who served in the administrations of Trump and former President Barack Obama.

Though it didn’t come as a surprise, Bolsonaro’s endorsement of Trump worries some foreign-policy experts who fear Brazilian officials could face a cooler reception in Washington if Biden wins the White House.

“Bolsonaro is not only burning bridges with traditional partners like Argentina and the Europeans, but he is also burning bridges with the Democrats,” Poggio said. “When it comes to foreign policy, it’s not possible to understand what Brazil might have to gain by acting like this.”

During the first presidential debate, Biden said Brazil should face “significant economic consequences” if it failed to protect the Amazon. Bolsonaro fired back, calling the Democratic candidate’s comments “a disastrous and unnecessary declaration.”

Augusta Saraiva is a former intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @gutavsaraiva

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