The news that the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive for covid-19 went around the world. The major international media, such as the French newspaper Le Monde, the German Der sppiegel or the english magazine The Economist they echoed the story and highlighted the president’s history of statements about the coronavirus. Since the pandemic began, Bolsonaro’s behavior, who defends that there is excessive scaremongering and that the virus causes only a “little flu”, has gained more and more space in international news and accelerated the erosion of Brazil’s image in the world .
The consulting firm points out that, since last year, the press has been projecting the economic impact of Bolsonaro’s environmental policy. On June 23, for example, three newspapers, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post, published reports on the warnings that “investors of billions dollars” made to Brazil for the policies of “dismantling” of the Amazon. Financial institutions responsible for managing more than four trillion dollars sent a letter to the Bolsonaro government warning that they could withdraw their investments in the country if it did not take more effective measures to control deforestation. The Brazilian business community joined the warnings with a similar manifesto signed by 38 companies, among which were Itaú -the largest bank in Latin America-, Santander and companies linked to agribusiness, such as the Brazilian branch of Cargill.
The pressure from foreigners set off an alert at the Planalto Palace, which set a meeting by videoconference with the representatives of the funds for last Thursday, led by Vice President Hamilton Mourão, head of the National Council of the Amazon. And on Friday, Mourão received Brazilian investors.
“Investors have not committed to investing, they want to see results, they want to see deforestation reduce,” Mourão said after the meeting. The Brazilian vice president has said that illegalities in the Amazon must be fought, but he defends, like Bolsonaro, that the destruction in the region is exaggerated. “The jungle is standing, many say it is burning.” On the same Friday, data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recorded that the Amazon had a record monthly clearing in June, despite the presence of a military group led by Mourão that arrived at the site in May to combat illegal logging.
At the beginning of the month, in a speech at the Mercosur Summit, the Brazilian representative had already complained about “visions” from abroad that, according to his reading, are “distorted” and do not reflect the government’s efforts, especially on issues such as the defense of the Amazon region and the relationship with indigenous peoples.
To continue the negotiations on the bloc’s trade agreement with the European Union, which has threatened to paralyze it if the forests are not protected, Bolsonaro declared that he will continue the dialogue with different interlocutors to clarify the situation. But according to European diplomatic sources consulted by EL PAÍS, if the practical results of reducing deforestation rates do not appear shortly, there is a risk that the agreement will not come to fruition.
In addition to the environmental problem, the political crisis in Brazil and the economic agenda in the face of the pandemic also concern foreign investors. “There is strong political uncertainty, resignations of ministers, discussions between the Executive, Congress and governors. It even analyzes how a health crisis like this is being managed. These are things that investors consider when deciding whether to invest in a country, ”says Martín Castellano, head of the Latin America section of the Institute of International Finance (IIF, for its acronym in English).
According to Castellano, there are still many doubts about the president’s ability to resume the reformist agendas of the economic team. “Due to the pandemic and internal issues, the reforms have been sidelined and have lost priority. The restrictions are more challenging than before, ”he says.
The stimulus package itself to combat the effects of the health crisis, one of the most ambitious in the region, creates uncertainty about the size of the hole it will leave in the public accounts and the fiscal future of the country, Castellano warns. The first short-term consequences can already be seen, he adds, such as the increase in the outflow of foreign capital, mainly from the stock sector, but also from foreign direct investment. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD, for its acronym in English) predicts that the volume of foreign capital in Brazil will only start to increase in 2022. The sharp depreciation of the real in recent months is also an indication of this growing distrust of the Brazilian economy.
From a diplomatic point of view, the erosion of Brazil’s image in the face of the pandemic, which has already caused more than 72,000 deaths in the country, has caused a loss of representation in international forums. The World Health Organization (WHO) it did not invite Bolsonaro to participate in a multilateral debate on how to tackle the health crisis. “Traditionally, there has always been a competent and professional Brazilian diplomacy, which not even the military governments could destroy”, explains Javier Vadell, professor of international relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais. But now, he continues, due to his alignment with Donald Trump and all the denial attitude about the Amazon and the pandemic, “the country’s reputation is in tatters.”
More publicity for a positive image
With Brazil’s image deteriorating, the government has tried to turn the situation around by increasing spending on advertising. The Ministry of Communication requested, in early June, an allocation of 325 million reais (61 million dollars) for official propaganda and public relations – more than double the budget at the beginning of the year – which it justified with the pandemic.
According to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, the Ministry of Communication argues that the negative impact of the Government’s actions is affecting the image of the country and it is necessary to encourage the dissemination of “positive news” in Brazil and abroad. There is also another request for 60 million reais ($ 11 million) to be spent on media outside the country. “The main international newspapers and news agencies have repeatedly cited Brazil and criticism of the government’s actions against covid-19 has been widely disseminated,” says Deputy Secretary Samy Liberman in one of the official papers, according to Folha de S. Paulo. Since January 2019, the Ministry of Communication has not carried out any tender to contract public relations services abroad.
In Brazil, Bolsonaro’s image has also deteriorated. According to a survey by the Datafolha Institute, held at the end of June, 44% of Brazilians disapprove of the president. The approval is 32%, while those who rate Bolsonaro as regular are 23%.