Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araujo speaks with The Epoch Times on this episode of American Thought Leaders. In October last year, Brazil took a decisive position against socialism with the election of President Jair Bolsonaro. In our interview, Araujo talks about the need to defend the soul of the West—such as its freedom and liberties—and why he believes this is fundamentally an internal battle. We also talk about whether joining NATO is on the horizon for Brazil and why the South American nation is so keen to partner with the U.S. We also discuss the situation in Venezuela and Brazil’s approach to China, Brazil’s largest training partner.
Jan Jekielek: So we just had a joint press conference by President Bolsonaro and President Trump, and one of the things I noticed them talking about was this new chapter in U.S.-Brazilian cooperation. And I’m wondering if you could expand on it for us, for our viewers. I’m sure you’re essential to this effort.
Ernesto Araujo: Thank you. Yes, we’re very enthusiastic about the opportunity to be here and to come back to where we should have been for a long time, which is with a very strong partnership with the United States. That’s the natural thing for Brazil to do. If we want a more open economy, a more open society—we are an open society as the United States with all our challenges.
So Brazilians identify a lot with the U.S.—something that’s natural for Brazilians because of the culture, the approach to liberty, to institutions, et cetera. And this natural connectivity was denied by Brazilian governments for a long time for ideological reasons. Everything that was natural in terms of Brazil and the West coming together was kind of suffocated for the interest of keeping those opportunities untapped in terms of the economy, defense, cooperation, security. It looked like everything was … any initiative was good until you had the United States as a partner. Then it became bad. So things were not judged by the quality but by the fact that the U.S. was either in or out of it.
So now we’re coming back, which was the tradition of Brazilian foreign policy until the beginning of the 20th century. Back then the conception that the way for Brazil to become a big player in the world was through a connection with the United States—it was very clear. And for maybe three quarters of the 20th and 21st century when the United States was Brazil’s main economic partner—and partner as a whole—was the time of incredible growth for Brazil because it was the country that grew the most in the world—even more than Japan. And that stretch basically from 1900 to 1975 more or less.
Then wrong options, wrong partnerships … not wrong—other partnerships are good—but this cornerstone, which should have been a partnership with the United States, was neglected. And as a coincidence or not Brazil started to stagnate, and the economy started to not deliver jobs, not deliver growth, and also Brazilian society started to lose faith in its institutions. So now we’re trying to reconnect. So this new era is, in a sense, coming back to where a spontaneous feeling of resilience of brotherhood of the United States and that it is a partnership that really can deliver results.
Jan Jekielek: So it’s really interesting in this joint statement that came out right after the press conference. President Trump mentioned that Brazil will be a major non-NATO ally. And during the press conference he even suggested it may be a NATO ally. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Ernesto Araujo: Yes, yes. Yeah, we’re breaking many taboos, and I mean many ideas that limit our scope of action. So Brazil is a Western country. We’ve had a different composition in our society. Our history is different, but every country has a different history. But the main pillar of our culture and society is the Western tradition. And the West has basically two institutions that give shape to it—NATO the military side and OECD on the economic side. So basically what we’re doing here is to say that Brazil wants to be identified as a Western country, which means we want to get closer to NATO and closer to the OECD. We want to get into the OECD and President Trump is supporting our bid for that. And also is supporting our desire to be closer to NATO.
It would be a sign of a change in the geopolitical map because NATO, of course, is a child of the 1940s and 1950s. But things have changed and now you have in our region, for example, in South America the challenges that didn’t exist before, especially the challenge represented by Venezuela. We have to talk, maybe, a little bit about that, but we need to create the conditions for a permanently democratic region in South America. This is a clear option of Brazil and most of other South American countries. This is an aspect of that basically didn’t exist before—this strong desire for democracy and liberty that has to take shape in South America. So, especially for Brazil, we want to be an anchor of that of a region that is stable around democratic principles, around strong nations. Basically, what the Europeans got in the ’50s through NATO—that sense of stability and that sense of belonging together in a sort of, you know, sort of alliance. So if you may say so we think again coming back to the point that some things are natural and were denied us by wrong options. NATO maybe, or not NATO, but the the Western alliance needs a north-south axis because they have a west-east axis—United States, Europe. But why not with Brazil in the south.
Jan Jekielek: Did you discuss any of this?
Ernesto Araujo: Yes, yes, yes. We did, we did, we did. I think some people can consider that very bold. We think, well, it’s bold, but it makes sense. It makes sense because it’s a question of how we see ourselves. Again, for a long time Brazilian foreign policy liked to see Brazil as Brazil was not, would like to see Brazil as a country that didn’t have any connection to the Western alliance, or that saw that as very problematic, that was unsure of itself. They always thought that, oh, any relationship with a country like the United States would mean that we are subservient or that we are doing whatever the U.S. wanted. It’s not totally that. But that was the image that we like to make of ourselves, the wrong image.
Now we want to really look at the mirror and say now, what are we? Well, we’re a big country—a country that is proud of itself, a country that needs to assert itself in the world for freedom, for democracy, for those Western values, to come back to that point. So that’s what we really are. We changed the mirror we used. For a long time we had a distorting mirror of Brazil that showed that as an image that was not us, it was not Brazilian society. Now we’re basically trying to to put us in front of a correct mirror—I mean a mirror that gives us our real image. That’s what Brazil has. That’s what Brazil is. And seeing ourselves as our correct image we see that it’s natural to, for example, to come closer to NATO and maybe joining NATO.
Jan Jekielek: It’s very interesting and I also noticed you’ve agreed to forgo the special status with the WTO. You know, it’s kind of struck me when I look at OECD, and this is really kind of Brazil taking a position we’re going to stand on our own two feet. We are going to figure things out ourselves. Is that how you think of it?
Ernesto Araujo: Yes, exactly, exactly. It’s all part of the same reconnection with our identity, with our perception of ourselves as a big player because we wanted to be a global player, but we wanted to also to be seen as a small country, a country that needs special treatment. And of course we have challenges that are different from other countries that are maybe more advanced. But this sort of differentiated treatment is totally outdated. It didn’t deliver what it was supposed to deliver because it was supposed to deliver development. And so the idea of it being a developing country, it means that one day it will develop, but it never happens. They will just say developing forever. So it makes no sense. OK. Let’s forget about it. Basically, I mean, I’m exaggerating a little bit. The concept of development is still important, but let’s get rid of that sort of playing with words and let’s play off the reality, and the reality is that Brazil can be a big player—can sit at the table at the WTO with the United States, with Europe, with Japan, with others in order to try to redesign the WTO according to the new reality of the economic world, according to our new reality. And if the concept of differentiated treatment was a barrier for that we should get rid of it.
Jan Jekielek: Very interesting. And, actually, along these veins last night President Bolsonaro, in his Fox News interview, he mentioned that he said encouraging the U.S. to basically retain its current immigration policy. Meaning, as I understand it to mean, to have a secure border.
Ernesto Araujo: Yes.
Jan Jekielek: And it’s something he said, it was really interesting, he said to a large extent we owe our democracy in the Southern Hemisphere to the United States. I thought that was fascinating. If you agree with that, can you expand on that a little bit?
Ernesto Araujo: It’s interesting. We were talking about this in the car today coming back from the White House or where we were … no it was when we were entering the Arlington Cemetery and looking at that very strong image of so many soldiers buried there. The president said that to us, we were together in the car, that we are basically. . . He said, well, imagine what the world would be without the United States because of all the participation and all the wars, the reconstruction of the world after the Second World War.
And more than that—more than the purely military or economic dimension—there is the spiritual dimension. I think since the beginning of the republic, since the 18th century, the United States has been an inspiration for self-reliance, for a nation that is built on values and at the same time on a strong national identity but with freedom, with the famous pursuit of happiness, which is an amazing concept that is so often forgotten. So this is a part of—it’s not only the question of … When you look at everything that is published or not everything but mainstream international relations, papers, and journals they basically analyze the world through security and the economy. And I think they failed to analyze that sort of spiritual, untouchable dimension.
And maybe it’s even more important because human beings naturally desire freedom. I’m kind of speaking like the Declaration of Independence, but people naturally desire freedom. And when they look at the world and who’s the champion of freedom—it’s been the United States. We cannot deny that. You cannot put the United States together with other countries that didn’t have the same role just to say, well, we have to treat everyone the same. And, no, that’s the reality.
So, again, I think we should come back a lot to the question of mainstream thought being concentrated on words and not looking at the reality and political correctness. It’s basically that you just are concerned only about the game of play with words and not about it. So the reality is that the United States is essential for freedom. And why can’t you say that? The president says things that are real. That’s why people voted for him.
Jan Jekielek: That’s fascinating. It’s reminding me of your paper “Trump in the West” which was, I think, played a role, certainly, in you playing your role today in the current administration.
Ernesto Araujo: Yes.
Jan Jekielek: And I actually am very, very curious. You actually were in the Brazilian government previously, in these much more, so let’s call it, socialist governments and so forth. How … were you just kind of hiding as a conservative all along or did you have an epiphany? How did things change for you? [inaudible]
Ernesto Araujo: Yes, yes, yes. No, I’m a career official so I had to work with, let’s say, social democratic governments, socialist governments along the years. And for a long time I found my place in trade negotiations because I thought it was an area where you could do something for the country, for growth independently from, let’s say, the current ideology because trade tends to have a rationality of its own. And for some time, I confess, that I believed in the sort of economic nationalism that was rather protectionist because I think misled by the things that I read—no one is perfect right? I did think that you needed some sort of protection of your markets to preserve policy space for the government to have development policies. That was basically the idea. And you needed economic agreements to basically protect your ability to do that. But what happened in Brazil is that that policy space was used for corruption.
Jan Jekielek: I see.
Ernesto Araujo: And then I and other people start to realize, come on, we are negotiating to keep this market closed, but it’s closed not for government to implement sound policies but for, basically, so that we don’t have external interference in a corrupt system that was basically channeling money from the productive economy into political parties and their members. So that is part of how I started to open my eyes like many people in Brazilian society. And also, more and more, I had the feeling that this whole spiritual dimension was sorely lacking in foreign policy in whatever I did. And more and more I thought, well, what is the meaning of what we’re doing here? And I’m someone who thinks that the spiritual dimension should not be only in the church, I mean, it’s not Sunday morning that people are spiritual beings … that not only Sunday morning, they’re spiritual beings 24 hours a day and in whatever they do. [24.6] So if you don’t …
Jan Jekielek: One would hope.
Ernesto Araujo: [00:17:04] Yes, exactly, one would hope. So if you don’t take that sort of transcendental or vertical dimension, as I like to say, into your work, into what you do, in that case, into diplomacy, it’s a very poor way of living and of working. So, again, I was saying in the past in the Brazilian press when they say things like that people say, “Oh you’re a fanatic.” So it’s a crazy world that when you talk about God you’re a fanatic. So I started to feel that the desire for some sort of political project that would encompass those different dimensions—the dimension of economic rationality that I saw it was lacking in that economic nationalist project. And this dimension, an inspirational dimension, to our work. And suddenly Bolsonaro was there, and there was this ship where you could jump into. Because for Brazilians who had this more conservative leaning, you didn’t have any political option in Brazil for a long time.
Jan Jekielek: Yes, six years ago was the first conservative party.
Ernesto Araujo: Exactly. That didn’t exist. So, OK, let’s do with what we have and do my job, and try to … But then suddenly there’s a viable political project which, by the way, when I started to write about that, Bolsonaro was polling 6 percent in the election polls.
Jan Jekielek: So it wasn’t to get the job?
Ernesto Araujo: No, no, not at all. But I was enthusiastic, because it was different. And I was at the same time connecting to real people, to working people, and also igniting an atmosphere of this spiritual dimension because I was a man who talked about God, who talked about his faith openly and in the public space. So I was enthusiastic about it. At the same time, of course, the Trump phenomenon here, which was a game changer for people who had that desire for something different in politics and international politics. This was essential, and so the first vehicle, I think, of those thoughts was evidently Trump and his electoral victory. And I was very much taken by what it meant for the world, what it meant for coming back to the nation as the cornerstone of social life. What it meant for this combination of, let’s say, conservative values with an open economy. It’s just totally misconceived as being against globalization. It’s not. It’s just conceiving that globalization has a soul and that the economy must have a soul because people have souls, I think.
Jan Jekielek: Very interesting.
Ernesto Araujo: So Trump in the world opening new avenues and Bolsonaro in Brazil showing that you have a way of going forward in Brazil, as well.
Jan Jekielek: I have to do this because I have this quote that I pulled from that paper you wrote. I will just read it and I want to ask you a question. You wrote—and this is thanks to the Center for Security Policy who translated it: “The enemy of the West is not Russia or China, nor is it an enemy state, but indeed primarily an enemy within, abandoning one’s own identity; and an outside enemy, radical Islamism—which, meanwhile, plays second fiddle to the first because Islamism only poses a threat because it finds the West spiritually weak and disconnected from itself. There is no ‘us-versus-them’ logic here, contrary to what Trump’s detractors are fond of saying. There is instead an ‘us seeking to reclaim ourselves’ logic.” I want to find out more. That process, do you believe that’s actually happening in America now, and do you believe that’s happening in Brazil?
Ernesto Araujo: It is, it is. I think it is. Of course. In the West I have the impression that the political climate is so corrosive that maybe part of that impulse has been, not lost, but has been kind of put in wait. I mean it happens normally in political movements that …
Jan Jekielek: So Brazil is not that corrosive?
Ernesto Araujo: It is. It is, too. It is was maybe a little bit less. But we’re still in a in a more initial phase where we still think that we can, let’s say, preserve that. I think here in the U.S. Trump and his movement … President Trump and his, not necessarily the Republican Party, but the movement around Trump, they still retain the main axis of that sort of approach. But maybe it has been so challenged that it’s hard to see and people tend to see more the criticism. In Brazil, we’re still very early in the process, but we’re already having that sort of challenge. And I started the sentence by trying to say that it was different, but it’s very similar actually. Now that I think of it, I realize. I think it’s very similar.
The inertia would take us to a road of normalization and coming back to political correctness and coming back to a technocratic approach to government. It’s hard. We have to fight it everyday to keep ideas floating and to keep that disposition, that commitment to break that kind of limiting, suffocating thought system because it’s hard to break thought systems, very hard. If you leave it to itself things will kind of reconnect the old way. I think that’s what happens, so it’s very tiresome. It’s only two and a half months into the government, it’s tiresome. I’m not tired. It is tiresome, and we’re gonna fight as long as we can. And I think we will win. Like I think this movement here will win by bringing people’s perception back to where they should, be which is that the nation makes sense for example and that conservative values are needed for a liberal economy. But it’s an uphill battle.
Jan Jekielek: You mentioned the word soul repeatedly, so it’s really kind of reclaiming the soul of the nation?
Ernesto Araujo: It is—exactly. But I see that as a kind of universal challenges. To see the world not as a battle between different countries but as a battle between different ideas, different conceptions of the human being. And those are reflected differently in different countries, and some countries champion more some values, others champion other values. But to see the world as a competition—traditional big power competition between the U.S. and China or Russia or Europe or whatever, it is wrong because the battle is inside—between, let’s say, a materialistic view of the human being and a more spiritual view.
Jan Jekielek: Fascinating. I think Brazil isn’t the only country which has gone in a conservative direction in South America. I’m wondering is Brazil doing anything already in this short short term so far to support some of these other countries?
Ernesto Araujo: We are coordinating a lot. There’s something in the air of the time in South America around conservative principles and foreign policy that coordination that translates that. And today the most important translation of those principles is our action regarding Venezuela. And the fact that we are—Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay—very much active in pressing for real democracy, and in Venezuela, in a total different way from what was done in the past. Yeah, yeah. Until recently, well, people say, well, we’re supposed to be for democracy. So let’s make a declaration saying we’re concerned about the events in Venezuela and that we call for dialogue among the parties. OK, let’s go home. OK, now, we really feel that we have to fight for democracy in the region and that we have to help Venezuelan people to recover democracy.
And that’s not a Venezuelan issue it’s a regional and maybe global issue. The fight between the democratic nations and socialist principles, not principles, socialist regimes. We have the sense of duty and a sense of calling in that sort of action. And it’s not only Brazil. I’ve been to a lot of meetings to coordinate actions in Venezuela among those countries, and you always have this electricity in the air. And people say things that you feel that are not [inaudible] that say we have to do something. We have to act for democracy in the region.
So, but the new Brazil with Bolsonero is the game changer there because we have the weight to transform that sort of atmosphere and to capture that energy and translate it into action. The other countries, very important are our partners. But without Brazil … it’s not because … I mean they recognize that. They were waiting for … it’s interesting because the key meeting of the Lima group that coordinates in Venezuela was scheduled for January 4, but Bolsonaro took office January 1. So they wanted to see what the new Brazil will look like. And we got there, and so we showed that we really mean when we say that this is not a play of words. It’s not to say we’re concerned then call for dialogue. We want to act. So there is a tendency in the region for conservative values, but it’s only Brazil, I think, that it’s clearly articulated and translates into action.
Jan Jekielek: Very interesting. So China is definitely not a democracy. It’s actually also Brazil’s largest trading partner.
Ernesto Araujo: Yes.
Jan Jekielek: I understand also the largest importer of Brazilian oil. And you know a lot of the U.S. and many other countries actually have serious security and trade concerns related to China, for example, with Huawei’s involvement in development of 5G and potential for spying, and this kind of whole realm. So, how is Brazil trying to deal with this? That’s my question.
Ernesto Araujo: Sure, sure. We really need the Chinese markets, especially for some of our agriculture sectors and in mining. Our main export products to China are soybeans and iron ore. So by that you see that’s a relation that’s very much based on raw materials, which is good. Many sectors are very dependent on that. And we want to keep that sort of trade. But we need to diversify it, and we need to have more access to the Chinese markets for higher-end products so to say. But we’ll have to learn to make the most of each relationship.
And it’s clear that when you want … when you talk about technological development and innovation, for example, partnerships with the United States tend to be more productive. That’s not to say that they cannot be productive with China.
And, basically, by the way, we’re trying to trying to work more on innovation with China and the BRICS countries. But the natural thing is because American companies that invest in Brazil, European companies as well, traditionally you bring technology and they start to to develop new products and innovate in Brazil. And that is essential for the country’s competitiveness for our manufacturing capacity as much as every sector is important, but Brazil has to keep that diversity of its economy enough not to concentrate too much.
So what happened is that we have to develop a strategy that makes sense. And up to now we are, basically, in our relationship with China, we didn’t have a strategy. And China clearly has a strategy to deal with us according to their interests, which is totally fine. But Brazil has been just a country that lets things happen and we go with the flow and that’s something that we don’t want anymore. I want to structure our relationship. We tried to align with any other country according to our interests, according to what you can extract from different relationships. So it’s a question of thinking strategically should be the obvious thing to do. But it was not. It was not obvious in Brazil for a long time.
Jan Jekielek: OK. So, if I’m understanding correctly, China remains an extremely important market. You’re going in with your eyes wide open.
Ernesto Araujo: Yes, yes, yes. And then the technology issue that you mentioned that’s clearly, maybe, one of the biggest issues in the world in the next few years or now. And you have to study that very well and not just go with the flow, right, and not just let things happen to yourself. I mean you’re an active player. That’s the kind of mentality that we need to change—the mentality that Brazil is a country that cannot influence the world, we just have to take it. So, oh, it’s there, it’s happening, let’s go. Many countries, I think, have been like that for the last 15 to 20 years. That’s only regarding China, regarding every aspect of … The United States was clearly so before Trump. Said, oh manage the decline. This is declining. There’s nothing you can do about it. Let’s try to do something about it. I think that’s Trump’s message. The same thing in Brazil. Oh, Brazil cannot influence anything. We can. I mean, let’s try. Let’s try. Maybe we can’t. But, I mean, let’s do it. Coming back to that, I mean it’s natural for a human being to try things and to fight. Not to fight, I mean in the good sense of striving for the same things. And our foreign policy was a foreign policy that just took the world as it was and didn’t try to interfere in anything just copying the United Nations resolutions and translating them. So that’s basically it. People call us fanatics or call me a fanatic. If you are trying to do something is to be a fanatic, that’s it.
Jan Jekielek: So a couple of things first. The reason why I’m so curious about this is that we at the Epoch Times, we’ve been reporting on let’s say Chinese influence operations for decades. You know some of what Australia, for example, is seeing, what has been revealed there is …
Ernesto Araujo: OK.
Jan Jekielek: … for example, has affected the Australian government. We’ve heard that there’s a lot of parliamentarians that are, you know, taking all-expense paid trips or aid to China. So we’re just kind of observing that. And, again, I’m sure a lot of people would be happy to hear that Brazil is going into all this with its eyes wide open.
Ernesto Araujo: Yes. Yeah, and it’s, again, I think it’s the merits to … it’s something that the Chinese, China knows how to do, which is to explore their advantages. I mean, we should explore our advantages as well. We’re not criticizing them for that, it’s just we want to do things like that. But, of course, if you compare the big players—China and United States—in our market the difference is that basically our economic relations in the case of the U.S. is with individual companies that they can have their strategies, but they have to answer to their shareholders and to their individual structure, so they move in a certain way. And they do, they lobby of course, but they lobby in a certain way. The Chinese, of course, is more coordinated, centrally coordinated, so they would move in a different way—a very powerful way. And they’re right—they’re protecting their interests. And we should learn how to react to that differently and how to protect our own interests.
Jan Jekielek: Understood. So you really were talking a little bit about, you know, how some people may describe you as a fanatic or something like that. The word, the term far right has been flung around, you know, arbitrarily. How do you respond? You don’t strike me that way from our conversation today. I’d love it if you could speak to that, to those kinds of accusations.
Ernesto Araujo: Yeah. No, it’s the phenomenon of labeling. This approach that basically the left and cultural Marxism have developed, which is very efficient for their ends, which is to create concepts that are detached from reality. So and just to play with words and just to throw words and then thinking that your argument is about throwing words or not dealing with … I think language is an amazing instrument to understand reality, but that’s not what the left is about, what cultural Marxism is about.
Jan Jekielek: So these are unfair. You feel these are unfair accusations.
Ernesto Araujo: Oh, yeah, of course. Of course they are. So what people want when they use those things is that they want to stop the debate, right. So someone has certain ideas. OK, but then you call him a fascist or a racist or whatever—it is like here, Trump. And then traditionally you would stop the argument there. Because then the start …
Jan Jekielek: Once the label is on, no discussion.
Ernesto Araujo: Yes. Yeah. Once the label is on, no discussion. That’s what people want. Those are big breakers of thought, those words, racist, xenophobic, fascist, extreme right, fanatic, all that, fundamentalist.
Jan Jekielek: As opposed to discussing policy?
Ernesto Araujo: Yeah. And I think that’s how the courageous, brave approach of President Trump is starting to break that because before him someone would arrive or say certain ideas about how society should work, for example, to say that, well society must have some cohesiveness, which I think is true, and then [someone says] racist, and then “no, I’m not a racist, and then the debate would be about that. And you forget the real issue, and Trump doesn’t accept that. He keeps trying to discuss. The reason he keeps trying to discuss the issues, and that’s what we’re trying to learn, how to do and people the press because that’s what they learn. They don’t know how to do anything else. They just know how to throw labels to stop debate, to stop the debate right, to stop discourse, to control discourse by suffocating it. We have to learn, we are trying to learn how to keep debating. And not being stopped. For us the natural thing when you are called a bad thing is to, you know, just to look at yourself and say, oh well, what am I doing here. Am I a fanatic, you know? And then, no, you cannot do that. You have to keep OK, let’s shun that and keep no, those are my ideas. So let’s discuss the ideas. Let’s discuss the ideas and not the words.
Jan Jekielek: So you know a few months into President Bolsonaro’s presidency are you able to create more debate?
Ernesto Araujo: I think so. I think so. I think we’re opening the Overton window a little bit and stretching it a little bit. Things that were not in the debate are in debate now, and people would say the worst things about us. But at least they’re debating the things that we think should be talked about.
Jan Jekielek: Which is, I guess, again, the heart and the soul of the nation.
Ernesto Araujo: Like that, like that. So things that were not supposed to be there are there. And it’s very clear in my view that foreign policy has never been, has never had the presence in public debate that it has now in Brazil because of our efforts of bringing in subjects that people want to discuss, and that mainstream press and mainstream thought didn’t want to be discussed, like those ideas of the nation of the soul, of the spiritual dimension, of the human being. And some people are scared, well, you are not supposed to talk about that. But at least those ideas start to appear, and my hope is that people one day will start really debating them philosophically, you know, in a civilized way and not throwing in adjectives at you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.