The Brazilian President’s speech was calmly given, even monotone at times, opening with a numbing sales pitch of his country to investors that touted developments in sanitation and transportation services. He was presenting “a new Brazil whose credibility has been recovered in the world” — one very different from the country devastated by the coronavirus on his watch and lashed by fires in the Amazon, where Bolsonaro has pushed for development.
“Why do you take a vaccine? To have antibodies, right? My antibodies rate is really high. I can show you the document,” he said in a live social media broadcast. He added that he will only make a decision about getting vaccinated “after everyone in Brazil gets the vaccine” — a dissonant voice as the General Assembly pushes this year to increase vaccination throughout the globe, and cajoling wealthier nations to share more doses with poorer ones.
But while the Brazilian President has tended to use appearances at the UN to reject foreign authority — showing a similar allergy to being told what to do when it comes to another globe-spanning crisis: global warming — he seemed to sidestep any direct confrontation on that front.
This year, a quieter Bolsonaro acknowledged “environmental challenges” but boasted that the Amazon region had seen a drop of 32% deforestation in August compared to the prior year. Deforestation spiked dramatically under Bolsonaro’s government’s previous years in office, and the country can be a deadly place for environmentalists — last year, 23 were murdered in Brazil in cases related to logging, according to environmental and human rights watchdog Global Witness.
A more moderate tone had been expected from Bolsonaro this year, said Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and vice president for policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas. For one thing, the assembly’s mood was simply different, with fewer fellow right-wing populist leaders to join Bolsonaro in giving international busybodies the middle finger.
“Bolsonaro is more isolated than ever,” Winter told CNN. “Trump left, Netanyahu is gone. The main country that really aligns with his brand of right-wing conservatism is Victor Orban’s Hungary,” he says. (Bolsonaro did have a sit-down scheduled with Poland’s conservative, anti-LGBTQ president Andrzej Duda before he took the stage Tuesday, though.)
In a meeting Monday with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro showed the same mild-mannered stubbornness that he later displayed at the podium. The two leaders discussed climate and Covid-19, and Bolsonaro “affirmed Brazil’s commitment to sustainable development,” a Brazilian Foreign Ministry statement read after the meeting.
But when it came to getting vaccinated per the United Nations’ request, he was as unmoving as ever.
During footage of the meeting at the UN headquarters, Johnson could be heard telling Bolsonaro, “AstraZeneca, it’s a great vaccine. Get the AstraZeneca vaccine. I had it twice.” Bolsonaro laughed the tip off. “No, not yet,” he said.
Reporting contributed by CNN’s Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo.