Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will head a U.S. delegation to Brazil seeking to foster closer ties with the far-right incoming president, Jair Bolsonaro, and discuss ways to counter the Venezuelan government.
Pompeo will leave Washington for Brasilia on New Year’s Eve to attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration the following day before heading to Colombia. He plans to meet with Bolsonaro, who was elected in October with an agenda and style so similar to President Trump’s that he has been dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics.”
A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under department rules for briefing reporters, said Pompeo and Bolsonaro will discuss bilateral trade and investment, as well as China’s increasing investment in the region, which the official characterized as “predatory.”
Bolsonaro has expressed admiration for Trump as a model of governance, though human rights groups are concerned by statements by Bolsonaro suggesting the incoming Brazilian leader is not a strong defender of democracy and the rights of minority groups. The State Department official said those comments were all in the past.
“What we see at this point, since the president was elected by the Brazilian people, is somebody taking a very strident and very forceful approach to human rights, particularly across the region,” the official said. “The president-elect has been very forward-leaning on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in defense of human rights and the freedoms and democracy for people” living in those countries.
The official welcomed Bolsonaro’s announcement that he plans to move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, similar to the step the Trump administration took in May. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in Brazil for the inauguration, and the State Department said Thursday that he and Pompeo will meet on the sidelines in their first encounter since Trump said he would pull U.S. troops from Syria.
Pompeo is making his fourth trip to Latin America at a potentially pivotal moment, with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro preparing to begin a second term — or “hand over power to himself,” as the State Department official put it — after an election the United States and other countries in the region consider illegitimate.
Earlier this month, Maduro accused the United States of plotting a coup against him, aided by Bolsonaro and Colombian President Iván Duque.
Russia recently deployed two supersonic bombers to Venezuela after Maduro visited Moscow seeking Russian support as the country’s economy has collapsed under sanctions. Pompeo was highly critical of the move, tweeting that the “Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.”
Pompeo will meet with Duque on Wednesday in the Colombian resort city of Cartagena, where they will seek to “continue strengthening the bilateral relationship and discuss the crisis provoked by the dictatorship in Venezuela,” a statement from the Colombian president’s office said.
Colombia has been hosting the lion’s share of Venezuelan migrants who have been fleeing their country amid hyperinflation that has caused shortages of food and medicine.
Pompeo will be accompanied on the trip by Mark Green, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has provided U.S. assistance to countries overwhelmed by Venezuelan migrants.
It is unclear whether Pompeo will meet with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who also will attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration. Trump tweeted early Thursday that the United States will cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. “Word is that a new Caravan is forming in Honduras and they are doing nothing about it,” he said.
The State Department official said Trump expects the governments to do more to stem the departure of migrant caravans and that “there will be consequences if they do not.”