Bolsonaro Tells Merkel at G-20: I’m Not as Bad as People Say
(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s controversial president and climate skeptic, Jair Bolsonaro, cut a lonely figure at the Group of 20 summit. That is until Angela Merkel sidled up to him at dinner in Rome on Saturday evening.
The two had an unusually frank chat that morphed into a friendly and meaningful conversation between two leaders with different world views, according to two G-20 officials who witnessed the scene.
One senior official said that Bolsonaro confided in Germany’s departing chancellor that he was not as bad as the media always portrayed him. Merkel, who during her 16 years in power has experienced her share of scrutiny by the press, signaled she understood.
What is Bolsonaro’s biggest problem right now, she asked him.
The embattled Brazilian president responded it was rising gas prices. Indeed, inflation risks running amok in Latin America’s biggest economy, eroding the income of many Brazilians in a country where the rich-poor divide is glaring and that is saddled with the second-largest Covid death toll in the world. A few months before elections, Bolsonaro is lagging leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the polls.
One of Merkel’s key qualities is that she is rarely one to judge. Unlike many other G-20 leaders, Merkel has tried to keep lines of communication with Bolsonaro open also because Brazil is a big business partner and indeed there is a large community with German ancestors dating back to the 19th century in the southeast of the country.
During the forest fires in the Amazon in 2019, Merkel offered him financial help to fight the fires. At the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, when France’s Emmanuel Macron publicly chastised Bolsonaro, she asked other leaders to go easy on Bolsonaro and not to isolate him further.
In Rome, it looked like many other leaders were giving Bolsonaro the cold shoulder. The problem is that Bolsonaro has drawn international outrage over increased deforestation in the Amazon and the summit was climate-heavy. His views are seen as anathema by those working toward ambitious climate goals ahead of the United Nations COP26 talks in Glasgow starting on Monday.
The sense of his being on the outs was apparent on Sunday morning when he was missing from group of leaders taking a stroll in central Rome, laughing and taking selfies next to the landmark Trevi fountain, which had been cleared out for their benefit. Instead, Bolsonaro visited the Baroque masterpiece by himself the day before, a fellow tourist among the many.
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