Boric and Bolsonaro draw two opposing views of Latin America at the UN General Assembly | International


The water and the oil. Jair Bolsonaro and Gabriel Boric. Few other leaders could offer Latin America as representatives at the premiere of the leaders’ debate at the 77th UN General Assembly this Tuesday. The trumpist Brazilian president, on the eve of elections where the polls predict his defeat, drew an idyllic Brazil, where citizens take to the streets in support of his leader and the Amazon enjoys excellent health. The leftist Chilean head of state called urgently for greater social justice and prescribed more and better democracy as a response to discontent and inequality.

Much was spoken in Spanish and Portuguese on this opening day of the world leaders’ conclave. The agenda had given Latin America a major role. Bolsonaro, as is traditional, was the first to intervene in the debate, as president of Brazil. Behind him, throughout the day, the leaders of Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Argentina and El Salvador also participated.

The Brazilian head of state, in electoral mode also from the podium of the plenary session of the General Assembly, opted for a speech in which he illuminated what he considered the achievements of his mandate and attacked, although without naming him directly, his rival at the polls , Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whom the polls consider the favorite in the October 2 elections.

Bolsonaro denounced the “systematic corruption” of the left and assured that when this ideology ruled the country, between 2003 and 2016, billions of dollars were stolen. “The person responsible for that” —he underlined, clearly alluding to his opponent— “was convicted”. There is no need to worry, he came to say, despite what the polls say: “it is the Brazil of the past”.

In the account of the Brazilian president, his country has never been better. Inflation and unemployment have fallen. He welcomes refugees from Venezuela and other parts of the world. Since the outbreak of the covid pandemic in 2020, 63 million people, or a third of the population, have received government assistance for their needs. The leader, who despised the efficacy of vaccines and who last year boasted of not having been inoculated, despite the fact that attendance at the General Assembly required it, stuck his neck out before the rest of the leaders about immunizations in his country. “We have encouraged vaccinations,” he boasted, and today about 80% of the population is vaccinated, “voluntarily and respecting the freedoms of citizens.” He did not mention, on the contrary, the nearly 700,000 deaths from covid in the country since the first cases were detected.

The Amazon is fine, thank you. According to NGOs such as Imazon, which monitors the deforestation of the largest forest in the world, between January and August, 7,943 kilometers of forest were destroyed. This represents the highest figure in the last 15 years, and an area equivalent to that of the island of Puerto Rico. But the Brazilian president, who during his mandate has relaxed the environmental laws of his country and is a continuous target of environmental organizations, has maintained that 80% of the largest forest in the world remains “intact and pristine”, despite what they say the media and activists.

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And although the polls give him around 33% of popular support, Bolsonaro assures that he has the majority support of the citizens. On September 7, he maintained, “millions of Brazilians took to the streets, summoned by their president.”

In the international arena, Bolsonaro offered to open the doors of his country to “welcome Catholic parents and nuns who have suffered persecution by the dictatorial regime in Nicaragua,” and presented himself as an unconditional defender of religious freedom and freedom of expression. He also alluded to the issue that actively and passively dominates the leaders’ talks at this week’s top-level meetings: Ukraine. The Brazilian head of state criticized the sanctions against Russia, considering that unilateral punishments do not represent the best way to resolve the conflict. The remedy must come, in his opinion, through dialogue and negotiation.

With hardly any transition —separated only by the intervention of the Senegalese president, Macky Sall—, Gabriel Boric offered a diametrically different vision in his debut before the General Assembly. The leftist head of state, who came to power on March 11, opted for an internationalist narrative, in which he presented an impassioned defense of democracy as a solution to global problems.

“Deepening democracy is a permanent exercise in which we can only persevere and learn from each other’s results,” proclaimed the Chilean president, who recalled the example of his country as an incipient democracy after the years of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and who also advocated against censorship and in favor of respect for differences of opinion.

“I rebel against the abyss that some try to dig before the legitimate diversity of opinions. And from Chile, we declare our will to be bridge builders in the face of those gaps that prevent us from meeting as diverse societies”, he pointed out.

If Bolsonaro had criticized the Western response to the war in Ukraine, Boric strongly criticized Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine, which has skyrocketed food and fertilizer prices and destabilized world economies. The Chilean leader expressed his commitment to justice and peace, and launched a call for international unity to achieve it. “We need a new Latin America, a Global South, in which we set common goals, justice and peace,” he declared.

In this sense, he promised to “carry out the necessary actions, and not just declarations, to stop Russia’s unjust war against Ukraine and put an end to all abuses by the powerful anywhere in the world.”

His speech did not only address the situation in Ukraine. He also alluded to the treatment of the Palestinians, for whom he asked for their own state and that “the permanent violations of human rights” against that people not become something normal. At the same time, he also called for guaranteeing Israel’s right to live within secure borders. The young head of state also called for respect for women’s rights. He dedicated a special mention to the death at the hands of the Iranian Police of Mahsa Amini last Friday.

On the domestic front, he alluded to the defeat of the proposal for a new Constitution in Chile, the great defeat of his half-year term. The outright rejection of the citizens, he maintained, has represented a teaching: to be “more humble.” And to govern “by mobilizing the capacities and wisdom of societies”, instead of trying to “replace” them. “As president of Chile, I am convinced that, in the short term, Chile will have a Constitution that satisfies and makes us proud,” he pointed out.

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