UK implicated in Bolsonaro's dirty business; hidden dealings exposed
According to the investigative english website, officials in the United Kingdom have long been interested in Brazil's economic resources, notably its oil and gas deposits.
The BBC aired a documentary, in September 2022, titled “The Boys from Brazil: Rise of the Bolsonaros”.
The series, which constitutes of three parts, co-released with PBS in the United States, follows the ascent of Brazil's far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, who rose to the position of the country's 2018 presidential election winner from an obscure dictatorship-era military figure.
“Jair Bolsonaro is one of the world’s most controversial leaders”, the documentary begins. “An ardent admirer of Brazil’s military dictatorship, Bolsonaro came to power determined to revive their policies to exploit the Amazon – whatever the cost."
The documentary was released just days before Brazil's presidential election on October 2, with former president and Workers' Party (PT) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the lead. Concerns are growing about Bolsonaro's willingness to accept electoral defeat if he loses the election.
While the documentary features voices critical of the Bolsonaro dictatorship, it omits one important aspect of obvious importance to the British public: the UK government's hidden dealings with the Bolsonaros.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act illustrate UK engagement with Brazil's far-right and demonstrate how Bolsonaro's Brazil has created a financial opportunity for the UK.
Documents show that British officials met with the Bolsonaros in the months leading up to the 2018 election in Brazil.
The UK Ambassador in Brasilia, Vijay Rangarajan, met with Bolsonaro, his son and congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, and an unnamed advisor on April 10, 2018, just days after Lula was imprisoned. One name has been redacted.
It is worth noting that the then-chief secretary to the Treasury and current Prime Minister Liz Truss arrived in Brazil on April 9 to promote “free trade, free markets, and post-Brexit opportunities."
“British officials met with the Bolsonaros in the months running up to Brazil’s 2018 election.”
Truss met with Rangarajan in the UK Embassy in Brasilia on April 10, the same day Rangarajan met with the Bolsonaros, according to documents obtained by Declassified UK.
However, it remains unclear whether Truss also met Bolsonaro, or if her company with the same people on the same day was an unlikely coincidence. The Treasury did not respond to questions regarding Truss and the Bolsonaros.
The remainder of Truss’ visit to Brazil entailed meetings with ministers and officials on matters including “privatization”. In one of Truss’ briefing notes, it is observed that there is a new “interest in the open market” in Brazil, which “has enormous reserves of oil and gas."
Two months after Truss' visit, Ambassador Rangarajan sent Bolsonaro a private letter inviting him to his apartment in Brasilia to meet with a group of "Strategic Partners".
Anglo-American, BP, Shell, AstraZeneca, Unilever, and JCB were among the companies that used this word as a euphemism for the directors of Britain's biggest oil, mining, pharmaceutical, and construction enterprises.
“Deputy Bolsonaro”, the letter reads, “it was a great pleasure to meet you and initiate our conversation in April of this year. I would like to invite you for a morning coffee or lunch in my residency with the largest British investors in Brazil, at a time that best suits you”.
The meeting would be attended by “in total no more than 20 people, to allow for a fluid discussion." Rangarajan concluded the letter by telling Bolsonaro: “I hope to meet you again”.
BP and Shell
Britain continued to collaborate with the Bolsonaros following the 2018 election.
Rangarajan and Bolsonaro met again on November 14, that year, along with vice-president elect Hamilton Mouro, General Augusto Heleno, two of Bolsonaro's sons, and unknown "others".
“Rangarajan met with representatives of both companies no less than 20 times during 2018 and 2019.”
The Foreign Office has refused to reveal what was discussed at this discussion, albeit it appears that investment prospects for Britain's biggest multinationals were highlighted once more.
Indeed, the United Kingdom pushed the Brazilian government on behalf of BP and Shell in 2017, and Rangarajan met with representatives from both corporations at least 20 times in 2018 and 2019.
Truss' tour also included a discussion with Shell personnel, who boast of a "prolific... portfolio" of deep-water oil and gas production in Brazil.
"Thatcher's legacy back to life"
UK trade minister Conor Burns traveled in August 2019 to Brazil. There, he met with Bolsonaro’s infrastructure minister Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas, praising the Brazilian government’s “economic reform agenda," which was “reminiscent of Thatcher’s."
Burns met with the state governor and former Bolsonaro ally Wilson Witzel in Río de Janeiro, whose police had killed 881 people between January and July of that year – the highest number in nearly two decades.
Alarmingly, Burns “stressed the breadth of UK interests” in Río, adding that the UK “stood ready to work together on a range of issues, including security” matters, citing “facial recognition” as an area of UK “expertise”.
During Bolsonaro's presidency, British trade with Brazil increased significantly. According to a joint statement issued by then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Guedes, total trade between the UK and Brazil was valued at £6.5 billion in 2019, representing a 12.6% increase over 2018.
Both governments had taken "the right measures at the right time to protect livelihoods and jobs from the adverse economic effects of the [Covid-19] pandemic," according to the statement.
The then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Bolsonaro in the United Nations Security Council in September 2019 to discuss "trade and security," among other topics, just weeks after the Brazilian leader sparked international concern that he was planning a military coup.
Britain has also provided some military training to Brazil over the past four years, but the Ministry of Defense has refused to disclose the costs, stating that to do so “has the potential to adversely affect relations with our allies."
More recently, Bolsonaro was the only South American political leader to attend the Queen’s funeral.