Brazil’s embattled president, Jair Bolsonaro, has come under further pressure after his political idol, Donald Trump, banned flights from the South American country to the US in response soaring number of Brazilian coronavirus cases.
The US announced the measure on Sunday as the number of recorded cases in Brazil rose to more than 363,000 and the death toll nearly 23,000.
Only the US now has more confirmed infections than Brazil where Bolsonaro has faced severe criticism for flouting social media guidelines and losing two health ministers in less than a month.
The White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the move would help ensure foreign nationals who had been in Brazil did not become “a source of additional infections in our country”. The indefinite ban, which comes into force on Friday, will apply to all non-US citizens who have been in Brazil within the last 14 days.
The news was a blow to Brazil’s far-right leader who touts his supposed closeness to Trump as proof of him steering Brazil in the right direction. Bolsonaro’s supporters frequently wave the US flag at rallies while the Brazilian president recently donned a “Trump 2020” hat.
“The US to Brazil: Stay at your own home”, ran the headline on the front page of the newspaper Estado de Minas alongside an image of Bolsonaro supporters holding a US flag.
Bolsonaro’s foes painted the US move as a humiliating snub and proof that his subservience to Trump was misguided.
“Brazil: a health risk to the world thanks to Jair Bolsonaro,” tweeted Valmir Assunção, a congressman from the leftwing Workers party. “Even the US – whose president’s boots he licks – has banned the entry of Brazilians.”
Alice Portugal, a Communist party lawmaker, tweeted: “Is Bolsonaro going to keep marching around with the American flag now?”
Bolsonarista officials scrambled to put a positive spin on the ban. “Ignore press hysteria,” tweeted Filipe Martins, a foreign policy adviser to Bolsonaro, pointing to previous US restrictions on travellers from China, Iran, the UK and the European Union during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, retweeted a message from the national security council that said: “Brazil is one of our strongest partners in the world.”
Brian Winter, the New York-based editor of Americas Quarterly, said he believed that because of the warm ties between the US and Brazil “the Trump administration waited as long as it possible could to take this measure”.
But the US message now to Brazil is “even this friendship cannot protect you from being banned if you are passing the 20,000 deaths mark and you can’t get your curve under control”, Winter added.
“There was no political eagerness to do this in Washington. They knew it was going to be embarrassing for Bolsonaro and Brazil and they tried to hold off.”
Winter continued: “It’s a terrible irony that the US has banned travel from the country that most closely imitated its approach to Covid-19.
“People try to make this about diplomacy but ultimately it is just a very, very sad indictment of the Covid policies really in both countries – because Bolsonaro has clearly been imitating both the actions and the rhetoric of the Untied States.”
During a recent interview with the Guardian, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva described Bolsonaro as Trump’s “lambe-botas” (boot-licker).
“I can’t remember a single president in the history of the Brazilian republic since 1889 who has been so discredited and disrespected in the world as Bolsonaro,” he said. “Today not even Trump takes Bolsonaro serious.”
In an open letter published earlier this month, six former Brazilian former ministers denounced Bolsonaro’s “shameful” subservience and claimed his response to the pandemic had made Brazil’s government “an object of international derision and disgust”.