By CHRIS MEGERIAN and DARLENE SUPERVILLE – Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — President Joe Biden avoided challenging Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro about his upcoming election and the management of the Amazon rainforest during the public portion of their first-ever meeting Thursday, while the Brazilian leader adopted a more defensive tone in addressing these issues. .
The two had never met, or even spoken, before taking their seats in a room at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where Biden hosted a week-long summit of Western Hemisphere leaders.
During the public portion of their meeting, Biden praised Brazil’s “vibrant and inclusive democracy and strong electoral institutions,” a show of support for a system Bolsonaro often criticizes.
Bolsonaro, who is up for re-election this year and faces a challenge from one of his predecessors, has repeated baseless claims about his country’s voting systems in what some Brazilian analysts see as Bolsonaro’s attempt to undermine doubt the outcome if he loses in October.
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Bolsonaro himself spoke about his upcoming election, adopting a defensive tone.
“We want to have honest, clean, transparent, verifiable and reliable elections” so that there is “no shadow of doubt after the elections”, he said in Portuguese through a translator .
“I came to power through democracy and I am absolutely certain that when I leave office it will also be through democratic means,” Bolsonaro said.
Biden, who was the recipient of former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that he lost to Biden because the election was stolen, has made promoting democratic institutions at home and abroad a essential characteristic of his presidency.
Bolsonaro has backed Trump and was one of the last world leaders to congratulate Biden, waiting more than a month after the November 2020 election to do so.
US and Brazilian leaders met about an hour before a US congressional committee in Washington opened the first of a series of televised public hearings into the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, by supporters angry at Trump, who were seeking to delay certification of Republican’s defeat of Biden in the November 2020 presidential election.
Before the meeting, Bolsonaro told reporters that was not supposed to happen.
“I wasn’t supposed to come here. They sent a special envoy and we set the agenda,” he told reporters outside his Los Angeles hotel, speaking from the United States. “It’s well defined, so we’ll introduce ourselves . It’s like a wedding; you accept my faults, I accept yours and let’s be happy.
Bolsonaro had said he would only attend the US-hosted Summit of the Americas if Biden agreed to a private meeting and also refrained from confronting him on some of the most contentious issues between them, three Cabinet ministers said Brazilian to the Associated Press this week.
He did not want to be criticized for deforestation in the Amazon or warned of his questioning the reliability of Brazil’s electoral system as he prepares to campaign for re-election, said the officials, who spoke under cover anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly.
But Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told American reporters who accompanied Biden to Los Angeles that no subject is ever off-limits to the president. Sullivan said he expects Biden to discuss “open, free, fair and transparent democratic elections” and that the climate, including protecting the Amazon, will be among the topics of conversation.
During the meeting, Biden also offered kind words for Bolsonaro’s stewardship of the Amazon rainforest, praising Brazil for making “real sacrifices” to protect the vast natural resource.
But Biden also suggested there was more to do.
“I think the rest of the world should be able to help you preserve as much as you can,” Biden said.
As an election candidate, Biden had criticized Brazil for increasing deforestation in the Amazon. After Biden took office, the Bolsonaro administration struggled to demonstrate its commitment to curbing the destruction. Efforts included stepping up his commitments at the UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, last year, and regular bilateral meetings with US officials.
But those conversations have stalled as data shows continued deforestation. The most recent annual reading was the worst in 15 years. Bolsonaro has pledged to bring mining, logging and other industries to the Amazon.
Addressing the Amazon, Bolsonaro again sounded defensive, telling Biden that “sometimes we feel threatened in our sovereignty in that part of the country. But the fact is that Brazil preserves its territory very well.
Biden and Bolsonaro, presidents of the two largest democracies in the hemisphere, then met behind closed doors. They did not shake hands in front of reporters who witnessed their public comments.
Unlike in a meeting Biden had earlier Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the U.S. and Brazilian delegations wore face coverings.
A member of Bolsonaro’s delegation had tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the meeting, a White House official said. Since other members of the delegation were considered “close contacts,” the official said, Brazilians were asked to wear masks and U.S. officials did the same.
The White House official requested anonymity to discuss scheduling the meeting.
Bolsonaro himself had flouted health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and proudly insisted he would not get vaccinated against the virus. He continues to say that he did not receive the vaccine and that his vaccination record has been sealed for 100 years.
Superville reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Mauricio Savares in Sao Paolo, Brazil, contributed to this report.
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