The populist leaders of Brazil and Mexico have both finally recognized Joe Biden’s election victory after facing heavy criticism for their six-week hesitation.
“Greetings to President Joe Biden with my best wishes and the hope that the US continues to be the land of the free and the home of the brave,” the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, a pre-eminent Donald Trump admirer, tweeted late on Tuesday afternoon. “I will be ready to work with the new government.”
Earlier, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, sent the US president-elect a lukewarm two-page letter which contrasted with the enthusiastic seven-page missive he sent Trump after his own election in 2018.
López Obrador’s decision had left Bolsonaro as the most prominent member of a tiny band of holdouts still declining to endorse the result.The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, also congratulated Biden on Tuesday, wishing the president-elect “every success”.
Brazil’s former ambassador to the US Rubens Ricupero said he believed most Brazilian diplomats were aghast at Bolsonaro’s delay in recognizing Biden’s win. “It’s a lunatic reaction that is utterly lacking in any kind of diplomatic logic … Any diplomat with their head screwed on knows this is madness,” Ricupero said.
Even Brazil’s vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, had appeared perplexed. Before Bolsonaro’s announcement on Tuesday, Mourão shrugged when quizzed by journalists over his boss’s motives, answering: “I don’t know.”
Guga Chacra, a US-based foreign affairs commentator for Brazil’s GloboNews network, said he believed Bolsonaro was moved by genuine admiration for Trump, who he often cites as an inspiration.
“He hasn’t not congratulated Biden because he has anything specific against him, but because he truly idolizes Trump. He admires him and perhaps feels he owes his  victory to Trump.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Narendra Modi and Mohammed bin Salman had all recognized Biden’s win despite their warm ties with Trump, Chacra pointed out. “But for them Trump was more of an ally. For Bolsonaro it’s about idolatry. He’s a Trump fan – and he’s not ashamed of it.”
Amlo’s letter thanked Biden for his positive attitudes toward Mexican migrants and his willingness to promote development in southern Mexico and Central America to slow outward migration.
But the Mexican president also sent a subtle warning to Biden, writing: “We have the certainty with you in the [US] presidency it will be possible to continue applying the basic principles of foreign policy established in our constitution; especially that of non-intervention.”
Amlo had previously defended his refusal to congratulate Biden by arguing it adhered to Mexico’s policy of non-intervention in foreign affairs. But he also appeared to give credence to the US president’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud, saying he was waiting for the resolution of any legal challenges.
“Having read AMLO’s congratulatory letter to Biden, I can only say it would have been better if he had not congratulated him,” tweeted Gabriel Guerra Castellanos, a former Mexican diplomat. “If someone from this side of the border doesn’t intervene, we will have four icy years in the US-Mexico relationship.”
Despite Trump’s discourteous comments toward Mexican during his improbable rise to power, Amlo and the US president developed an unlikely relationship.
Writing to Trump after his own election in 2018, Amlo presented himself as a fellow populist – and signed off with abrazos (hugs) as opposed to the more formal un saludo (regards) he directed at Biden.
“I am encouraged by the fact that we both know how to fulfill what we say and we have faced adversity successfully,” he told Trump. “We managed to put our voters and citizens at the center and displace the political establishment.