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Why did Mike Pompeo attend the inauguration of Brazil’s far-right president?

It appears to be the first inauguration attended by the secretary of state.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offer a joint press conference at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia on January 2, 2019. (CREDIT: Sergio Lima/AFP/Getty Images)
Brazil's Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offer a joint press conference at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia on January 2, 2019. (CREDIT: Sergio Lima/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday attended the inauguration of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. Pompeo joined other populist leaders, including Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, in optics that only further support the notion that the United States is running in the same circles as some of the world’s most hardline, anti-democratic circles.

Pompeo’s presence was no small thing to Boslonaro, who retweeted the secretary on Wednesday.

Pompeo and his Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Araujo, held a press briefing on Wednesday, during which Reuters asked Pompeo about the concern among the Brazil’s civil society about “a possible loss of protection for human rights under this new government.”

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Pompeo allowed Araujo to speak first — Araujo said there is “no reason at all” to fear an attack on human rights — and then added that the United States is committed to human rights.

Three days before his departure, the State Department provided the press with an official preview of the trip and took a few questions from reporters. The Washington Post asked a double-barrel question on Brazil as well as Venezuela (where a long-running political and economic crisis has lead to insecurity and mass exodus).

Focusing on Brazil, the reporter asked: “As you know, in Brazil, many members of civil society have expressed concern about incoming President Bolsonaro. Does the Secretary plan to talk with him about U.S. expectations for the need for democracy, human rights, protection of minorities and the rule of law when he takes power?”

The response was basically…not really.

“I’m certain that the Secretary and the president-elect will discuss human rights, and I would point you to – I realize there’s been some concern about older statements that were made many years ago,” said the unnamed official leading the briefing, adding that Bolsonaro “is taking a very strident and very forceful approach to human rights.”

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This is baffling, given that Bolsonaro, who is a big fan of President Donald Trump, favors torture and military dictatorship.

He has made numerous homophobic and sexist remarks, including saying that a woman was too “ugly” to be raped by him (“She’s not my type, I’d never rape her. I’m not a rapist, but if I was, I wouldn’t rape her because she doesn’t deserve it,” he said of a leftist deputy.)

Trump has repeatedly praised Bolsonaro, who also hates the media and migrants and has referred to refugees as the “scum of the earth.”

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro showed Trump some Twitter love:

ThinkProgress contacted the State Department with questions on Pompeo’s visit, asking for confirmation that this is the only inauguration he has attended since coming into office and wondering how this is the one that made the cut.

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But the partial government shutdown has forced staff into furloughs, which means only urgent queries, such as the safety of human life and national security, will be responded to (“You get the government you pay for,” quipped a press officer). We were pointed to the State Department’s website for our queries.

According to Pompeo’s travel log, this does appear to be the first and only inauguration of any state leader he has attended. The materials on the trip said that he will use the opportunity meet with his counterpart there, and will travel to Colombia on Wednesday to meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque, discussing the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela.