Trump is decrying Maduro's authoritarianism in Venezuela as he simultaneously embraces the region's newest strongman in Brazil

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Donald TrumpDonald Trump.MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

  • President Donald Trump has found a strongman he does not like: Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro. 
  • Trump's forceful stance against Maduro stands in contrast with his position toward other authoritarians. 
  • As Trump denounces Maduro, he's simultaneously embracing another controversial leader in the region: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. 

There is a distinct contradiction between President Donald Trump's forceful repudiation of Nicolas Maduro's authoritarianism in Venezuela alongside his warm embrace of Jair Bolsonaro - the region's newest strongman in Brazil.

As Venezuela descends into further chaos as a result of Maduro's inept, callous policies that have led to economic collapse and mayhem on the country's streets, Trump has taken the opportunity to work with allies to undermine his authority.

Earlier this week, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the country's interim president as protests occurred across the nation, and Trump made the calculated move of swiftly backing his claim. This prompted Maduro to break diplomatic relations with the US while essentially accusing it of orchestrating a coup. 

Read more: Venezuela's uprising against Maduro may put Trump's musings about military intervention to the test

The Trump administration has been gleefully pointing to the tumultuous situation in Venezuela as a sign of the evils of socialism and it's touted its policy toward Caracas as proof of its dedication to democratic values and human rights. 

In announcing his support for Guaidó, Trump referenced the Venezuelan people's demand for "freedom and the rule of law."

But these concepts have not been the hallmark of Trump's foreign policy, as he leads an administration that has, in recent months, exhibited subservient behavior toward a government that chopped up a Washington Post journalist in an Istanbul consulate - and, last week, happily set up yet another meeting with a dubious ruler who largely maintains power through a system of concentration camps

Venezuela's President Nicolas MaduroIn this Jan. 10, 2019, file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds up a small copy of the constitution as he speaks during his swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela.Ariana Cubillos, File/AP Photo

Condemning one Latin American strongman while embracing another

The Trump administration's declared opposition to dictatorial behavior also does not seem to extend to other parts of Latin America. 

This month, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have quite publicly expressed their affinity toward Bolsonaro, the recently inaugurated far-right populist president of Brazil who on his first day in office signed legislation targeting indigenous peoples, descendants of slaves, and the LGBTQ community.

Jair Bolsonaro Mike PompeoSecretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a meeting with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, on January 2, 2019.Marcos Correa/Reuters

After Bolsonaro's inauguration earlier this month, Trump tweeted, "Congratulations to President @JairBolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech - the U.S.A. is with you!"

Bolsonaro replied, "Dear Mr. President @realDonaldTrump, I truly appreciate your words of encouragement. Together, under God's protection, we shall bring prosperity and progress to our people."

Pompeo, who traveled to Brazil for Bolsonaro's inauguration, earlier this month tweeted, "Great meeting President @jairbolsonaro to reinforce our shared commitment to democracy, education, prosperity, security, and #humanrights. Look forward to working together to support those suffering in #Cuba, #Nicaragua, and #Venezuela under the weight of dictatorships."

Similarly, National Security Adviser John Bolton in a November speech praised Bolsonaro as a "like-minded" partner. He said Bolsonaro's election victory showed "positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent and accountable governance."

Bolsonaro is unabashedly homophobic, xenophobic, and sexist

Bolsonaro, a former army captain who also served for many years in Brazil's legislature, has a well-documented history of homophobia, xenophobia, and sexism, often coming under fire for his incendiary rhetoric toward minority groups and women.

The Brazilian leader, for example, has said he'd be incapable of loving a homosexual son and once suggested a female colleague in Congress was too ugly to be raped. 

"She doesn't deserve to be raped, because she's very ugly," Bolsonaro said in 2014. "She's not my type. I would never rape her. I'm not a rapist, but if I were, I wouldn't rape her because she doesn't deserve it."

He has also expressed nostalgia for a dictatorship that ruled over Brazil from 1964 to 1985 and presided over numerous atrocities. 

Jair Bolsonaro Brazil John BoltonBrazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, left, with US national-security adviser John Bolton, in Rio de Janeiro, November 28, 2018.John Bolton/Twitter

In September 2018, Bolsonaro suggested his political opponents should be shot.

The far-right populist has not been in office for long, but already appears to be sparking fears among certain groups about their status under his rule. 

Read more: The 'Brazilian Donald Trump' just became president in a landslide. He got there despite saying he couldn't love a gay son and that a colleague was too 'ugly' to be raped.

Brazil's most prominent openly gay politician, Jean Wyllys, abruptly resigned this week despite recently being reelected, an alarming move that sent shockwaves through the South American country's LGBTQ community.

Wyllys, a vocal critic of Bolsonaro, has been receiving death threats and has now fled country. In an interview on Thursday, he said, "For the future of this cause, I need to be alive. I do not want to be a martyr. I want to live."

But Bolsonaro's problematic rhetoric and policies do not seem to bother the Trump administration.

Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for dictators as he's pushed away US allies

The president's budding bromance with the new Brazilian president is also part of a broader trend with Trump. 

In short, he has exhibited a remarkable level of respect for many of the world's most repressive and controversial leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The president's rhetoric toward leaders such as Putin and Xi has often stood in contrast with warnings from members of his own administration about Russia and China's nefarious activities, including election interference.

trump putinU.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, leave the stage together at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018.Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

All the while, Trump has habitually insulted and pushed away traditional US allies and signaled a desire to dismantle institutions that helped establish America as a global superpower in the years that followed World War II. 

Read more: Officials keep talking about intervening in Venezuela, and it's drawing an ominous comparison

Coincidentally, many of the same leaders listed above that Trump has spoken fondly of have lined up behind Maduro. Russia and China have urged against foreign interference in Venezuela as Kremlin-linked contractors have reportedly been flown into the South American country to bolster Maduro's defenses in recent days. 

Putin, who is still facing backlash over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and continues to exhibit aggressive military behavior in Europe, this week phoned Maduro and "emphasized that destructive external interference is a gross violation of the fundamental norms of international law," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Trump might break from his 'America First ' doctrine in Venezuela

It's unclear what happens next in Venezuela.

The military is seemingly standing by Maduro despite nationwide protests. 

Trump has suggested the US might use military force in the country. 

Read more: Trump leaves 'military option' on the table for Venezuela, which he calls as threatening as North Korea

If Trump did use military force in Venezuela, it would be consistent with the US government's long, disastrous history of interventionism in Latin America. But it would also mark a break from Trump's "America First" doctrine and his isolationist tendencies. Trump has made repeated calls for the US to stop being the world police, a philosophy that drove his recent push for US troops to be withdrawn from Syria and Afghanistan. 

The president's foreign policy has been consistently inconsistent, and his stance on the current turmoil in Venezuela does not deviate from that trend. 

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