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Supporters of Brazil's elected presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro celebrating his victory in São Paulo, on October 28, 2018. Photo: Fabio Vieira/FotoRua/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a vituperative speech about Latin America on Thursday, national security adviser John Bolton referred to the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan governments as a “troika of tyranny” and their leaders as "the three stooges." Perhaps most notably, after making vague promises to pressure the three repressive regimes and announcing an imminent increase in sanctions on Venezuela, Bolton called Brazil's recently elected right-wing authoritarian, Jair Bolonsoro, a “like-minded” leader for the Trump administration.

Why it matters: There is a clear affinity between the demagoguery of Trump and Bolsonaro, who are often facilely compared, but the latter's is hardly the sort of liberal government that would make a good ally against the oppressive “triangle of terror.” In fact, as a growing body of political science research has argued, Bolsonaro’s approach is in line with the strain of anti-democratic populism that has sprung up in Turkey, Poland, Hungry, the Philippines and Venezuela under former President Hugo Chávez.

In those countries, leaders have tapped deep popular anger to run against what's perceived as a discredited, corrupt political elite. Once in office, they steamroll the checks and balances on executive power and undermine the independence and effectiveness of the government bureaucracy. As leaders from Italy’s Mussolini to Venezuela’s Chávez have shown, authoritarian populism knows no ideological bounds. Instead it shares a common disregard for limits on power, human rights and dissent.

Similarly, Bolsonaro, despite being a 27-year congressman, ran as an outsider, anti-system candidate. He promised to increase the armed forces' role in reducing crime and praises Brazil's former military dictatorship, objecting only that it did not go far enough in wiping out opponents. The former army captain has also denounced homosexuality, disparaged Brazilians of African descent and said a congressional colleague was too ugly to rape.

What to watch: We don’t know what will come of Bolton's seemingly empty threats about the troika tyrants having "met their match" and more sanctions, which he likely made to drive Florida’s Cuban-, Venezuelan- and Nicaraguan-American voters to the polls on Tuesday. Much of it will probably prove to be only campaign rhetoric, but in the meantime, let's hope that the administration exercises more caution with the avowed homophobic, misogynistic and militaristic strongman in Brazil.

Christopher Sabatini is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, executive director of Global Americans and a non-resident fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute.

Go deeper

Inside Biden's Taiwan flubs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twice this year, President Biden has blurted out commitments that the U.S. is prepared to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion — forcing the White House to walk back his statements and leading to confusion over a high-stakes national security policy.

Why it matters: U.S. defense officials have publicly aired their concerns that China will take Taiwan by force in the next four to six years, perhaps sooner. The president's position on this question may soon have real-world, life and death consequences.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.