To all appearances they are opposites and foes. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is a foul-mouthed former army captain of the hard right. Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a would-be revolutionary of the left. Mr Bolsonaro appeals to the worst in Brazilians, with his diatribes against women and gays, casual racism and fondness for guns and chopping down the Amazon’s trees.
Mr López Obrador (known as amlo) invokes the noble purpose of making Mexico fairer and less unequal. Yet for all their differences, the two most important presidents in Latin America are strikingly similar in many ways. After roughly a year in office, each faces difficulties.
Both are reactionaries in the purest sense, conjuring up an imagined golden past. Mr Bolsonaro lionises Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964-85. amlo, who stresses that he is a democrat, believes that everything was better in Mexico before a turn to “neoliberalism” in the 1980s. Both are nationalists with little interest in the outside world and would rather the outside world reciprocated.
They are believers, and have inserted religion into the political discourse of hitherto secular states. Mr Bolsonaro, a Pentecostal protestant, campaigned on the slogan “Brazil above all, God above everyone”. amlo implicitly compares himself to Christ, who was “sacrificed …for defending the poor”.