RIO DE JANEIRO — Known for his friendly ties with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil has tendered his resignation after just over a year in the position and is leaving the diplomatic service.
Ambassador Todd Chapman said he wrote to President Joe Biden to inform him of his decision, and that he would be moving to Denver to be near his children and pursue other professional opportunities.
His appointment in October 2019 came as Bolsonaro, a populist who modeled his election campaign on then-President Donald Trump's, was seeking closer ties with the Trump administration.
After Chapman's arrival in the capital, Brasilia, in March 2020, he quickly made headlines by cozying up to Bolsonaro, particularly by hosting the president at a July 4 barbecue at his residence in the midst of the pandemic. Photos showed him wearing a cowboy hat and no mask, leaning in to hug Bolsonaro and posing with him and top aides.
His access built on friendly relations, but also raised concerns he was perhaps drawing too close. One person who spoke on condition of anonymity last year confirmed local press reports that Chapman suggested Brazil could influence Iowa's vote in the U.S. presidential election by lifting ethanol tariffs. Iowa produces more of the corn-based fuel than any other U.S. state.
The report prompted the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to demand Chapman provide written assurances he wasn’t urging Bolsonaro's government to support Trump’s reelection bid — a potential violation of the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from partisan politics. Chapman vehemently denied crossing that line.
An avid birdwatcher, Chapman this year increasingly shared photos and comments on social media lauding Brazil's nature and wildlife, and called for sustainable development. That jibed with Biden's demands for Bolsonaro to take decisive action to halt surging deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Data in recent months have signaled the continued increase of destruction, after Bolsonaro at the U.S.-led climate summit in April shifted his tone on Amazon preservation and showed willingness to step up his commitment.
Thomas Traumann, a Brazilian political consultant, said by phone that Chapman's departure could signal more U.S. pressure on Brazil regarding environmental issues.
More importantly, Traumann said, Chapman is perceived in Brazil as pro-Trump and pro-Bolsonaro, which would have limited his ability to make inroads with challengers to Bolsonaro's 2022 reelection bid.
Chapman was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia from 2011 to 2014 and U.S. ambassador to Ecuador before that. In a diplomatic career spanning three decades he has been posted to Afghanistan, Nigeria and Taiwan. The Texas native highlighted in his statemen about his de that he had served under three Democratic and three Republican presidents.
“In my letter to President Biden,″ he wrote. ″I wished him God’s blessings of wisdom and strength as he leads the American people.″
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