RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The U.S. ambassador known for friendly ties with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tendered his resignation after just over a year in the position and is leaving the diplomatic service, he said in a statement on Thursday.
Ambassador Todd Chapman said that he wrote to President Joe Biden on Wednesday 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 Oct. 2019 came as Bolsonaro was projecting ideological alignment with the U.S. and then-President Donald Trump.
After Chapman's arrival in the capital, Brasilia, in March 2020, he quickly made headlines by cozying up to Bolsonaro's administration, 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 to The Associated Press 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.
That 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 in potential violation of the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from partisan politics. Chapman vehemently denied crossing lines.
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 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 statement 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.″