United States President Donald Trump was preparing for the Group of Seven summit in France when he learned one of his most ardent suitors was trying to reach him. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro needed a favour, and Trump told aides to patch the call through.

Bolsonaro got right to the point: the powerful G7 countries, including France and Canada, were unfairly ganging up on Brazil over their criticism of his government's response to massive fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest. Since Brazil is not a G7 member, he told Trump, it was in danger of being "left without a voice", according to a senior Trump administration official.

Trump did not hesitate. "Absolutely, we will be a voice for Brazil," the president responded, said the official.

Within days, Trump delivered as promised. French President Emmanuel Macron announced at the end of last weekend's G7 meetings that member nations had approved a $22 million emergency aid package to help combat the fires — but the Trump administration did not support the measure, insisting any solution should be done in consultation with Brazil, senior White House aides said this week.

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In a tweet after the summit — as Bolsonaro threatened to reject the aid money in a feud with Macron — Trump praised Bolsonaro for "working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil".

A fire burns along the road to Jacunda National Forest, near the city of Porto Velho in the Vila Nova Samuel region which is part of Brazil's Amazon. Photo / AP
A fire burns along the road to Jacunda National Forest, near the city of Porto Velho in the Vila Nova Samuel region which is part of Brazil's Amazon. Photo / AP

The episode illustrated the success Bolsonaro has had in forging a bond with Trump since sweeping to a surprise election in October behind promises to "make Brazil great again".

A far-right nationalist initially viewed as a long shot, Bolsonaro unabashedly modelled himself after Trump, weaponising social media, bullying rivals and courting the Trump administration by promising strong support for Israel, pressure on socialist regimes in Venezuela and Cuba and newfound potential for bilateral trade.

For that, he earned a special moniker: "Trump of the tropics."

The charm offensive has paid off with a US president eager for acclamation and validation. Trump was the first foreign leader to personally congratulate Bolsonaro after his election, after national security adviser John Bolton made clear to White House aides Trump wanted to be the first.

Trump "likes to see himself as the leader of a movement, a global movement, and part of that is to see that the movement is spreading", said Fernando Cutz, who served as director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council during Trump's first year and a half in office. Cutz said Trump grew intrigued by Bolsonaro given the comparisons between the two during Bolsonaro's campaign.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump exchange soccer jerseys at their first meeting in March at the White House. Photo / Jabin Botsford, Washington Post
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump exchange soccer jerseys at their first meeting in March at the White House. Photo / Jabin Botsford, Washington Post

"It helped that Bolsonaro embraced that title and did not run away from it," Cutz said of comparisons. To Trump, "that's a huge plus".

Yet to congressional Democrats, the personal chemistry between the leaders represents another example of the president cosying up to a world leader with anti-democratic, strongman tendencies, sometimes at the expense of US allies.

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A former national legislator, Bolsonaro earned infamy with a series of bigoted, sexist and homophobic comments, as well as attacks on immigrants. He responded to a female lawmaker who accused him of encouraging rape by saying: "I wouldn't rape you because you don't deserve it."

Bolsonaro, who promised during his campaign to withdraw Brazil from the 2015 Paris climate accord, has drawn international criticism for his stewardship of the Amazon. He has fought back aggressively, denouncing foreign leaders for threatening Brazilian sovereignty and accusing his critics of starting some of the fires to make him look bad.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, listens as Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo speaks with reporters after meeting with President Donald Trump. Photo / AP
Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, listens as Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo speaks with reporters after meeting with President Donald Trump. Photo / AP

On Saturday, Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president's youngest son, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo visited the White House to discuss the situation with national security staff, and gained an audience with Trump.

Araujo told reporters Trump reiterated his belief "it was absurd that some countries think Brazil should not have sovereignty over the Amazon in some way. We're grateful for that stance."

Eduardo Bolsonaro, a national legislator in Brazil, also has met White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and with Donald Trump jnr.

A member of Brazil's National Congress, Eduardo Bolsonaro is in line to be nominated by his father as the next ambassador to Washington, a move Trump has publicly endorsed.

The Bolsonaros are "completely fascinated with Trump", said Paulo Sotero, a Latin America expert at the Wilson Centre. The family has indicated they intend to "satisfy President Trump, which is what President Trump likes to hear," Sotero said, adding that "there will be serious pushback in Brazil".

The Trump administration has rewarded Bolsonaro by supporting Brazil's bid to join the OECD and elevating Brazil to the status of a major non-Nato ally.