Donald Trump began his campaign for president calling some Mexicans “rapists.” His standing with Latinos has plummeted ever since.
A poll this week placed him 50 points behind Hillary Clinton among Hispanic voters, with only 17 percent of respondents preferring the Republican candidate.
Add to that the fallout from his lewd comments about women and accusations of sexual misconduct, and the Trump brand might seem like a hard sell these days — especially in Latin America.
This is the environment now facing investors like Paulo Figueiredo Jr. He’s a prominent 33-year-old Brazilian businessman who, a couple of years ago, backed an ambitious project: building South America’s first Trump hotel.
The Trump-branded hotel opened in Rio de Janeiro’s upscale Jardim Oceanico neighborhood on the eve of the Rio Summer Games and was supposed to be fully functional. But it's less than halfway finished: Only the bottom four floors house visitors, and the rest remain dark and only partly finished.
Courtesy of Paulo Figueiredo Jr.
We sat down with Figueiredo to talk about both Trump the candidate and the brand, and about how other Brazilians consider the real estate mogul after the hurricane of scandals.
Will Carless: Brazilians see themselves as Latino, but as very distinct from Mexicans, right? How did they take Trump’s comments against Mexicans?
Paulo Figueiredo: First of all, I think Mr. Trump never meant anything bad for all the Mexicans, or all the Latinos.
I think he was misinterpreted and, in some cases, in some publications, he was misinterpreted on purpose. He was talking about a very specific group and he was not referring to all Latinos.
We [Brazilians] are Latinos because we’re descendants of the countries that were part of the Roman Empire. We were colonized by them, and our language comes from Latin.
But we’re very different from the rest of South and Central America, which were colonized by the Spanish. We were colonized by the Portuguese, and there are some differences between Spanish and Portuguese, especially in the way countries were colonized.
So language is one way we consider ourselves different. We have some cultural differences too.
I don’t think Brazilians took that comment as offensive when Donald Trump said it.
WC: What do you think Brazilian public opinion is of Trump?
PF: Most Brazilians don’t know Donald Trump, yet.
We don’t get a very good coverage of what happens in the United States. We have very biased coverage.
A lot of Brazilians will think of him as a crazy person, as a person who doesn’t like immigrants, who doesn’t like Muslims, who sometimes makes crazy comments about women. But on the other side, a lot of Brazilians do see him as a very successful businessman, as a self-made man, as a person associated with luxury, and to a lifestyle.
WC: What is the average Brazilian’s opinion of the Trump brand?
PF: The only Brazilians that know Donald Trump are upper-middle class and rich and wealthy people.
To the rich people in Brazil, I think the brand is very associated with luxury.
I think the consumer knows to draw a line between the person who says crazy things, almost like an eccentric person, and what the company means, with the lifestyle of a very luxurious lifestyle.
What’s more luxurious than running for president, right?
WC: Given the controversies, do you think that’s still the case for the brand in Brazil?
PF: We as Brazilians have a much more liberal way to look at sexuality than the average American.
In Brazil, being a guy [who is] very successful with women, it’s not a bad thing. It’s usually a good thing.
The type of conversation he had, a private conversation, is very common in Brazil and it’s the type of conversation that most men have in a locker room. So I don’t think this had any impact on Brazilians because we’re very used to that.
It’s part of the culture. He almost sounded like a Brazilian.
WC: What about Brazilian women, though? That’s half the population. Do you think those comments may have upset Brazilian women and turned them off the Trump brand?
PF: The feminist movement is very small in Brazil, and it’s never going to grow very much, because it’s not part of the culture of the Brazilian.
Brazilian women, of course, they don’t like to be disrespected, but they’re used to the Brazilian men’s culture. They know that men talk like this when they’re together. As long as they’re respectful in their public statements, and publicly, they can do whatever they want in their private life.
So I don’t think this was a big issue in Brazil at all.
WC: You have children, right?
PF: Two girls.
WC: Would you be concerned at all about them being close to Donald Trump?
PF: Not at all! This is crazy! I hope they meet with Donald Trump one day and I would be very, very, very calm and I wouldn’t even be concerned.