Brazil urgently needs a new foreign policy

March 24, 2014

The Economist, 3/23/2014

Since it is the only big power in South America, Brazil inevitably catches the eye of outsiders looking for a country to take the lead in resolving the region’s conflicts—such as the one raging in the streets of Venezuela.

Yet leader is not a role that Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, is keen to play. She has reasons for her reluctance—and they explain why Brazilian foreign policy has run into trouble.

Ms Rousseff has behaved as a loyal ally to the elected, but autocratic, government of Nicolás Maduro, which faces opposition protests almost daily. Brazil worked hard to thwart any role in Venezuela for the Organisation of American States, which includes the United States. Instead, the foreign ministers of the South American Union (UNASUR) have agreed to promote talks in Venezuela. It is an initiative without teeth: the ministers expressed their solidarity with Mr Maduro, disqualifying themselves as honest brokers in the opposition’s eyes.

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The bets that failed

March 21, 2014

The Economist, 3/22/2014

SINCE it is the only big power in South America, Brazil inevitably catches the eye of outsiders looking for a country to take the lead in resolving the region’s conflicts—such as the one raging in the streets of Venezuela. Yet leader is not a role that Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, is keen to play. She has reasons for her reluctance—and they explain why Brazilian foreign policy has run into trouble.

Ms Rousseff has behaved as a loyal ally to the elected, but autocratic, government of Nicolás Maduro, which faces opposition protests almost daily. Brazil worked hard to thwart any role in Venezuela for the Organisation of American States, which includes the United States. Instead, the foreign ministers of the South American Union (UNASUR) have agreed to promote talks in Venezuela. It is an initiative without teeth: the ministers expressed their solidarity with Mr Maduro, disqualifying themselves as honest brokers in the opposition’s eyes.

Brazil’s wrong-headed calculation is that the protests will fizzle out. Mr Maduro took a UNASUR statement on March 12th as a green light to launch another crackdown. Faced with a deteriorating economy and mounting unpopularity, Mr Maduro’s rule is likely to remain repressive. Given that Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT) claims to stand for democracy and human rights, he is a strange ally.

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Brazil in 2014: Will Rousseff change course?

January 7, 2014

Paulo Soter0 – CNN, 12/30/2013

Editor’s note: Paulo Sotero is director of the Wilson Center Brazil Institute. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the ‘14 in 2014‘ series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

Three consecutive years of disappointing economic performance, with an average GDP growth of barely 2 percent and deteriorating fiscal and external accounts, should be enough to convince President Dilma Rousseff to move Brazil away from the inward policies and micromanaging style she introduced after succeeding her popular mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in January 2011. The same mindset has affected Brazil’s international affairs, with similar results.

A leader with little appetite or patience for diplomacy and focused by necessity on domestic challenges, Rousseff implemented a modest foreign policy agenda when compared to her predecessor and became the first Brazilian president to fire a foreign minister, over a preventable incident. There are both negative and positive incentives for Rousseff to change course as she faces reelection in October 2014.

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The Brazil-U.S. benign neglect myth

October 31, 2013

João Augusto de Castro Neves – FGV/IBRE,10/2013

Weeks of speculation came to an end when President Dilma Rousseff decided to cancel her state visit to the United States in October due to allegations that the US National Security Agency had been intercepting government communications. The decision definitely struck a nerve, especially because it would’ve been the first state visit of a Brazilian head of state to the US in nearly two decades.
The goal of the trip was to find something that would catapult bilateral engagement to a new level, like a roadmap for a trade agreement or talks on UN Security Council reform, but now policy makers in Brasilia and in Washington are working to prevent the relationship from deteriorating even further.

For starters, the risks to US companies operating in sensitive sectors with political and even operational constraints have increased considerably. This is chiefly the case in defense, telecom/IT, and energy sectors. Cooperation in defense will most likely be affected, with Boeing’s chances of securing a contract to sell fighter jets to the Brazilian Air Force being significantly reduced. The caveat is that a decision on the bidding process is not imminent, given the fiscal constraints that the Brazilian government is currently facing. As such, instead of openly disqualifying Boeing, Rousseff opted to delay the entire process further.

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Is Brazil a regional hegemon?

October 31, 2013

Oliver Stuenkel – Post-Western World, 10/31/2013

Brazil’s economic rise over the past two decades has caused the country’s foreign policy making elite to seek a more prominent role for Brazil in the international community. On a global scale, it has sought to assume more responsibility and engage in international institutions, often criticizing established powers for not providing it with the status it deserves. Brazil’s newfound status has also caused Brazilian governments to reassess its regional role, although Brazil remains ambivalent about which strategy to adopt in South America. There is clearly a gap between Brazil’s global ambitions and its reluctance to adopt a more assertive role in its region. The country’s strategy in the region remains indecisive, combining restrained support for Mercosur, the creation of the Union of South American States (UNASUR) and the South American Defense Council (CSD) with a growing notion that a clearer vision is necessary to mitigate neighbor’s fears of a rising Brazil. Brazilian policy makers disagree on how they should characterize and understand their region – some see it as a source of problems, some as a shield against globalization, and some as a launching pad for global power. Brazil’s self-perception as a ‘BRICS country’ has fueled worries that it will pay little attention to regional matters (given that its trade interdependence with the region is far lower, percentage-wise, than that of its neighbors), causing critics of Brazil’s global focus to call it a ‘leader without followers’.

While Brazil has kept UNASUR relatively toothless, its decision to exclude Central America and Mexico from this institution is a clear sign that policy makers in Brasília have defined South America as Brazil’s immediate sphere of influence. With the majority of the continent’s landmass, population and economic output, and Venezuela’s faltering attempts to turn into a second pole, it is largely up to Brazil to define and design ‘South American Regionalism’. Brazil thus in theory holds a key coordinating role regarding important regional challenges, ranging from China’s growing economic importance, poverty, inequality, integrating the economy and security threats such as drug trafficking and smuggling.

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Freelance diplomacy

August 29, 2013

The Economist, 08/31/2013

ITAMARATY, as Brazil’s foreign ministry is known, prides itself on having Latin America’s most professional diplomats. But nobody in Brazil’s government comes out well from an extraordinary incident involving a Bolivian opposition politician that has cost the foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, his job.

Roger Pinto, an opposition senator, sought refuge in Brazil’s embassy in La Paz in May 2012 after he had accused ministers in Bolivia’s socialist government of involvement in drug-trafficking. He was in turn deluged with corruption charges, and claimed he was being politically persecuted. Brazil swiftly agreed to grant him asylum. But Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, refused to grant Mr Pinto safe-conduct to leave the country. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is reported to have ordered that no attempt be made to extract Mr Pinto without the consent of Mr Morales, an ally of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT).

But on August 23rd Brazil’s chargé d’affaires in La Paz, Eduardo Saboia, took matters into his own hands. Escorted by five Brazilian marines, he and Mr Pinto were driven to Brazil, a 22-hour journey. Mr Saboia said he feared for Mr Pinto’s mental health after 455 days of confinement in the embassy. Brazil’s opposition hailed him as a hero. Some in the PT muttered about extraditing Mr Pinto, even though he was granted asylum.

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Brazil’s foreign minister resigns amid row with Bolivia

August 29, 2013

Sashsta Darlington – CNN, 08/27/2013

Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s foreign minister, stepped down Monday night amid a diplomatic row with neighboring Bolivia.

President Dilma Rousseff’s office issued a brief statement, saying Patriota had submitted his resignation and would be replaced by Brazil’s representative at the United Nations, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo.

The resignation comes a day after a Brazilian diplomat helped an opposition senator from Bolivia flee into Brazil.

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Twitter bites back at Brazilian billionaire Batista

June 26, 2013

Juan Pablo Spinetto – Bloomberg, 06/25/2013

Eike Batista became the most popular Latin American billionaire on Twitter by sharing his formula for success. Now the Brazilian entrepreneur is being assailed online by investors blaming him for wealth destruction.

People with shares in Batista’s OGX Petroleo & Gas Participacoes SA (OGXP3) are using the social media to criticize him after missed oil targets spurred an 82 percent share-price plunge this year. The billionaire has posted about 21,700 Twitter messages since 2010 and has more than 1.3 million followers, almost six times more than Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, the world’s second-richest person. Bill Gates, the richest person on the planet, has 11.8 million followers.

William Magalhaes, a 32-year business owner who started buying OGX shares last year, has been using his @MinoritariosOGX Twitter account since March to push Batista to keep minority investors better informed and represented, including on the company’s board. His efforts paid off this month when he was granted a meeting with OGX Chief Executive Officer Luiz Carneiro and Chief Financial Officer Roberto Monteiro at the company’s downtown Rio de Janeiro headquarters.

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Continental regionalism: Brazil’s prominent role in the Americas

June 4, 2013

Miriam Gomes Saraiva & Susanne Gratius – ISN, -6/04/2013

In these times of change in the shaping of a new world order, Brazil has begun to stand out for its assertive participation in international politics, where it has favoured anti-hegemonic,[1] multi-polar positions and its increasingly strong leadership in its own region. During the Lula administration from 2003 to 2010, Brazil gradually started step-by-step to shoulder the costs inherent in cooperation, governance and integration in the region.[2] At that time, the Brazilian Development Bank BNDES – with a total budget that exceeds that of the Inter-American Development Bank – began to finance infrastructure projects in South American. [3]

The election of Lula da Silva at the end of 2002 and the ensuing rise of an autonomy-oriented group in Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs cast the country’s foreign policy in a new light.[4] Diplomatic support for existing international regimes in the 1990s gave way to a proactive push towards modifying these regimes in favour of southern countries or Brazil’s particular interests, which was defined by Lima as soft revisionism.[5]

The idea of bringing other emerging or poorer southern countries on board to counterbalance the might of traditional Western powers served as the basis for the country’s international actions. While coalitions with emerging partners helped boost Brazil’s global pretensions, [6] its diplomatic efforts were geared towards bolstering its international standing independently of any other nation, with its role as a global player being firmly grounded in the ideas of autonomy and universalism that were the predominant diplomatic thinking at the time.

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Biden praises Brazil in speech, calls country ‘developed’

May 30, 2013

Taylor Barnes – The Miami Herald, 05/29/2013

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden praised Brazil’s “vibrancy and inclusive democracy” and strides made in social and economic development in a half-hour speech Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro.

“You can no longer claim ‘We are a developing nation.’ You have developed,” Biden said to a crowd that included Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes and local business leaders in a warehouse along the city’s bustling port zone. “What goes with that is worldwide responsibility to speak, to speak out.”

Biden’s speech touched on issues ranging from trade, potential cooperation in Brazil’s energy sector, educational exchanges and Brazil’s rising international prominence.

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