Brazilian executed in Indonesia unaware what was happening until end: witness

Jane Wardell – Reuters, 4/29/2015

A Brazilian man executed in Indonesia for drug trafficking who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder did not understand what was happening to him until his final moments, a priest assigned as his spiritual adviser told Australia’s ABC radio on Thursday.

Rodrigo Muxfeldt Gularte was among eight people convicted of drug offences from several countries who were executed shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning.

Brazil had made repeated personal pleas for Indonesia to commute his sentence on humanitarian grounds, citing his mental illness.

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Amid Crisis, Rousseff Seeks Closer Ties with the U.S.

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Paulo Sotero – The Huffington Post, 4/17/2015

Confronted by calls for her impeachment in street protests fueled by a deteriorating economy and a deepening investigation on massive corruption at state oil giant Petrobras, a weakened President Dilma Rousseff sees improving relations with the United States as part of the solution to Brazil’s and her own mounting challenges.

Following a Saturday April 11 meeting with president Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas, in Panama, Rousseff said concerns caused by the 2013 revelations of the National Security Agency surveillance activities in Brazil were resolved and confirmed she will visit Washington this year. The announcement of the June 30th gathering at the White House put the Brazil-U.S. dialogue back on track following a period of estrangement that cost the U.S. the loss of a major defense contract and frustrated plans to elevate Brazil-U.S. relations to a new level of engagement.

Praised by Rousseff for his decision to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba, the American leader has scored points by enhancing U.S. ties with its largest regional neighbor at a time when Brazil is experiencing its most severe political and economic crisis in two decades. Rousseff’s official visit to the U.S. will not have the frills of the state visit planned for October 2013, which was derailed by the NSA revelations, but was welcomed by the business communities and economic officials in both countries, who hope it will send a positive reassuring message to markets and help to restore investors’ confidence in Brazil.

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Paulo Sotero is the Director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Brazil’s Rousseff navigates troubles at home as she ponders a U.S. visit

Vinod Sreeharsha – McClatchyDC, 04/01/2015

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to meet President Barack Obama next week when the Western Hemisphere’s leaders gather for the Summit of the Americas in Panama, in what will be Rousseff’s highest-profile encounter with Obama since revelations last year that the National Security Agency had spied on her.

Made public in the documents leaked by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the spying revelation led to the cancellation of a planned Rousseff visit to Washington, and she’s expected to respond next week to an invitation from the White House to reschedule the trip.

Yet tense relations with the Obama administration are nothing compared with what Rousseff faces at home: two years of virtually no economic growth, a currency that’s plunged 18 percent against the dollar just since Jan. 2, a major corruption scandal and loud calls for her resignation or impeachment. In just the third month of her second four-year term, her approval rating is 13 percent, according to the Brazilian pollster Datafolha, after she won 52 percent of the vote last fall.

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Diplomatic row heightens as Indonesia recalls ambassador from Brazil

Ben Otto – The Wall Street Journal, 02/22/2015

The government recalled its newly appointed ambassador to Brazil, the latest sign of deteriorating relations after Indonesia last month executed a Brazilian citizen convicted of drug smuggling.

In recalling the ambassador, Indonesia cited a perceived diplomatic slight, as Brazil declined to accept the credentials of Jakarta’s incoming ambassador during a ceremony in Brasília, the capital, on Friday.

“The manner in which the foreign minister of Brazil suddenly informed the postponement when the ambassador-designate was already at the palace, is unacceptable to Indonesia,” the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday.

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Brazil’s foreign policy is in the dark

Robert Muggah – Open Democracy, 2/20/2015

If ever there was a good time for Brazil to assume more global responsibility in foreign affairs now would be it. Dangerous armed conflicts, health pandemics and climate change warrant assertive engagement from the world´s major players, including South America´s powerhouse. Brazil could play a critical role in promoting stability in an uncertain world. Worryingly, the country is nowhere to be seen.

Brazilian foreign policy is in the dark. Part of the problem is that its leaders are distracted. This is maybe not altogether surprising: the country’s economy is in the doldrums. Brazil’ new finance minister, Joaquim Levy, described Brazil´s economic prospects in 2015 as “almost flat”. Brazil is now one of the Fragile Five, alongside Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Turkey. Unprecedented bribery scandals involving the national oil company, Petrobras, and a host of construction firms, will likely tip the already damaged economy into a recession.

Some Brazilian commentators resist a more activist foreign policy. They are understandably preoccupied with making critical reforms at home to increase productivity and competitiveness rather than promoting Brazilian interests abroad. But this is a false choice: domestic reform should not come at the expense of foreign policy. On the contrary. Brazil urgently needs to bolster its strategic interests in its own neighborhood and beyond.

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Um novo contexto na relação Brasil-EUA

Paulo Sotero – O Estado de S. Paulo, 12/30/2014

Três fatos novos alteraram, potencialmente para melhor, o ambiente para uma reaproximação entre Washington e Brasília, esperada no segundo mandato de Dilma Rousseff. A expectativa americana nesse sentido será reiterada pela presença do vice-presidente Joe Biden na segunda posse de Dilma – o mais alto nível de representação dos Estados Unidos no evento inaugural de governos no Brasil em um quarto de século. Dois dos três novos fatos foram gerados no Brasil.

Brasília deixou de insistir publicamente num pedido de desculpas de Washington pela espionagem da National Security Agency (NSA), que envolveu a Petrobrás, entre outros, depois que a Operação Lava Jato expôs os crimes perpetrados por funcionários e executivos brasileiros contra a estatal. O episódio, que fez a líder brasileira cancelar visita de Estado aos EUA em 2013, parece, assim, superado.

Multinacional que opera nos EUA, a Petrobrás enfrenta hoje inquéritos de duas agências federais americanas sobre possíveis desdobramentos dos crimes revelados pelas investigações no Brasil. Processos iniciados por investidores que se veem lesados pela roubalheira, como a cidade de Providence, em Rhode Island, devem multiplicar-se. A reputação de integridade pessoal de Dilma e o apoio explícito que ela vem dando à atuação da Polícia Federal, do Ministério Público e da Justiça Federal no petrolão são bem-vistos em Washington. Indicam a disposição da presidente de não deixar que a relação bilateral seja contaminada pelas investigações do escândalo nos EUA, que podem ter desfechos muito ruins para a Petrobrás e seus executivos, independentemente da vontade da Casa Branca e do Planalto.

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Paulo Sotero is the Director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

Brazil and its backyard

The Economist (print edition),  10/25/2014

Like voters in most democracies, Brazilians pay little heed to foreign policy when choosing leaders. Yet the presidential election on October 26th matters not just to Brazil but to the region. Over the past two decades Latin America’s giant has overcome its introversion and wielded growing influence in its backyard. And on foreign policy, as on economics, there is a clear gap between President Dilma Rousseff of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT), who wants a second term, and her rival, Aécio Neves, of the centre-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB).

Brazil’s greater assertiveness began under Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB in the 1990s and continued under the PT’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president in 2003-10. Both gave importance to the Mercosur trade block (founded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), to South America and to ties with Africa and Asia. Both had reservations about a 34-country Free-Trade Area of the Americas, a plan that Lula helped to kill.

But there were differences, too, partly because of Brazil’s changing circumstances. Lula put far more stress on “south-south” ties and on the BRICs grouping (linking Brazil to Russia, India, China and later South Africa). In Latin America he emphasised “political co-operation”. Relations with the United States were cordial but distant, especially after Lula tried brokering a nuclear deal with Iran which the White House opposed.

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