This article was last modified on February 12, 2011.


Empire Strikes First: Brazil

If there ever was a case of books that ought to not be judged by their covers, Brazil and their relationship with America is a big one. For a country that should be opposed to American policies, and talks like it is, you could hardly find a closer ally — setting aside the obvious ones like England and Israel.

As Brazil’s President Lula da Silva was leaving office in December 2010, he made some lamentations regarding America’s policies towards his country and its neighbors. “I would like the relationship of the United States with Latin America to be different to what it is today,” he told reporters in Brasilia. “In the United States they should understand the importance of Latin America. The Americans don’t have an optimistic vision of Latin America. They have always related as an empire to poor countries. This vision needs to change.” He said he hoped that President Obama will visit Brazil in 2011 but added, “The truth is that nothing has changed in the United States’ vision for Latin America. I view that with sadness.”

These words, both harsh and true, seem to suggest a rift between the two countries. But this hardly seems to be the case at all. President Barack Obama greeted Lula at the G20 summit in London (April, 2009) saying, “That’s my man right there… The most popular politician on earth.” Can you find a more casual, friendly way to address an ally than “my man”? Indeed, although the key American policy that hurts South America is the advance of so-called free trade agreements, Brazil has been welcoming of such measures. They do not oppose, for example, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) with slight modifications.

The FTAA is an extension of NAFTA trade policies to South America. Given the way that NAFTA has impoverished Mexico and fueled both illegal immigration and drug trafficking (see September 2010 column), it seems natural that opposition would arise. Brazil, along with Argentina, is willing to compromise with the United States so long as America does not attach agriculture subsidies. Government-bought — and therefore cheap — corn flooded Mexico, leading the farmers there to grow drugs or go broke, as the tortilla is a staple of the Mexican diet and the locals could not compete with American corn whose prices had been reduced by the American taxpayers.

Why should Americans care about Brazil? They currently have the 5th largest economy in the world (some say 8th), and have considerable influence over over nations, particularly in Latin America. They are leading by example, with 20 million Brazilians overcoming poverty in the last decade and the Olympics being hosted there in 2016, the first time in South America. Lula maintained huge popularity throughout his presidency, and Time named him one of 2010′s most influential people. He maintained working relationships with both the socialist Hugo Chavez, the authoritarian theocracy in Iran and the Republican George W. Bush, no easy task.

Given Lula’s popularity and pragmatism, there should be no surprise that his successor was a close ally with a similar background and worldview. In fact, Dilma Rousseff, the new president, was his chief of staff and the Brazilian people expect her to follow the same path that has worked well so far to lift the country to new heights.

Rousseff may be easier to work with than you might expect from a politician with a Marxist guerrilla background. Here again are where covers are not a good way to judge Brazil — any thought of what a “Marxist guerrilla” would be seems to describe somebody else, not the Rousseff of 2011. In the 1960s, she studied the works of Karl Marx, and inspired by the revolution in Cuba joined the Workers Party (a branch of the Socialist Party) and became handy with a rifle. Rousseff was a member of a militant group that was known for its anti-government views and had on occasion shot police officers. Her arrest in the early 1970s put an end to her rebellious streak, having since focused her energy into politics rather than urban warfare.

Rousseff summed up her militant career in 2005 by saying, “We fought and participated in a dream to build a better Brazil, we learned a lot. We did a lot of nonsense, but that is not what characterizes us. What characterizes us is to have dared to want a better country.” To be clear, the Brazil of the 60s and 70s was run by military men and a junta, not the democracy we now know.

Her views today are quite centrist and in line with moderate American views: she is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage, and does not favor any drug decriminalization. Her favored policies only differ from American domestic policies in two key areas: a stronger opposition to the death penalty and a principled stand against privatization and American corporate takeover of Brazilian interests. Even privatization is flexible, though. Rousseff finds it “favorable to grant to private enterprise the construction of new power plants and roads, when it is cheaper to do them through grants than through public works”. Yes, that is right — a Marxist touting the potential value of private enterprise over nationalization or state intervention.

In documents released by Wikileaks, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry was described as an “opponent” with an “anti-American slant”. Yet, the disagreements between America and Brazil have been so slight, they are almost not worth mentioning. For one, the Brazilian government refused to receive detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Two, Brazil shifted its military training from being within the United States to other countries. And three, the Foreign Ministry denied the US a loan of $5 million for the war in Afghanistan. But, to my knowledge, these are the only issues.

One could just as easily point out where the two countries have cooperated. Brazil has agreed to help America with anti-terrorism measures while telling their own people this is not so. The Brazilian government has also allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to enter Brazil and investigate the murder of an American nun there, even though they clearly have no jurisdiction to do so.

Despite what Lula has said of the “American Empire”, or what background Rousseff has in subversive politics, the reality seems clear: the coming years will be a solid union between America and Brazil, and will probably grow stronger as Brazil’s economy grows, with Rousseff maintaining the important position of international deal-broker.

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One Response to “Empire Strikes First: Brazil”

  1. Eduardo Pereira Says:

    About the article “Empire Strikes First: Brazil”, it is a good text, congratulations.

    Brazil is an anarchist country, but it could not develop like that because of foreign countries, like USA (that promoted coups), Russia (destroyed Brazil anarchosyndicalism), and Germany (Brazil was a safe place for nazis after war).

    We hope to be known soon as an anarchosyndicalist country, that would be our real foreign policy to the rest of the world.

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