Events

Brazilian Perspectives of the United States

September 18, 2006 // 10:00am1:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Latin American Program

Eliana Cardoso, Getúlio Vargas Foundation;
Cristina Pecequilo, State University of São Paulo;
Antonio Pedro Tota, Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo;
Jacques D'Adesky, Cândido Mendes University;
Carlos Pio, University of Brasília:
Moderator: Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida, University of São Paulo

While there is a long history of U.S. academics studying Brazil ("Brazilianists"), there exists relatively little knowledge and research in Brazil about the United States. This has been changing in the last decade, as Brazil has emerged from its former isolation and entered into the international arena, increasing the need to better understand its neighbor to the North. In order to strengthen and deepen the field of American Studies in Brazil, the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, with the support of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, launched the American Studies Project. On September 18, a conference on Brazilian Perspectives of the United States was held to highlight work done by some of Brazil's leading "Americanist" scholars.

Ambassador Roberto Abdenur argued that, without detracting from the significant work conducted on the United States by Brazilian academics, U.S. studies in Brazil is in need of outside stimulation. While a healthy mutual curiosity exists between the two countries, advanced research from Brazil on the topic has been modest at best. It is of strategic importance that Brazil better understand the United States: how the decision-making process unfolds, how the United States sees Latin America, race relations, and foreign investment. This initiative is thus a response to the relative lack of supply, given Brazil's high demand for research and analysis on the United States.

Eliana Cardoso traced the historic path of U.S. trade policy towards Latin America to explain how the region has come to view the United States as imperialistic. At the turn of the 20th century, the United States justified military intervention not only to support its sphere of influence in its "backyard," but also to collect debts, in line with the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. This "dollar diplomacy" led to numerous and repeated invasions into Central America and the Caribbean. While the number of armed interventions declined in the 1930s, Washington continued to exercise hegemonic influence through commercial sanctions on its Southern neighbors. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, policy towards Latin America became more respectful of human rights and development, and U.S. interests were de-emphasized. Combating AIDS, the drug war, and the promotion of private-public partnerships, all became significant policy issues—until the political response to September 11, 2001, the War on Terror.

Now, in an era of global markets and free trade, U.S. trade policy is again projecting an image of U.S. imperialism in Latin America. The Doha Round of the WTO and FTAA talks are floundering because of the trade-distorting agricultural subsidies practiced by the United States and Europe. Brazil is a competitive producer of some of the same products for which the United States engages in market intervention, such as tobacco, sugar, ethanol, and orange juice. Safeguard measures, tariffs, and domestic subsidies are challenging the assumption that free trade breeds cooperation and integration. Because U.S. trade policy is exacerbating disputes rather than integrating the hemisphere, Brazil's perception of the United States is that of an imperialist power.

In discussing U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America, Cristina Pecequilo questioned why, 15 years after the end of the Cold War, we have yet to see global peace and stability. The United States was on the right track towards promoting this, as the country embraced multilateralism and mixed geopolitics with economics to revive an ailing U.S. hegemony. Everything changed, however, with the U.S. response to 9-11. Ever since, the Bush Doctrine's mixture of religious values and neo-conservatism estranged many allies and seriously damaged the legitimacy of multilateral institutions. While this has shored up U.S. hegemony, it has done so in an unhealthy way. Brazil now sees the United States as a dishonest broker, and does not see the world through the same black-and-white, friend-or-enemy lens as the United States.

Brazilian academics engaged in the study of race relations have often disregarded the work of U.S. academics, argued Jacques D'Adesky. However, Gilberto Freire and Oracy Nogueira, amongst others, have looked to the question of race in the United States to better understand and improve race relations in Brazil. Both academics compared the historical racial experiences and present realities of the two countries. More often than not, Brazilian academics studying race have not drawn inspiration or comparisons from the United States, given historically higher tension in race relations and a consequent perception that Brazil is better off. Brazil needs to look to the United States, however, argued D'Adesky, as many lessons can be learned from its northern neighbor, such as the fact that a strong middle class bourgeoisie emerged in the United States as a result of the adoption of affirmative action. As Brazil struggles with the implementation of affirmative action policies, the country needs to acknowledge that a far larger percent of Brazil's population is black or mulatto, yet a black bourgeoisie has yet to come about.

Carlos Pio sought to explain why among Brazilian social scientists there exists a relative lack of interest in the United States and foreign countries in general. This is particularly troubling in the former case, he argued, because of the growing consensus in Brazil that Brazilian institutions need to be remodeled in the guise of U.S. ones. First, Brazilian academics are not only neglecting to study the United States, they are not studying any of the rest of the world. Brazilians are very inward-oriented and so prefer to study their own country. Many Brazilians do study abroad in the United States, but again, focus on Brazil while there. However, while U.S. studies might not be their main interest, Pio argued that those who study in the United States (especially economists) are greatly influenced by U.S. values and ideas.

Cynthia Arnson highlighted the relative ambivalence of Brazilian academics' interest in studying the United States, and underscored the importance of gaining a better understanding. Knowledge of the United States is increasingly important for Brazil, given its recent insertion into the international system and the fact that Brazil is a more active, constructive international player than most other countries of its economic stature.

In the working group session prior to the meeting, Philippa Strum successfully proposed a change in nomenclature, arguing for the use of "U.S." instead "American," to avoid ethnocentrism. She also stressed the importance of taking an interdisciplinary approach to Brazil's advanced study and research of the United States.

Written by Daniel Budny, 691.4087

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