Events

Brazil's Foreign Relations with South America

October 24, 2006 // 3:00pm5:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Latin American Program

Brazil's economic growth and its insertion into the international arena have allowed the country to develop several leadership roles, from the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti to its leadership position of developing world countries in the World Trade Organization to steadfastness in the face of the United States at Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) talks. However, Brazil's regional position is currently being challenged on many fronts, both nationally by intense media and partisan criticism, and internationally by Venezuelan petro-diplomacy, Bolivian nationalization of Petrobrás holdings, divisions within Mercosul, and neighbors' bilateral trade agreements with the United States.

Foreign relations, long an issue separate from politics and public debate, have increased in visibility and significance in Brazil given the political climate throughout the hemisphere. While they are not playing a decisive role in Brazil's presidential election runoff, foreign policy issues will continue to be a central feature of President Lula's likely second term. The Brazil Institute sought to engage the debate over Brazil's foreign policy and its role in future hemispheric integration—such as the Initiative for Integration of South American Regional Infrastructure, the FTAA, and the South American Community of Nations—by holding a seminar on October 24 on Brazilian relations with the rest of South America.

Director of the Brazil Institute Paulo Sotero both contextualized the discussion with several key issues and contemporary developments. He reminded the audience that the seminar was taking place on the eve of Brazil's second round presidential elections: the runoff is to be held on Sunday, October 29, resulting in a near-certain Lula win. Indeed, the only real doubt left is Lula's margin of victory. Though foreign policy issues have not been emphasized in the campaign, recent events have highlighted their increasingly visible role in Brazil

Following Bolivia's nationalization of its natural gas reserves in May of this year, October 28 is the deadline for Petrobrás either to sign a new contract under Bolivian terms or to pull out of the country altogether. Additionally, recent polls suggest that, while the media has taken a critical view of Lula's performance in the realm of foreign policy, such disapproval is not shared by the Brazilian public at large. As an illustration, Sotero noted that Celso Amorim, Brazil's Foreign Minister, has become personally involved in Lula's reelection campaign by attending political rallies. Such actions are unique in a country where foreign policy has never garnered much attention or initiated debate and where career professionals of the foreign ministry, such as Amorim, have tended to avoid partisan politics.

Lula has continued to steer Brazil in the direction of further accepting, participating, and engaging in multilateral and international democratic norms, while at the same time pursuing a more assertive foreign policy than his predecessor, argued Monica Herz. She recognized a convergence between Lula's actions and that of his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, especially in regards to actively seeking a permanent seat to the United Nations Security Council. While Lula has not generated a new foreign policy agenda, Herz stressed that he has sought out new strategic alliances within the developing world. Brazil's leadership roles in the G20 and G4 are two such examples, where the rhetoric might be economic but the underlying agenda is political.

Herz also highlighted the ongoing dissonance between Brazil's potential and its actual participation, be it in international economic or political terms. While Brazil played a leading role in strengthening democracy in the region, President Chávez has since complicated regional cooperation and Brazil's leadership aspirations. In addition to dividing Latin America, Herz argued that Chávez has likewise divided Brazil internally over whether the country should use engagement or isolation to deal with him. More important for Herz, however, is continued regional integration and leadership to tackle the increasingly important issue of national and regional security.

Brazil should be a regional leader, if only foreign policy resonated with the Brazilian public and if only the rest of the region would accept Brazilian leadership, argued Kenneth Maxwell. Whereas the region is in a mess, Brazil is a beacon of stability. Bolivia considers Brazil an imperial power (the "elephant in the neighborhood"), Mexico does not want to compete with Brazil on trade terms in a future FTAA, and Venezuela is proposing an alternative integration model for the region. In terms of Lula's foreign policy, Brazil has had mixed results. Even after appeasing Washington by sending 1,300 troops to Haiti, a seat on the Security Council looks implausible. While Brazil has developed strategies to assert its leadership over South America, it benefits little from solidarity with its neighbors. Even so, Maxwell thinks that Brazil has played an effective role in fostering cooperation among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and, unlike Mexico, has positively inserted itself into the global market.

Peter Hakim argued that two seemingly contradictory factors have driven Brazilian foreign policy. One is aspirations for international prestige, not power, and the other is high pragmatism—that foreign policy should serve Brazil's economic interests. A third element has recently been added to the mix as well: an ideology of third-world solidarity that promotes the development of strategic relations with the rest of the BRICS, but at the same avoids serious entanglements with the United States. National politics is purposely missing from this list since foreign policy is in the hands of professionals and the executive, not with Congress or even the business community.

Hakim added that, under both Cardoso and Lula, Brazil has had mixed success in the foreign policy realm. While the campaign for a Security Council seat has been a relative failure, the very fact that Brazil is now commonly considered on the "first tier" of aspiring countries to Council seats, alongside Germany, Japan, and India, is a success in and of itself. Brazil has likewise played a prominent role in international trade negotiations, and even though the Doha Round fell apart, Brazil succeeded in blocking passage of a bad agreement. The same can be said for FTAA talks as well. Regionally, however, developments are less sanguine: Venezuela's ascendancy and Argentina's rule violations are undermining Mercosul, the South American Community of Nations initiative is highly fractionalized, and energy cooperation is faltering. However, one ambiguous regional success, claimed Hakim, was Brazil's response to Bolivia's gas nationalization: while Bolivia's decision caught Brazil by surprise, Lula did the right thing in seeking negotiations rather than rattling swords.


Written by Daniel Budny, Brazil Institute, 202 691-4087.

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