Monday, February 07, 2011

The World Awaits Dilma: A Primer on Brazil’s New Foreign Policy

By Robert Valencia

Earlier this month, former President Inacio Lula Da Silva bestowed the presidential ribbon upon his political protégé Dilma Rousseff, the first female president in the history of Brazil, as a sign of handling executive powers. Lula is arguably one of the most popular chief of states in the history of the South American nation, and every single Brazilian expects of Rousseff to carry on the legacy Lula built along his presidential years, chief among them the social programs such as Bolsa Familia and Zero Hunger, which has helped close the poverty gap for many Brazilians. But lest she forget that the world is also watching a country with a growing presence in global affairs.

Indeed, Rousseff has received a Brazil that will wield more international clout (the next World Cup and the Olympic games in 2016 will become a test of its newfound role). On the economics side, for example, Brazil attained a more prominent global standing: It boasts the world’s third largest stock market; a prominent banking sector; an active role in the BRIC group, or the newly industrialized countries also comprised of Russia, India, and China; has the world’s eighth largest economy, and is now part of the group of the world’s 20 largest economies. And thanks to its new role as a global player, Brazil has become a resounding voice against the so-called “currency war,” because it will “damage emerging market economies by causing capital inflows.” Finance Minister Guido Mantega said he will discuss the danger of manipulating currencies at the next World Trade Organization and G-20 summits.

But most importantly, the real test for the Rousseff administration in the realms of foreign affairs will be her approach on distressing issues, such as the Iranian nuclear program. According to The New York Times, she will “adopt a tougher stance.” During the Lula years, Brazil--in tandem with Turkey--proactively negotiated an alternative to UN sanctions against Iran’s nuclear plans. Brazil’s initiative had mixed messages: Lula and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to encourage Ahmadinejad to ship enriched uranium out of the country to prevent this material from being available to make a nuclear bomb. Both countries thought that by securing such an agreement would make other countries like Russia and China support their initiative, but the latter instead voted in favor of a U.S.-sponsored resolution. Brazil and Turkey in turn voted against the resolution and, despite an internal discussion between Washington and Brasilia, Brazil voted against the United States at the Security Council.

For many, Brazil resorted on its nuclear history to handle Iran’s issue: In the 1970s, Brazil pursued a nuclear program due to its rivalry with Argentina, but both countries signed up the Treaty of Tlatelolco in the late 60s to pursue peaceful nuclear programs. In addition, Brazil’s 1988 constitution banned the country’s possession of nukes and in 1998 Brazil signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. A successful accord with Iran would have bolstered Brazil’s diplomatic endeavors, but going against an almost worldwide opposition on Iran’s nuclear program instead put Brazil in an international quandary, and some of his critics believed that Brazil has placed its burgeoning international prestige in jeopardy.

And even though Lula was impervious to such criticism (he left office with an 83 percent approval), Rousseff now has to face impending tasks in the field of foreign policy. On a recent interview with The Washington Post, she expressed her interest in improving bilateral relations with the United States in light of the Iranian vote. In fact, Rousseff appointed Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, a former ambassador to Washington, to be the new Foreign Minister of Brazil who will be in charge of “rebuilding new mutual trust between the countries.” In fact, Rousseff believes both Brazil and the United States “have to play a role together in the world together.”

By judging from her declarations, Rousseff promises to be more careful the next time Brazil takes on the initiative to meddle in thorny issues (Rousseff admittedly said she “signaled her misgivings” about Lula’s failed mediation with Iran), especially if it’s trying to gain a more significant stance, since Brazil has earnestly expressed its interest in having a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Time of course will tell how Rousseff will rely on other important global players to address current affairs, but for now her most immediate job comes from the inside, that is, building up a stronger, self-assured Brazilian society that will ultimately bring prosperity in Latin America and the rest of the world.

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