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Brazil: Anti-American Foreign Policy?

Three experts comment on the recent statements by former Brazilian ambassador Roberto Abdenur on Brazil's "anti-American" foreign policy.

Latin America Advisor

Brazil's recently retired ambassador to the United States, Roberto Abdenur, said in an interview published [February 3] in Brazilian magazine Veja that there is an element of "backward anti-Americanism" in Brazil's foreign policy. Do you see an anti-US bent in Brazilian foreign policy? Has Brazil's focus on trade ties with developing countries come at the cost of better relations with developed economies, such as the United States, as Abdenur claims?

Riordan Roett, Director of the Latin American Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies: Since the 1960s, the relationship has been both cooperative and competitive. With the advent of the PT government five years ago, there is more emphasis on the competitive. The PT foreign policy elite prefer to see Brazil's role in the developing world—and as a leader of that group. Thus, the emphasis on policies such as the Middle East-South America summit; the leadership role of Brazil in the G-20 group that seeks to move the third world agenda forward in the Doha Round of WTO trade talks; and the position of Brazil regarding the FTAA in which Brazil has effectively vetoed a final agreement unless there is substantive progress in the US in removing agricultural subsidies. The ambassador's comments may have greater relevance. The entry of Venezuela into Mercosur recently, with the approval of Brasilia, would indicate a strengthening of the 'anti-American' group in Brasilia. The January 2007 Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro was an opportunity for Hugo Chavez to strongly criticize the US and its policies. Brasilia appeared unwilling or unable to neutralize Chavez's rhetoric. Evo Morales also used the summit to criticize the Colombian government—again without much of a response from Itamaraty. Brazil has done little if anything to moderate the position of the Argentine government in the conflict with neighboring Uruguay over the paper mill controversy. The outlook, for the remainder of the second Lula administration, is probably for greater competition and diplomatic conflict. The origins of the PT are by definition anti-American, and as long as the PT cadre is able to drive foreign policy decisions, the nationalist wing of the foreign ministry will have found a soulmate.

Melvyn Levitsky, Senior Fellow at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a former US Ambassador to Brazil:  This is quite an astounding statement from one of Brazil's most senior diplomats and one who has been a close colleague of Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. While Brazil's foreign policy has generally been highly nationalistic and therefore seen by some as 'anti-American,' Brazilian governments have always been willing to negotiate with the US and compromise their differences on a practical basis; that is, when they felt it served Brazilian interests. One example which took place partly during my tenure as ambassador involved the nuclear sector, where after many years of harsh Brazilian criticism of the US position, we were able to work with Brazil to gain its adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. While I take Roberto Abdenur's comments about anti-Americanism seriously, I think even more important was his blast at the politicization of Itamaraty and his accusation that promotions and assignments are being made on the basis of partisan, (i.e., leftist) political considerations. The use of the term 'backward' is a particularly hard blow to the institution's elite, sophisticated image of itself. Coming from a person of Abdenur's reputation, this can only undermine the credibility and efficacy of Brazil's diplomacy. I rarely felt that US-Brazilian disagreements over trade and political matters were anything more than both sides trying to promote their own interests, but Abdenur's comments make one think that a different agenda, parallel to what is occurring in Venezuela and several other neighboring countries, might be at play here.

Beatrice Rangel, President & CEO of AMLA Consulting: From Brazil's development perspective, trade with developing countries has been beneficial. In the late 1970s and 80s, exports to oil-rich economies and to Africa made a significant contribution to foreign exchange receipts. More recently, Brazilian companies have successfully globalized by exploiting trade links with developing countries. Petrobras, Usiminas, Braskem, Odebrecht, and AmBev are perhaps the leaders in this strategic approach. Ambassador Abdenur, however, was signaling the presence in Brazil (and I would also add in many other Latin American countries) of a culture of mistrust vis-a-vis the US that has acted as a serious constraint on hemispheric economic integration. This culture springs from differences in history, political institutions, national projects, and educational systems. The US was born to compete; Latin American nations were protected territories. Both regions entered capitalism through different doors—the US through its individual initiative-based trade muscle; Latin America through statism. The US' economic success created severe insecurities among Latin America's elites. This gave rise to dependence theories that were the intellectual defensive wall to protect their interests. Decades of dependence rhetoric affected the vision of several Latin American generations. Two recent events triggered the gradual but steady erosion of the protective wall: the collapse of the import substitution development model in the late 1980s and the explosion of information and communications technologies in the 1990s. Naturally, there still are pockets of anti-Americanism of varying degrees. Countries with weak private sectors are the fulcrum of anti-American sentiment.

Republished with permission from the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor newsletter.  

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