South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
In a joint press conference with Barack Obama at the White House, the Brazilian president spoke for twice as long as her US counterpart and was not afraid to criticise some of the policies of her host country, especially when it came to what Brazil calls the “currency war”.
“I expressed to the president the concern of Brazil with regards to monetary expansion,” Ms Rousseff said, referring to Brazil’s complaints that competitive devaluations by developed countries, led by the US, are undermining the competitiveness of emerging nations.
Brazil’s growing prominence on the world stage is a direct consequence of its rising economic power. Last year it overtook the UK as the world’s sixth-biggest economy.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ms Rousseff’s charismatic predecessor, who presided during a more than 51 per cent rise in Brazil’s gross domestic product between 2002 and 2011, was one of the first to grasp the opportunity for greater international influence presented by growing commercial strength.
A tireless diplomat, he forged friendly relations in Asia and Africa and in most of the developed world; Mr Obama once described him as “the man”. Under his leadership, the foreign ministry doubled in size. Brazil now has formal diplomatic relations with every member of the UN General Assembly.
He was also not afraid to ruffle feathers in Washington. In the most prominent episode, he infuriated the US when he sought along with Turkey in 2010 to forge an independent civilian nuclear deal with Iran.
On taking office, Ms Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla who was tortured by Brazil’s military dictatorship, at first seemed as if she would try to blaze her own path on foreign relations, expressing in an early interview her distaste for the sentencing of an Iranian woman to death by stoning.
“She’s uniquely positioned to have moral authority on human rights issues,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice-president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society.
But after one year in office, it appears that, while she is less antagonistic to the US than her predecessor, she is not seeking to make any radical break with Brazil’s traditions of non-alignment with the “great powers”.
During a visit to Cuba, she refused to criticise her hosts on freedom of speech or human rights, instead mentioning Guantánamo Bay in reference to the US.
Under the traditional Brazilian view of world affairs, the global instruments of power – the UN Security Council, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – are controlled by a club of nations of which Brazil is not a member. Taken further, these same powers are antagonistic to the rise of Brazil and its emerging world peers.
“There is an assumption that as Brazil rises, the established powers will react and try to prevent Brazil from moving upwards,” says Matias Spektor, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, an academic institution, in Rio de Janeiro.
Now with the relative decline of industrialised western countries, Brazil sees an opportunity to foster the creation of a multipolar world, with it playing the role of interlocutor between Asia, Africa and the developed world.
But if Ms Rousseff was not revolutionising Brazil’s foreign policy, there were still advances during her US trip, analysts say, including moves towards more military co-operation.
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