Brazil's Potential

The slumbering giant of the Amazon seems to have decided to wake up. Brazil, which for decades has allowed the world to pass it by, has determined on a new and more active role in world politics. It is, and wants to be recognized as, the regional super-power of South America suggesting, for example, that it deserves a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. However, as a recent Economist article makes clear, it seems disappointingly content to act as Washington's surrogate in the area rather than to play a role resisting Yanqui hegemony.

"Brazil is taking “more responsibility for calming things down in the region, which the United States finds fantastic,” says Alfredo Valladão of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris. That is one reason why Brazil has not been shunned by Mr Bush, despite Lula's opposition to the war in Iraq."
Moreover, after a long quiet opposition, Brazil has begun to toe the anti-drugs line in Colombia.
"Brazil was deeply suspicious of Plan Colombia, the American aid programme aimed against guerrillas and drug traffickers. But it has come to fret about the spillover of Colombia's conflicts—guerrillas have clashed with Brazilian troops on the border, and much of the violence in Brazil's cities is now drug-fuelled. So Lula's government has shifted to a policy of closer co-operation with Colombia's president, Álvaro Uribe, the United States's closest ally in Latin America. Brazil is sharing with Colombia's government intelligence from Sivam, its satellite-based monitoring system for the Amazon. It has also offered to host talks between government and guerrillas should these occur."
Part of this has been made possible by new diplomatic arrangements in the south of the continent.
"For most of its history as an independent country, Brazil saw Argentina as its chief rival and strategic threat. That changed with the formation of Mercosur, an incipient customs union also involving Paraguay and Uruguay. This has allowed Brazil to shift much of its army from its southern border to the north-western jungles near Colombia and Peru."
More political changes have resulted from massive demographic rearrangements within Brazil itself.
"Brazilians, once described as clinging to the coast like crabs, have scurried westwards and northwards. The building of Brasília, which replaced Rio de Janeiro as the capital in 1960, helped to spark development of the interior, a process accelerated by an agricultural boom in such western states as Mato Grosso. The Amazon, Brazil is learning, is both a resource and weak spot, vulnerable to guerrillas, drug traffickers and land-grabbers.
Importantly, however, Brazil's economy is not locked into a duet with Wall Street. As a recent article by former Foreign Minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia noted:
"Brazilian international trade is well-balanced, with four large poles of origin and destination in terms of foreign relations (the European Union, accounting for around 28% of Brazil's international trade, the United States with around 20%, Latin America with another 20% and the Pacific Rim also with 20%).
This should allow Brazil considerably more leeway than many other countries who have allowed themselves to become entrapped -- and thus controlled -- by American business. The United States' plan to develop a Free Trade Area of the Americas will clearly be a source of tension into the future. Indeed, the new Barzilian President has perhaps signalled this resistance by his appointment of Samuel Pinheiro Guimaraes as the second-ranking official of the Foreign Ministry.
"A firm foe of the FTAA, Ambassador Guimaraes was relieved by then-Minister Celso Lafer as head of the Foreign Ministry’s research institute for his outspoken commentaries against the trade pact. As late as November 2002, he told La Insignia, an alternative regional political Web site, “It is more interesting at this moment to defend Mercosul, which is undergoing a crisis but which already has been very important to drive trade among its members, than simply to sign onto an agreement under the hegemony of the United States ... Several high-ranking diplomats privately say that to interpret Guimarães’s appointment as other than a slap in the face to the United States would be a serious misread"
In addition, the US must be concerned about recent statements concerning the development of nuclear power in Brazil. Although the country's 1986 constitution specifically forbids the development or stationing of nuclear weapins in Brazil, the Minister of Science and Technology has suggested that Brazil needs to re-think its decision, and even President Lula has publicly criticised aspects of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"Brazil refused to allow international inspections of its centrifuges for enriching uranium. A signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it claims to have impeccable credentials as a custodian of nuclear technology and says it is not obliged to reveal technology that could be swiped by competitors (though there are suspicions that some of this technology may have come from the same black market tapped by Libya, Iran, North Korea and others). But to a United States determined to plug leaks in the international non-proliferation regime that “could be a very sore point,” says Peter Hakim of Inter-American Dialogue, a think-tank in Washington."
It seems hard to imagine that the United States would ever allow such a close neighbour to become a nuclear power. Nor, when push comes to shove, will it allow Brazil's economic needs to trump its own requirement for "managed free trade." While America's foreign and military policies lie broken across the Middle East, this seems like the perfect time for Brazil to strengthen its defences in preparation for the inevitable clash with the big bully from the north. Brazil could thus join the vanguard of multi-polar powers helping to recreate a modern version of Castlereagh's Balance of Power in the effort to restrain America Inc.

June 20, 2004 in America Inc, Brazil | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack