When President Dilma Rousseff took office in January 2011, she made history on a number of fronts. This elevated her to be the first woman ever to hold that office as well as the ironic twist of an ex-freedom fighter, during Brazil’s dictatorship, now executing the role as Commander-in-Chief.
Equally important, the history-making American President, Barack Obama, was one of the first heads of state to trek to Brasilia to meet the new Brazilian President. President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine calls for engagement with Latin America rather than opposition, and he is determined to treat Brazil, no longer viewed as the poor cousin of South America, but as an equal partner in international affairs. With Brazil projected to become the world’s fourth largest economy within the next decade or so, Obama made it quite clear that the US is there to do business and is first in line to purchase Brazil’s petroleum – the much anticipated spoils of its deep-sea oil exploration.
This warming of relations has been received very well in Brazil, a country that, for a very long time, prides itself on neutrality and independent thought in international politics. However, as Brazil grows in economic importance, there will be demands to take a more active role in international affairs. This mandate is quite visible in Brazil’s interminable quest to have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Ironically, in spite of Obama’s praises for Brazil, the US still shies away from outright support for Brazil’s desire for perpetuity on the security council. Nonetheless, as Brazil’s middle class continues to expand, the USA remains more and more attractive to its nouveau riche. In fact, the numbers are so impressive that Obama recently eased visa requirements and restrictions to attract more Brazilian tourists to the U.S., especially in hip and popular shopping lifestyle destination, Miami.
It’s against this backdrop that Brazil will be paying more attention to the upcoming elections over the next few weeks. Will Brazil continue to have warm relations with a Republican president in the White House? How will the right wing rhetoric on immigration affect the thousands of Lain American immigrants? Will there be continuity in the Obama foreign policy of engagement towards Latina America should the leadership change hands?
Another point to ponder is Venezuela’s recent ascension of full membership to the MERCOSUL/MERCOSUR grouping. In many ways, Brazil acts as broker between the bravado of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and what may come across as his perceived offensiveness towards Washington from time to time. So on many levels this American Presidential election is being closely monitored in Brasilia.
There is undoubtedly a new configuration in the international system as we proceed along into the early 21st century. With Brazil as a rising powerhouse, the continued aspiration for harmonious North-South dialogue can only be guaranteed if the Presidents in Brasilia and Washington continue to shake hands and warmly embrace each other.
Ian Walcott is a contributing writer to The Burton Wire. He is an international relations specialist and project consultant who shuttles between the Caribbean and Brazil.