On March 12 the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC held a conference on U.S.-Brazil Relations on the Eve of President Dilma Rousseff’s First Visit to Washington D.C. The conference was divided into two sessions. The first — “Setting the Stage for the Visit,” chaired by Anthony Harrington, former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil and Chairman of the Brazil Institute Advisory Board — included government officials: Brazil’s Ambassador to the U.S., Mauro Vieira; Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Department of State; Daniel Restrepo, National Security Council; Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, Department of Treasury. These speakers talked about Brazil’s healthy economy, its 4.4 percent growth rate, its initiatives with the U.S. in shared science and technology. The speakers agreed that these and other positive signs are enabling Brazil to become a more stable good neighborhood with strong and meaningful ties to the U.S.
Then came the second session —“The Possibilities and Limits for Deeper Engagement Between the America’s Two Largest Democracies,” chaired by Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute. Three of the four speakers on this panel — Carl Meacham, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Staff; Peter Hakim, President Emeritus, Inter-American Dialogue; and João Augusto de Castro Neves, Analyst, Latin America, Eurasia Group — challenged the first panel’s positive remarks about robustness of the Brazil-U.S. relationship. The one panel member who was more positive about the relationship was Julia Sweig, Director for Latin American Studies, Council on Foreign Relations.
As an audience member it was amusing to see the two panels forcibly disagree. Peter Hakim said that Brazil is an interloper on global issues and that the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil is more symbolism than substance. “Its talk, talk, talk,” he said, “its spinning straw into gold.” He went on the say that there are problems on both sides of the relationship and that if the U.S. really wanted to treat Brazil as a full hemispheric partner it should treat Brazil as it does India.
I had to smile. The government panel, the first group, extolled the growing strength of the U.S.-Brazil Relationship. The second panel talked about the U.S.’s historic benign indifference to Brazil and that the indifference continues until today. It was unfortunate that the first panel didn’t stay to hear what the second panel had to say — busy schedules.
You can see the full webcast of both panels by going to the Woodrow Wilson Center, Brazil Institute. Topics include: Brazil’s intrusive government; Brazil’s desire to have a seat on the UN Security Council; the need for Brazil to undertake pension reform; its internal challenges regarding its poor people; Brazil’s craving to be a major player on the world scene. It was noted that President Rousseff’s visit to the U.S. will be an official visit, not a state visit. Is this a subtle message, especially given that Obama’s trip to Brazil in March 2011 was a state visit? Some panelists thought it was.
— Roa Lynn