Shadow Government

Brazil and the next Republican president

Having spent a week in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, and Rio meeting with senior representatives of the Brazilian government and major influencers in the country, it’s clear to me that Republicans and conservatives need to understand that Brazil could be as consequential to the United States in the next twenty years as Canada or Mexico are ...

Allan Tannenbaum-Pool/Getty Images
Allan Tannenbaum-Pool/Getty Images

Having spent a week in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, and Rio meeting with senior representatives of the Brazilian government and major influencers in the country, it’s clear to me that Republicans and conservatives need to understand that Brazil could be as consequential to the United States in the next twenty years as Canada or Mexico are to us now. The next Republican president needs to make Brazil a top priority by firstly, naming a high-level ambassador and secondly, making Brazil one of his first stops overseas.

Brazil is still considered a developing country, but this classification is about ten years out of date. The United States needs to develop new ways to work with countries like Brazil that are on their way to becoming industrialized countries. Instead of foreign aid and development, we have "cooperation interests" with Brazil that are linked to our foreign policy, national security, and commercial interests.

Republicans and conservatives, like others across the political spectrum, have historically had other interests in the region (e.g. Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, and Nicaragua to name a few). Brazil has not presented itself to the United States as either a security threat or much of a market. There, of course, have been historical ties that are often overlooked and ignored (e.g. Brazil sending troops to fight on the Allies’ side in World War II).

The Brazilians have been too poor, too self involved, or too chaotic to warrant much of our attention or for them to pay us too much attention. Also, in moments of delusions of grandeur, the Brazilians have seen themselves almost as rivals to us — something we have not reciprocated for the simple fact that Brazil has not been on our radar.

Over the last 20 years, much of the energy in the relationship has been around the environment. Many will remember the "Save the Rainforest" campaigns focusing on the Amazon of the late 80s and early 90s.

Finally, how many people in the United States actually speak Portuguese who do not have some family tie to the language? The Latin Americanists, almost to a person, speak Spanish and focus on Spanish speaking countries for good reasons. All of the above is changing or is going to change.

The window of opportunity is there.

Following the lead of Presidents George W. Bush and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Presidents Barack Obama and President Dilma Rousseff have been deepening relations between the two countries since at least 2005, with more frequent meetings and on-going high-level government dialogues. Rousseff and her Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota are broadly pro-American. We have an opportunity to consolidate this relationship and move it from a third level relationship to a first level relationship over the next 10 years. If there is a Republican in the White House in 2013, we need to build on the Bush/Obama legacy, create an office in the State Department focused solely on Brazil, just as we have for Canada, and find new, more strategic ways to work together through networks that exist or that need to be built between our two societies.

Daniel Runde served in the George W. Bush administration at USAID. He also worked at the World Bank Group (IFC). He currently holds the William A. Schreyer Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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