Global Independent Analytics
Natalia Rezende
Natalia Rezende

Location: Brazil

Specialization: Politics, International relations

Brazil, Latin America, and A New Foreign Policy Agenda

Brazil and other Latin American countries face a tough choice: either to depend on US investments or try to stop being peripheral and submissive and develop their own economy

In the first decade of the 21st century, South American governments "turned to the left". In this short period of time, many countries elected new presidents inclined towards nationalist and populist perspectives that were against American neoliberal ideas. These new ideological positions influenced their foreign policy agenda.

In the case of Brazil, Brasilia’s foreign policy can be divided into two different periods. In the first one, there was a direct political alignment with the US, that reaffirmed North American hegemony, not only in the country but in the entire continent. This was a bargain not favorable to Brazil since it created an environment favorable for USexport of companies and capital to Brazil, and, therefore, made the country dependent on foreign investments. In this period, Brazilian foreign policy was influenced by the neoliberal ideas of the Washington Consensus that argued that trade liberalization, opening up to inflows of foreign direct investment, and deregulation (abolishing barriers to entry and exit of goods[1]) are the best set of economic policies for Brazil and Latin America. 

In the second period, a “South-South” foreign policy agenda was put forth. The leftist governments of South America implemented a common agenda of economic integration. Brazil also pursued cooperation with Africa. In this period, Brazil opted for multilateral arrangements creating Unasul (Union of South American Nations), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), IBAS (India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum), alongside others and thereby weakened the US regional hegemony and reduced US influence in South America.The political articulation of the South-South block and the regional power game imposed a heavy cost on the country. Brazil bore the costs associated with integration and attempted to become self-sufficient in its economic and security policies.   

In this latter period and most recently, Brazil has been playing a strategic game in the region as a regional leader and mediator of other Latin American countries interests. However, even though it carries itself as a big player and keeps a relevant position within South America and the Southern Cone, the country continues to be vulnerable to US initiatives and is heavily dependent on international commerce. However, even with the external constraints placed upon it by the change of role it plays in the multilateral arena, the country is still pursuing greater autonomy and is trying to diversify its partners.

In the Cardoso period (1995-2003), the foreign policy perspective was in alignment with the US and in line with Dependency Theory[2], a liberal orientation was adopted, and a weak multilateral agenda pursued even when consideringMercosul (Common Market of the South). Lula´s foreign policy (2003-2010) changed the ideological trend, countered by taking action in pursuing a multilateral agenda, and did so in a time of various global shifts:  the turn to the left of various Latin American governments, China’s booming economy and the economic growth of India and Russia. Meanwhile, the domestic economy and political environment were quite favorable.

In Dilma´s administration, the Brazilian foreign agenda became more flexible, oscillating between a multilateral and a bilateral orientation. In fact, when comparing Dilma´s and Lula´s foreign policies, one will see advances and setbacks in both.

Dilma´s foreign policy aims to adjust to new realities and challenges, both external and domestic. Brazil has been faced with continuing difficulties with its internal politics – problems with coalitional management and maintaining a governmental fiscal balance (addressed earlier on the GIA) – and within its economy – a fall in industrial production, a rise in unemployment rates, and a rent-seeking elite. Therefore, on the domestic front, the country has been facing mounting budget deficits, recession, a deep fall in investment, rising prices, environmental disasters, and a political crisis.  Internationally, the conjuncture is one of the financial crises, civil wars, terrorism and a paralysis of multilateral trade negotiations at the WTO. In addition, we have been witnessing internationally a weakening of dialogue between states, the decline of confidence of foreign investors in the Brazilian government, and a decline of solid strategies capable of motivating external players. 

One should not forget that a foreign policy acquires the personal traits of its formulators (the president) and its implementers (the ministers). Lula kept the same foreign minister– Celso Amorim–for both terms in office, while Dilma has had three up to now – Antonio Patriota, Luiz Alberto Fiqueiredo and Mauro Vieira. Lula was an active leader who implemented a presidential diplomacy, while Dilma Rousseff holds herself as a “manager”, leaving matters to be handled by the Itamaraty.

Brazil and other countries in the South were closely aligned with the US in the 90’s.That changed when many leftist governments get elected and agreed to redirect their foreign policy orientation. However, the recent wave of rightist or more moderate center-left parties in South America can make it difficult for this process of multi-lateralization to continue.In a recent Mercosul meeting, Argentina’s Macricalledits members to kick Venezuela out of the bloc, and nominated an American citizen for a very high position in the Argentinian Federal bureaucracy[3] - a clear sign of change in the ideological perspective of the country.  Macri, who was only recently elected as president running as a candidate of Republican Proposal Party (PRO), has a clear right-wing political orientation and vowed to replace many policies inherited from the previous government.  Macri’s hard stance may make it difficult to negotiate a common agenda between Mercosul members and inhibit their ability to develop common objectives.

Brazil – and others Latin American countries – need to choose between their historical conditions of being peripheral economies that depend heavily on US investments, adopt a bilateral agenda and increase US hegemony in the Americas and the world while taking a secondary and submissive position; or keep working to play a strategic multilateral role in the world, establish partnerships (of equals) between different countries, including Asian countries and other developing economies, and increase their decision-making capacity, thereby developing a multipolar world.

 


[1] The ten points of Washington consensus by John Williamson

[2] Economic dependence and comparative advantage theory

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