Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Brazil election may change diplomatic direction

Posted on Wednesday, 09.17.14

Brazil election may change diplomatic direction

SAO PAULO -- More than a decade of Workers Party rule has seen Brazil
prioritize ties with its leftist regional neighbors, from helping muscle
socialist Venezuela into the Mercosur trade bloc to financing a
billion-dollar transformation of an industrial port in Cuba.

But if President Dilma Rousseff fails to fight off the surging candidacy
of reform-minded Marina Silva before presidential voting in October,
South America's largest economy could reset its focus.

Silva was thrust into the Socialist Party's presidential nomination when
its candidate of choice, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash last
month. Since then, her anti-establishment profile has propelled her to a
neck-and-neck race with Rousseff.

Silva says she would re-emphasize ties to the United States and Europe,
mostly by working to land trade deals with each. Such moves could cause
tension with Mercosur, which prohibits members from making bilateral
deals without the group's approval.

Under Silva, "there will be a change of direction in foreign policy,"
her top adviser Mauricio Rands told supporters at an event unveiling her
proposals. "Brazil should be the promoter of bilateral and regional
(trade) agreements."

It would be a sharp change in direction for the proverbial slumbering giant.

Under Rousseff and her two-term predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,
Brazil has given strong backing to leftist regional allies, such as
Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Rousseff beamed in January as she stood beside Cuban President Raul
Castro at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the first phase of an
overhaul of the Port of Mariel, which the Communist nation expects will
become the largest industrial port in the Caribbean.

It was the clout of her government that persuaded Mercosur to set aside
fears about possible violation of its democracy rules and welcome
Venezuela into membership.

At the same time, Rousseff was not afraid to ruffle Washington's
feathers by rejecting an invitation to make a formal state visit to the
U.S. capital, the first extended to a Brazilian leader in two decades.
Her rebuff of the White House, made in protest of revelations the
National Security Agency had spied on her communications, was the first
in memory.

Rousseff had been sailing toward an expected victory before Silva's
candidacy. Now the two women are expected to claim the first two spots
in the Oct. 5 vote, without either one winning an outright majority.
That would trigger a run-off vote three weeks later.

Silva has said her foreign policy would aim "to promote national
interests and values." A 242-page plan she released declares, "foreign
policy cannot be held hostage by factions or political groupings."

Most of her proposed changes would aim to lower tariffs, expand trade
and revive Brazil's sputtering economy, which fell into recession this
year after years of only feeble expansion.

Critics blame the stagnation on Rousseff's heavy state hand on the
economy, replete with trade barriers and an unfriendly business
environment. The Mercosur bloc, which also includes Argentina, Paraguay
and Uruguay as full members, has yet to sign any significant trade deals
and infighting routinely hampers trade even within the group.

Rousseff said earlier this month that Brazil turning its back on
Mercosur would be "shooting ourselves in the foot," emphasizing that "we
have to realize the size of that market."

While Silva agrees a strong South America is still essential, her plan
makes clear she would seek to pivot Brazil toward stronger ties with the
broader global market and not be hobbled by its neighbors.

If Silva is elected, "Brazil, as a hemispheric power, will continue to
maintain good relations with all the countries in the hemisphere," said
Riordan Roett, director of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins
University. "But it's not going to be the same ideological fervor ...
for regimes like Venezuela and Cuba."

Many expect Silva, a renowned environmentalist and human rights champion
in the Amazon, to change Brazil's policies of largely ignoring alleged
abuses in allies like Venezuela and Cuba. But others argue her hands may
be tied by heavy, ongoing investments with those countries.

"The Brazilians have been very reluctant to criticize Venezuela
publicly," said Patrick Duddy, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and
former consul-general in Sao Paulo. "There are still broad commercial
interests there that are not going to disappear if Silva wins."

In a column headlined "Marina scares the neighbors," Clovis Rossi, a
foreign affairs columnist for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, wrote
that Brazil under the Workers Party has been the most powerful defender
of Venezuela's former leader Hugo Chavez and current President Nicolas
Maduro, backing both amid crises as they pushed ahead with their
Bolivarian movement.

"With Marina," Rossi wrote, "everything suggests that Bolivarianism
won't be able to count on this powerful crutch."

Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, and Brad
Brooks in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

Source: SAO PAULO: Brazil election may change diplomatic direction -
Americas Wires - -

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