Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, when asked if the Portuguese language was not part of the future of “Hispanity”, replied that Brazil is a continent in itself. He considered the country a special case within Latin America due to the particularity of having obtained its independence at the hands of the colonizer and of having been an empire.
Brazil was far from the concept of Latin America for at least the entire first century of its independence, which will turn 200 in eleven months. The first book on the general history of Latin America that included Brazil in the analysis of the region was written by Scotsman William Spence Robertson, a professor at the University of Illinois, in 1922.
In recent politics, Ernesto Samper, former president of Colombia and former secretary general of Unasur, characterized Brazil as an ocean liner that generates consensus between the different positions in the region. But he understands that the country has abandoned Latin America in recent years.
Leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean gathered
The largest Latin American country is the only one not represented at the meeting of leaders from 32 Latin American and Caribbean nations last September 18 in Mexico. The event was the resumption of multilateral face-to-face presidential diplomacy in Latin America, whose paralysis had begun before the pandemic.
In Lula’s Brazil in 2008, for the first time in history, the leaders of the 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean met without the presence of the United States, Canada or any extra-regional potential. The Summit took place in Bahia, established a common integration and development agenda and, two years later, when it was merged with the Rio Group, it gave rise to CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).
The absence of Brazil in 2021 contrasts with the press release from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry on the participation of Dilma Rousseff in the 2011 CELAC Summit, which highlighted that Brazil had resident embassies in all countries represented at CELAC, which the current trade of Brazil with the countries of the region had grown about four times in eight years, between 2002 and 2010, reaching 78 billion dollars.
Economic and political costs of an isolated country
Tens later we see a self-isolated Brazil. The lack of regional agreement in recent years has made Latin America a more polarized and politically fragmented region and more commercially disintegrated.
By not participating in the regional rapprochement effort, Brazil, in addition to renouncing its political leadership, loses economically. The trade flow between Brazil and Latin America has fallen in recent years. In 2017 it was at 70 billion dollars and ended the year 2020 at 52 billion dollars.
The drop in the balance favorable to Brazil was even more significant, from 17 to 6.5 billion dollars in the same period. Brazil’s trade flow with the 32 countries in the region in 2020 was 33% lower than in 2010, the peak of Brazilian political leadership in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In January 2020, Brazil suspended its participation in Celac. Itamaraty published that “it does not consider that the conditions for the performance of Celac are in place in the current context of regional crisis”. Annoyed by participating in an instance with Cuba and the Maduro government, the Brazilian response was to abandon it.
Unlike the vast majority of Latin American countries, Brazil has closed its embassy and consulates in Venezuela since April 2020. The following month, Brazil closed five embassies in the Caribbean. As was to be expected, exports from Brazil fell to all these countries in 2020. The average drop was 13% compared to the previous year, being 38% in the case of Dominica. Exports from Brazil to the Caribbean countries as a whole in 2020 were 10% lower than in 2019.
Is CELAC a mere leftist group?
Unlike Mercosur, the Andean Community or Unasur, CELAC did not have a constitutive treaty approved by the region’s parliaments or its own bureaucracy. Latin American Summit diplomacy worked relatively well between 2008 and 2016. Agreements were reached despite ideological differences and the bloc maintained a joint dialogue with the European Union and China. In both cases, it would be inappropriate to carry them out in conjunction with the OAS or without the support of a regional grouping.
During this period, the pro tempore presidency of CELAC was exercised by representatives of different party colors, such as Chilean Sebastián Piñera (2013), center-right, Costa Rican Laura Chinchilla (2014), center, and Ecuadorian Rafael Correa (2016), center-left. They illustrate the diversity and plurality of leaders in the region who supported and strengthened CELAC.
In all these years, the well-attended meetings attracted at least 20 representatives. But in January 2017 only four heads of state attended the Summit in Punta Cana, even though there were representatives from all 33 countries.
In the same month, Donald Trump had taken office as US president and negotiations on the Cuban opening, which had advanced in the last two years of the second Obama administration, were paralyzed. they were just Bolivarian clubs supporting Cuba and Nicolás Maduro. It sounded a little strange because that year the Argentine Mauricio Macri assumed the presidency pro tempore of Unasur and presented a candidate for its General Secretariat, defending the organization’s original ideas.
Lima Group, A Divided Region
Months later, in August 2017, the Lima Group was created by twelve American countries, including Canada. In its first statement, the group requested the suspension of the CELAC-European Union Summit, which was scheduled for October of the same year, as a way of isolating Venezuela. In January 2019, the group recognized Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela and proceeded to delegitimize Nicolás Mature.
Mexico moved away from the Grupo de Lima, the same movement followed by Argentina and, more recently, Peru. It seems evident that the Lima Group’s governance over the Venezuelan crisis was much greater before the group was created than it is now. The group’s last statement came in January 2021, days before Trump left the US presidency.
Mexico’s new prominence
The political vacuum left by Brazil has been successfully occupied by Mexico. The meeting in Mexico with 16 leaders, including the center-right presidents of Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay, crowns Mexican diplomacy and indicates that the strategy of isolating the Venezuelan government is running out of steam.
López Obrador’s country recently received the Venezuelan government and opposition for a round of dialogue mediated by Norway and has been committed to carrying out different CELAC activities in the last year. The agenda included the creation of a Latin American space agency and the donation of vaccines to countries like Belize, Bolivia and Paraguay.
Brazil, by maintaining the position of not talking to Cuba or Venezuela and showing itself incapable of presenting a positive agenda for the other countries in the region, ended up being alone in its own continent. The country quickly moved from being the one that gained the most from integration to being the one that loses the most from its self-isolation. It seems to lack both the mirror and the light to understand your past or project your future.
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