Until the beginning of the last decade, Brazil asserted itself as the great catalyst for mechanisms of political concertation and multisectorial cooperation in South America, also acting as an articulator of consensus and mediator of tensions and instabilities among neighbors.
In recent years, however, the country seems to lack a clearer strategy for the region, with marked ideological disagreements with key partners, as well as the adoption of hasty and proactive positions that contradict decades of pragmatism and prudence in dealing with neighbors.
END OF PRAGMATISM IN FOREIGN POLICY
In the case of Venezuela, the hasty recognition of Juan Guaidó as president of the country and the attempt to forcefully send alleged humanitarian aid undermined any possibility of a genuine contribution to overcoming the crisis in an important neighbor.
Merely supporting sanctions against the Maduro government in forums such as Mercosur, the OAS or the Grupo de Lima is very little for a country used to acting assertively in favor of sub-regional stability.
Burning bridges of dialogue with the world became a recurrent practice in Bolsonaro’s diplomacy.
The current foreign policy is lost and permeated by erratic and incongruous positions not only in the major issues of international politics, but also in the Brazilian regional environment.
The search for regional leadership that characterized the country in the 2000s gave way to a supporting role incompatible with Brazil’s weight and representation in the region.
The country has limited itself to embarking on initiatives launched and idealized by neighbors who, taking advantage of the vacuum left by Brasília, end up gaining centrality and projection. Prosul, for example, was designed and formatted far from the offices of Planalto and Itamaraty.
Bolsonaro’s presence in the possession of Guillermo Lasso a few weeks ago only served to reinforce his limited and Manichean perception of the future of South America. The defense of “union for the freedom of the region” seems to reflect an irreconcilable antagonism with the central governments – left or left, just like in the most critical moments of a Cold War that ended more than 30 years ago.
In the not-too-distant past, Brazil knew how to dialogue fruitfully with governments of various political hues, such as Colombia under Álvaro Uribe and Venezuela under Hugo Chávez. Thus it was possible to create, for example, the South American Defense Council within Unasur.
CRISIS IN BILATERAL RELATIONS WITH ARGENTINA
The unprecedented interference in the Argentine electoral election in 2019, with explicit support for the reelection of Maurício Macri, not only broke with practices consolidated throughout the country’s foreign policy history, but ended up leading to a narrow ideological incompatibility with President Alberto Fernández.
The absolute lack of willingness to overcome differences is noteworthy, despite a virtual meeting with no practical results that took place in December 2020. Letting oneself be carried away by exclusionary party-political passions is incompatible with that of the president of a country whose recognized traditions diplomatic activities are based on universalism and on the diversification of partnerships.
At such a delicate moment for the entire region due to the serious health crisis and its devastating economic consequences, it would be up to the Planalto to urgently promote an understanding with Casa Rosada.
The commercial decline in recent years and the loss of space for Brazilian exports in the neighboring market, for example, demand pragmatic and conciliatory attitudes from the country. Bilateral trade flow in 2020 was just over US$16 billion, less than half the US$39 billion in 2011.
In relative terms, Brazil has lost space for Chinese exports to the Argentine market, with the Asian giant already ahead of Brazil in some moments in 2020 as Argentina’s biggest trading partner.
Considering the importance of this market for the sales of Brazilian manufactures with greater added value, it is clear that the bilateral agenda is full of urgent issues that should overlap with personal quarrels.
REBUILD EXTERNAL POLICY
The delicate moment in the relationship with Argentina overshadowed the celebration of Mercosur’s 30th anniversary. Important decisions regarding the Common External Tariff and the model of external negotiations need to be taken, but the distance between the two main partners is an additional obstacle.
The future of the bloc necessarily requires better coordination among its members, and any attempt to ideologically isolate a member is unacceptable due to the momentary divergences of the governments on duty.
It would do the Brazilian government very well to also know and better respect the history of its neighbors, especially with regard to military dictatorships, whose memory is very vivid and present in the countries of the Southern Cone. Praise dictators or minimize abuses practiced in such a traumatic period for the The region has already caused a stir and embarrassment even with governments with whom there is supposedly greater ideological affinity, such as that of Chilean Sebastián Piñera.
In the wake of so many excesses in the conduct of the country’s foreign policy, it is urgent not only to rescue Brazil’s image in the world, but also to restore a more sensible, plural and pragmatic position in its own region. Dialogue, tolerance and prudence are the best immunization agents against the virus of political myopia that has characterized the Brazilian government’s relationship with its neighbors.
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