Marina’s foreign policy

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National elections are an important element of the democratic process as they offer the opportunity to discuss and review current public policies. Even a losing candidate may successfully influence the government's strategy if his or her position gained wide-spread appeal during the campaign.

While domestic issues are, quite naturally, set to dominate the debate during the next two months, the presidential campaign should also include discussions about each candidate's - and the incumbent's - ideas about which strategies are both desirable and viable to defend Brazil's interests abroad. Compared to 2002, when Lula was elected, Brazil's international engagement is far greater today. Brazilian troops are in Haiti, Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) lends money internationally, Brazil boosted the number of its embassies in Africa, and it has helped create both BRICS and UNASUL.

Today, important questions require reflection. For example, what has Brazil's increased focus Africa over the past decade really achieved? Can being part of the BRICS grouping increase Brazil's global influence? How can we convince our neighbors that Brazil's rise is good for them, too? What is Brazil's long-term vision for the region? What role does Brazilian development aid, UNASUL and Mercosur play in this regional vision? How can Brazil best promote political and economic stability across Latin America? How should Brazil deal with potential instability in Venezuela and the violation of human rights in Cuba?

On the face of it, all candidates should be capable of powerfully criticizing Brazil's foreign policy under Dilma Rousseff. Compared to both Cardoso and Lula, who left their mark on Brazil's international engagement, Dilma's foreign policy turned out to be surprisingly lackluster. While foreign ministers under Cardoso and Lula thrived, Itamaraty was downgraded under Rousseff, and Foreign Minister Patriota was given little room to take the initiative. Patriota's successor Luiz Alberto Figueiredo is generally seen as doing a good job, but even he does not have the authority and freedom Celso Amorim enjoyed under Lula. Rousseff's speeches at the UN General Assembly, great opportunities to articulate Brazil's vision, were uninspiring. The simple promise of putting international affairs back on center stage would probably win a candidate some support among Brazilian voters.

Aécio Neves lacks any significant international experience or name recognition abroad. Marina Silva, on the other hand, may use the topic to her advantage during the campaign. The former minister of the Environment in the Lula cabinet is a world-renowned environmentalist with the capacity to influence the global debate about sustainable development. As President, Marina Silva's international visibility - and room for initiative - could easily match that of both Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002) and Lula (2003-2010).

As she is preparing for the final two months of the campaign, Marina has not yet openly articulated a detailed vision for Brazil's role in the world. She has repeatedly argued that her foreign policy would be guided by the principles of democracy and human rights, and several comments over the past years provide clues. In 2010, Marina openly criticized President Lula's effusive welcome given to Iran's Mahmud Ahmadinejad, pointing to human rights violations in Iran. She also said that Brazil's refusal to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) negatively affected its international image. While she supports Brazil's stronger engagement in Africa, Marina is critical of Brazil's growing involvement in international trouble spots such as the Middle East, and favors a stronger focus on regional leadership.

What should Brazil's regional leadership under President Marina Silva look like? Once called "too principled for politics" by The Economist, Marina has repeatedly expressed her uneasiness with Brazil's close ties with Cuba and, to a lesser degree, Venezuela. She says Brazil should defend democracy and human rights more actively in the region, play a leading role in mediating conflicts and openly call for free and fair elections in Cuba as well as for the release of political prisoners, but also seek to integrate the country and ask the United States to end its economic embargo. Critics of such an approach will argue that openly denouncing Cuba and Venezuela may do little to convince governments in Caracas and Havana to change their ways, and that a tougher approach could both complicate Brazil's overall regional strategy and affect its economic interests.

Irrespective of whether one agrees with her proposals, openly discussing these important issues - for example in a televised debate with all candidates at least partly dedicated to foreign policy - could greatly contribute to the democratization of foreign policy.

Read also:

Brazil and the democratization of foreign policy

Is Brazil a regional hegemon?

Is Brazil the New Regional Champion of Democracy? (Americas Quarterly)

Photo credit: Evelson de Freitas/AE