What Would a Marina Presidency Mean for Brazilian Foreign Policy?
Marina Silva and her advisers faced a formidable challenge. After Eduardo Campos' tragic death on August 13, Marina Silva, Campos' running mate, suddenly turned into the best placed candidate to defeat President Dilma Rousseff in the upcoming elections. While other candidates had months to hone their arguments, Marina's team had merely days to finalize the document that lists her policy proposals. Contrary to 2010, when she was seen as a protest candidate, she has now turned into a serious contender, and the first option for many of those who are dissatisfied with the way the country is governed.
International issues will not be decisive in this election, of course. Voters care most about issues such as health care, education, public transport, public security, the fight against corruption and the economy. And yet, compared to previous elections, foreign policy issues are set to play a more important role in weeks leading up to the election on October 5, underlining a growing notion among voters that the way Brazil relates to the world directly impacts their well-being. While security issues such as the Crimean Crisis are unlikely to matter much, candidates will have to explain their proposals on topics around Mercosur, possible trade agreements with the EU and the US and the rise of China. The more likely a victory by Marina seems, the more will people seek to understand her ideas about Brazil's foreign policy.
The 12 pages of her program dedicated to foreign policy (pp.28-40) provide interesting insights, some of which are analyzed below.
As big regional negotiations such as the one between the EU and United States advance, one cannot help but notice the prospect of a world divided into trade blocs. Brazil will have to make up its mind about which strategy to pursue. In the case of the negotiations with the EU, this involves making a decision about whether to take a highly protectionist and rather unpredictable Argentina along or whether to pursue a two-speed solution, temporarily leaving Argentina behind. According to her program, Marina would opt for the latter option of the "two-speed Mercosur" to facilitate the conclusion of trade negotiations with the European Union, among others. She argues that focusing on the WTO is fully compatible with seeking other regional and bilateral trade deals. That seems reasonable, and even Brazil's current government has been increasingly open about its willingness to negotiate without Argentina. Marina Silva is also supportive of the ongoing process to fully liberalize trade between the Pacific Alliance and Mercosur, and calls for Brazil to make regional integration its top priority.
Similar to her arguments made during the campaign four years ago, when Marina Silva said that Brazil had a "key role in mediating between the different regional interests" through exercising "respectful and supportive leadership" in the region, the 2014 program reads as a commitment to play a more active role in the neighborhood. While she frequently mentions defending human rights and democracy in South America, her program does not suggest a reckless idealistic position that may endanger strategic interests, or that may make Brazil look like a regional bully. Over the coming days and weeks, she will certainly have to say how she would deal with the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela.
Contrary to critics who argue that Marina Silva would radically change course, there are signs that she could seek to reemphasize the importance of foreign policy after a relatively lacklustre performance under Dilma Rousseff. Notably, she stresses that both Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula contributed to strengthening Brazil's international projection, and has repeatedly argued, since 2010, in favor of reforming the international system - such as the UN Security Council, the IMF, and the World Bank - to increase its legitimacy and provide Brazil with more responsibility. Furthermore, as a globally recognized environmental leader, Marina Silva has repeatedly argued that Brazil had the potential to assume international leadership in the debate about environmental sustainability. It is in this context that her proposals are most innovative - ranging from engaging with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and strengthening the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO). A more sophisticated strategy in the Amazon will also please nationalists, many of whom worry about Brazil's limited capacity to control its Western borders.
Despite expressing her desire to improve ties to the United States (which, she notes, are set to remain a leading global actor), Marina's proposals do not imply weakening Brazil's ties to the Global South - to the contrary, she explicitly refers to the BRICS grouping and the importance of Brazil-Africa ties (differing from Eduardo Campos' views expressed in an interview published by Política Externa). That will make it difficult for supporters of Lula's foreign policy to attack her approach. Nothing suggests that Marina would seek to undo his notable achievements (or, for that matter, Dilma's main achievement, Brazil's laudable internet governance initiative).
Her proposal to promote Brazilian culture more systematically on a global scale - she mentions learning from European institutions such as the Alliance Française, the British Council and the Goethe Institute - deserves attention and hints to a welcome willingness to introduce new ideas to strengthen Brazil's international visibility. In the same way, she suggests modernizing the Rio Branco Institute, Brazil's diplomatic academy, and further strengthening the dialogue between Itamaraty and civil society.
Putting foreign policy back at the center?
Finally, and most importantly, Marina Silva argues that Dilma Rousseff did not sufficiently value Brazil's Foreign Ministry. And indeed, under no other Brazilian leader in recent history has the Foreign Ministry - historically above the political fray - been so secondary. As a result, Brazil's foreign policy under Rousseff has been far more hesitant and passive than during the presidencies of Cardoso and Lula.
Naturally, in the coming weeks Marina Silva will have to explain how some of her ideas would play out in practice. And yet, her program suggests that Marina would pursue an activist foreign policy, built on the notion that established countries' dominance in the global conversation is highly counterproductive and unlikely to produce sustainable solutions to the world's most pressing issues such as climate change, financial volatility, human rights and nuclear proliferation.
More than ever before, Brazil's stronger voice - be it in the UN Security Council, during climate change negotiations, as a mediator in Venezuela, as a defender of democracy in Guinea Bissau, or as an agenda setter on internet governance - is needed to create a richer and more balanced global debate. That requires a President unafraid of taking courageous decisions and occasionally generating international controversy.
Photo credits: Jornal Nacional/Rede Globo