Three Top Challenges for Brazil’s Next Foreign Minister (Americas Quarterly)


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With just 18 months left in President Michel Temer’s term, Brazil’s next foreign minister will face an uphill battle.

José Serra’s tenure as Brazil’s Minister of Health from 1998 to 2002 was highlighted by a successful effort to overcome the resistance of U.S. pharmaceutical giants and provide Brazilians with universal access to generic AIDS drugs, a move that saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Serra was unable to make such a significant mark in his more recent stint as Brazil’s foreign minister – on Feb. 22, he announced he would be stepping down over health concerns after just 8 months on the job.

While Serra’s tenure in President Michel Temer’s administration was too brief for a meaningful evaluation, three achievements – all of which his successor can and should build on – stand out: First, Serra helped the foreign ministry regain the status it had lost under former president Dilma Rousseff; second, he led the effort to suspend Venezuela from Mercosur – an important step after Brazil’s shameful silence in the face of President Nicolás Maduro’s repeated attacks on democracy; and finally, he helped shift attention to border security and regional security cooperation, topics often neglected in Brazilian foreign policy debates.

Through it all, Serra faced considerable obstacles, from allegations of his involvement in the widespread Lava Jato corruption scandal to a profound economic crisis that made talk of grand foreign policy strategy unrealistic (not to mention Temer’s abbreviated term, which made any long-term projects difficult to implement).

Whoever succeeds Serra can still play a crucial role in helping Brazil overcome its current troubles, but only if he or she picks the right battles. To that effect, Brazil’s next foreign minister should focus on three key challenges.

1. Manage the global corruption fallout

One of the biggest international bribery cases in history, the revelations of corruption linked to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht's global operations are causing a political earthquake across Latin America —

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