Brazil’s Foreign Policy Isn’t Dead. It’s Just Hibernating. (Americas Quarterly)


Brazilian President Michel Temer (R) shakes hands with his Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira (EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)


Provided a moderate wins in 2018, Brazil could quickly regain some of the diplomatic heft it lost under Rousseff and Temer.

The government of Michel Temer has dealt Brazilian foreign policy a body blow. Not only has the president traveled abroad less than any of his predecessors since Itamar Franco in the 1990s, but, more importantly, Brazil nowadays contributes remarkably little to dealing with urgent regional challenges. These include the crisis in Venezuela, transnational crime, China’s growing presence in Latin America, and physical infrastructure integration. Nothing suggests that this will change during the remaining 14 months of Temer’s scandal-ridden mandate.

Yet while some of the causes of Brazil’s current international lethargy are structural (such as its corruption-prone system of presidential coalitions), several others are superficial. Provided that a moderate candidate wins in 2018 – such as Marina Silva, Fernando Haddad, Luciano Huck, Geraldo Alckmin or a 2003-style Lula – many of the major obstacles facing Brazil’s government in the foreign policy realm could be overcome with relative ease.

The first has to do with the president’s international profile. Temer is one of the world’s most domestically unpopular heads of state. His government faces a constant battle for political survival, reducing the time and energy it can dedicate to foreign policy. Much of this is tied up in the country’s ongoing Lava Jato corruption investigations. Brazil's chief public prosecutor recently said there was “no doubt” that Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes received undeclared Odebrecht money to finance one of his campaigns (Nunes has denied participating in any corruption).

As a consequence, the current government lacks the legitimacy – particularly in the region – to take the lead on any international issue. While the results of next year’s election are extremely difficult to predict, the next government will almost by default enjoy higher approval ratings than the Temer administration, at least early on. That will create new opportunities for presidential diplomacy, a key element in Brazil’s foreign policy under former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the aforementioned Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Second, irrespective of the government’s popularity, Temer’s top diplomats face a powerful and often overlooked limitation that makes implementing sophisticated foreign policy initiatives difficult: a very short policy horizon due to the interim nature of the administration. Temer’s successor in 2019, by contrast, will have the opportunity to consider and articulate policies during a full four-year mandate.

Third, despite global economic conditions that are less benign than in the early 2000s (when Brazil was the second biggest contributor to global growth), the incoming government’s first year is likely to come amid some cautious optimism vis-à-vis the economy. That makes the 2018 election radically different from the one in 2014, when it was obvious that whoever won would preside over an economy that was heading for the cliffs.

Fourth, on Jan. 1, 2019, the incoming Brazilian administration will assume the temporary presidency of the BRICS grouping of countries, providing it with a golden opportunity to articulate and present its narrative to a global audience. The 11th BRICS Summit will take place in Brazil in 2019, ....

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