How long will this last?
In terms of foreign relations, Brazil’s “past” also persists today. His aid to Latin America and Africa and to international organizations continued, although it did not reach the levels attained during the boom years of Lula’s policy. globalism, from 2003 to 2013. Like most other donors, Brazil used most of its aid to help its companies enter new territories. In Angola and Mozambique, for example, infrastructure and mining giants Odebrecht and Vale have become major players thanks to Lula’s forceful South-South diplomacy and the use of Brazil’s state-owned development bank BNDES as a vehicle for foreign aid.
As for multilateralism, Bolsonaro denounced it. But as the Dutch say, soup is never eaten as hot as when it is served. Indeed, his government is showing growing enthusiasm for the main multilateral bodies. He is working hard to secure Brazil’s admission to this old, elite OECD conclave. In Washington DC, Bolsonaro’s finance minister urged the IMF to intervene more vigorously in the affairs of member countries. For Bolsonaro, the World Trade Organization must be strengthened and cooperation between the BRICS intensified. He may denounce the United Nations, but his government continues and has indeed intensified its engagement with various UN agencies.
Would it be an exaggeration to lament Bolsonaro’s repudiation of multilateralism? It is true that his government, unhappy with the IMF’s public pessimism about Brazil’s economic prospects, has demanded that the IMF close its offices in Brazil in 2022. But in many other respects, Brazil continues to follow the orthodoxies of the established multilateral order.
Brazil’s relations with the Pentagon and US arms producers, for example, have never been seriously threatened. Under Lula, military ties were formalized and expanded. Today, relationships are better than ever; in 2019, Trump granted Brazil official “major non-NATO ally” status, allowing it to buy American goods and bid on some American defense contracts. Brazilian companies continue to export arms, sometimes in violation of the International Arms Trade Treaty, which Brazil ratified in 2018, over the objections of then-MP Bolsonaro.
On China, on the other hand, Bolsonaro has strained relations with Washington. Upon becoming president, he abandoned his previous anti-China rhetoric. Conforming to the interests of agribusiness and other businesses, he has made Brazil’s trade and investment relations with China a priority. Today, as yesterday, Brazil’s foreign ministry must seek a balance between the interests of domestic elites (as well as sometimes those of its neighbors) and the interests of the powerful elites who drive policy in Washington. Faced with the pursuit of autonomy and the exaltation of South-South ties, Western diplomats have ridiculed Brazi for acting by sitting down when issues important to Western powers are at stake. As the American drums on China intensify, with or without Bolsonaro, Brazil will face pressure to line up.
Finally, Brazil’s soft power is evident in many parts of the world, including Europe. Here, thanks in part to a vibrant Brazilian diaspora, people flock to hear choirs and the samba, to devour feijoada, marvel at the photography of Sebastião Salgado and appreciate Brazilian films and literature. Yet Brazil also demonstrates another kind of soft power. Articulated by figures such as Paulo Freire and João Pedro Stédile of MST, the movement of landless workers, these are ideas and practices to promote power from below.
Brazilian movements, activist organizations and municipal leaders have shown enormous creativity and courage for decades in testing and producing these ideas. Practices such as “participatory budgeting” may not work perfectly, but they seem to me to be far more beneficial exports than soybeans, weapons, hardwood and oil.
This article was originally published under a different title by CartaCapital and republished with permission. Read the original here.