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The Brasilian Divergence – The New Latin America

December 4, 2009

The emergence of Brasil as the leading regional power in Latin America is becoming ever more apparent. This emergence has many consequences, not only for Brasil and Latin America, but also for global affairs.  The evolution of this process, which has been characterized as forming part of a larger trend of divergence between the countries of the global South and North, has been especially noticable recently as the Brasilian government has increasingly found itself at odds with Washington over a number of issues.  The development of an independent foreign policy by Brasil is certainly welcomed by many on the Left and those in the region that have traditionally been dominated by US influence.  Two recent manifestations of this divergence can be seen in the failure of the Bush II administration to isolate Venezuela in the region and the attempt by the Obama administration to recognize the recent election in Honduras held under the auspices of a coup government, a move that almost all countries in Latin America, led by Brasil and Venezuela, have rejected as illegitimate.  These small but significant deviations from the imperial line can be understood in the context of Brasil’s attempt to foster and strengthen ties with other developing counties of the global South, particularly in the current push towards greater integration among the South American nations.  Regional integration and economic independence built on the diversification of trade and the development of national industry are the key aspects of a strategic policy designed to assure that Brasil assumes its rightful place as a world power, a role reserved for it by it ‘continental’ size in terms of area, population, and resources.

But Brasil has not limited its new found independence to matters only affecting the Americas.  Recently the president of Brasil, Lula, has expanded Brasil’s visibility and influence in the arena of global politics in the critical region of West Asia (MidEast). During the past couple of months he has hosted the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and voiced his support for that country’s right to develop its nuclear program.  The significance of this coming in the wake of increased opposition from the US and Europe was certainly lost on no one.  ( Incidentally this show of South-South solidarity only serves to reenforce how far the divergence between the global North and South has gone).   Lula has also received both the israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to use Brasil’s growing influence in the world to reach broker a solution to the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  As Mark Weisbrot has pointed out in his recent article, the emergence of Brasil playing an independent role in Israeli/Palestinian conflict is to be welcomed, “Brazil has advantages that could enable it to play a positive role: Lula is one of the most popular leaders in the world, the government has a skilled diplomatic corps, and Brazil has no conflicts of interest that would prevent it from being an honest mediator.”

Indeed, Brasil has much to offer and can potentially be a positive force in many areas of the world.  But, as with any power that is attempting to assert itself, we must not blind ourselves to the flip side of the power equation.  Brasil’s role in the UN occupation of Haiti, now in its fifth year, is an act in complicity with the US, Canadian, and French backed coup that took place against the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004.  This occupation has resulted in many crimes committed by the occupying power (see video below).  This is just one glaring instance of the potential that Brasil has to act as a tool of the imperium and play a decisively negative role in the world.  These opportunities will only increase as Brasil’s economic and political clout continues to grow.  How the country will use its newfound power and influence will to a large extent be determined by the path it embarks on as it continues to develop.

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