President Dilma Rousseff arrived in the U.S. on Sunday for an important diplomatic visit. This is the third meeting between the Brazilian head of state and U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Brazil in March 2011. With the theme "Agenda of the twenty-first century between Brazil and the United States," the short visit was intended to highlight commercial and educational issues, but racial inclusion should not be left out of the discussions.
Despite not being received as part of a state visit—as in the case of the recent visits from the leaders of India and China—the meetings aimed to rekindle relations that are currently unsettled by commercial disputes and other international affairs such as Cuba and Iran. One of the highlights of the visit is also the Science Without Borders program, a Brazilian project that aims to send 100,000 students abroad to study science and technology. Plans are for the United States to be the main recipient.
Although innovative, the Science Without Borders program has been criticized in Brazil for its elitist character. Last week the Brazilian NGO Educafro protested in Brasilia for the program to include a quota for Afro-Brazilian students. As it is, the selection criterion only considers academic achievement and fluency in English, a focus only young wealthy people can afford. Without changes to the selection process, Afro-Brazilians will increasingly be left behind in science, technology, engineering, and math—the future of Brazil.
On the U.S. side, Obama plans to double the number of students who study at Brazilian universities. Today, on average, 40,000 Americans study in Brazil and 60,000 Brazilian students are in the United States. President Rousseff visits Harvard University and MIT today to set the stage for the arrival of students from Science Without Borders. (President Rousseff's speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government can be accessed through this link.)
In both countries, organizations concerned with racial equality hope that the conversation between the two presidents helps to renew efforts for Plan JAPER, a joint-country effort to combat racism, signed in 2008. So far the plan has not had much political support and has remained stalled. Organizations in Brazil believe that the government has not given priority to Plan JAPER. On the U.S. side, the case of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American male murdered in Florida, has sparked debate on effective measures to overcome racism, potentially motivating government to take action on the subject.
It is hoped that the two presidents eventually take a firmer stance on the commitments agreed upon as part of JAPER, but both governments are at a stand-still. While economic and education cooperation is important between the two countries, Brazil and the U.S. each also share a common challenge in fostering greater racial equality. That is a subject in which joint cooperation is also necessary.
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