When world leaders recently gathered in Switzerland to discuss the future of Syria last week, Brazil's foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, was in the northeastern city of Natal to participate in the inauguration ceremony of a soccer stadium. He had rejected an invitation to join the peace conference.
A day later, one of Brazil's major newspapers asked Figueiredo for an extensive interview focusing exclusively on the crisis in Syria, which would have allowed the new foreign minister to lay out Brazil's vision to the public. Once again, the minister declined the offer.
At the Munich Security Conference a week later, Brazil was the only large economy without a single participant. Figueiredo, who replaced the brilliant but hapless Antonio Patriota after a diplomatic crisis last year, has been strikingly invisible in the public debate.
President Dilma Rousseff is the main culprit. Obsessive in her drive to centralize decision-making, the president regards foreign policy as a minefield of little use in her bid for re-election. She has surrounded herself by uninspiring yes-men, at least one of whom—Education Minister Aloízio Mercadante—may actively undermine Itamaraty's standing in Brasília.
Brazil’s postponement of its White House state dinner–seen as a long-awaited wedding ceremony for the two countries after a very drawn out courtship–may signal more than just President Rousseff’s anger with revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on her personal life and Petrobrás, the state oil company. Since the postponement (which some have understood to mean cancellation), Rousseff has carved out a new niche for Brazil’s international identity, seizing the opportunity to make a bold and public statement about the direction of its foreign policy, away from the United States and its allies.
Brazil’s newfound enthusiasm for the issue of Internet privacy comes after a half-decade of an ambivalent foreign policy strategy. The predictions of a major shift in international political influence following the 2008 financial crisis, when the G-20 rose in importance to become the premier forum of global governance, signaled a potential new role for Brazil. However, this was problematic for Brazil since the G-20 represented everything that the country had long criticized: a private club of global power players.
Yet, predictions of a seismic change in global power did not come to fruition. Brazil has not made the transition to global player, and is instead juggling conflicting identities. It is a member of an elite club of global power players, but it’s also a committed proponent of global governance reform. Thus, Rousseff’s refusal to accept Obama’s explanation of spying and her recent championing of the right to privacy signal a turn away from the shaky middle ground and toward a more vocal role as a critic of the forums of global governance.
RIO DE JANEIRO—How quickly it all unraveled.
Less than four months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama sent his vice president to Brazil to personally deliver an invitation for President Dilma Rousseff to visit Washington this October. It was the only such invitation extended to any foreign leader in 2013, and the first for a Brazilian president since 1995.
To be sure, Rousseff had already met with Obama in Washington in 2012—following Obama’s visit to Brasília in 2011—but this official state visit was to include a welcome ceremony, 21-gun salute, dinner at the White House, and meetings on trade. In delivering the invite in May, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called 2013 “the beginning of a new era of relations between Brazil and the United States.”
This year has indeed turned out to be the beginning of a new era, but now for all the wrong reasons.
On September 17, Rousseff canceled her October 23 visit, a decision forced by two months of drip-drip revelations in local media O Globo that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring millions of phone calls and emails sent by citizens across Brazil, including those of Rousseff herself and the state-owned oil giant Petrobras. Not even an 11th-hour phone call from Obama to Rousseff on Monday night could salvage the trip.
Who bears the responsibility?
Roberto Izurieta, head of the Latin America Department at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, places the fault at the feet of Rousseff for allowing the spying allegations to drive a wedge.
“In any kind of relations, you can focus on what unifies us all, or on the problems that divide us,” he said. “In my opinion, the president of Brazil chose the second.”
Brazilian media, meanwhile, praised Rousseff’s response to the White House’s reported failure to adequately investigate the allegations of espionage. In an official statement, Rousseff cited “the absence of timely investigation of the incident” as a reason for canceling. The White House said yesterday that an ongoing review of its intelligence posture “will take several months to complete.”
In the wake of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff officially postponing her October state visit to Washington on Tuesday, Brazil is planning to increase its online independence and bolster its cyber security in the coming months. The decision comes in response to leaked evidence that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the Brazilian government and the Brazilian national oil company, Petrobras.
To lessen Brazilian’s vulnerability to spying, Dilma intends to store more online data domestically and rout web traffic away from U.S. servers. However, some experts warn that the new measures could lead to a balkanization of the Internet, threatening its current open, interconnected structure. Critics fear that Brazil’s cyber-isolationism could also embolden repressive regimes to control their citizens’ online access.
Ironically, Brazil is in the midst of scaling up its own surveillance system ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Launched in April, the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) will not spy on personal communications like the NSA did, but it will monitor all roads and public spaces through 560 camera across Rio de Janeiro. The CICC is also requesting permission from the federal aviation body to use drones for surveillance during the World Cup as they were used during the Confederations Cup in June.
Likely top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s U.S. visit remains pending; Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel hit Mexico; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden cancels Panama trip but will still go to Mexico; Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles visits Miami; Peruvian congressman files a bill to approve same-sex civil unions.
Dilma Still Weighing State Visit to United States: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's office said in a statement on Sunday that the president has not yet decided whether she will cancel a visit to the United States that was scheduled for October 23. A spokesperson said Sunday that Rousseff is awaiting a report from Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, who traveled to Washington DC last week to seek an explanation for alleged U.S. spying on the Brazilian government by the U.S. National Security Agency. Figuereido is expected to meet with Rousseff on Tuesday to discuss the visit.
Hurricane, Tropical Storm Batter Mexico: Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel have killed at least 21 people in Mexico as thousands of people were evacuated, starting on Friday, to avoid flooding and mudslides. While Manuel hit Mexico's Pacific coast, Hurricane Ingrid battered the Gulf Coast and is expected to make landfall on Monday in the State of Taumaulipas. The Mexican government said Sunday that the State of Guerrero has been hardest-hit, with 14 confirmed deaths. A number of Mexican towns and cities have cancelled Monday’s Independence Day celebrations in light of the dangerous weather conditions.
Biden Cancels Trip to Panama, but not Mexico: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will make a planned trip to Mexico at the end of the week but has cancelled a visit to Panama, where he was expected to visit the Panama Canal expansion project and meet with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Instead, Biden will return to Washington DC mid-week to focus on Syria, and then travel to Mexico as scheduled on September 19 and 20 for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. This will be Biden’s fifth trip to Latin America since he became vice president.
Capriles Visits Miami: Venezuelan opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles addressed thousands of Venezuelans living in the U.S. during a speech at Miami Dade College on Sunday. He was also presented with a key to the city of Doral, Florida, which has the largest population of Venezuelan citizens outside of Venezuela. The local Venezuelan population overwhelmingly supported Capriles in the April 14 presidential election. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Capriles of conspiring against his government from abroad.
Peru’s Congress May Consider Civil Unions: After Peruvian lawmaker Carlos Bruce presented a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions last Thursday, Peru’s Comisión de Justicia (Justice Commission) must decide whether to approve the bill for a vote in Peru’s Congress. Bruce says that the bill will not consider same-sex marriage, and is intended to grant same-sex couples the same inheritance, pension and social security rights granted to heterosexual couples. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, whose approval rating has hit the lowest point in his two-year presidency at 27 percent in September, has so far declined to comment on the proposed bill.
On Thursday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff asked legislators to quickly approve a bill that would require technology companies to store private user data on Brazilian-based servers and comply with Brazil’s digital privacy laws. This comes as members of Brazil’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee also announced yesterday that they would seek meetings with Edward J. Snowden, the former NSA contractor and leaker who is currently living under asylum in Russia.
The actions in Brazil come shortly after President Dilma Rousseff’s departure from the G20 summit. There, she spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama who agreed to formally respond to allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted mass surveillance activities in Brazil. New reports released on September 8 revealed that the agency also spied on Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras.
Rousseff expressed further concern after learning that Petrobras, which is currently developing technology to dramatically expand offshore oil exploration, was a primary target of NSA surveillance. In an official statement released Monday, she wrote, "Without a doubt, Petrobras does not represent a threat to any country. But it does represent one of the world's largest oil assets and the property of the Brazilian people.”
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper defended the program and said the U.S. routinely collects intelligence for insight into other countries’ economic policies. He added that U.S. intelligence agencies do not share the information with U.S. companies.
These latest developments follow Rousseff’s repeated statements that she has not decided whether she will move forward with a planned state visit to Washington in October.
The wave of protests that first spread across Brazil in June may have subsided for the time being, but President Dilma Rousseff is still dealing with the political fallout.
To recap, after at first not responding to the protests, President Rousseff finally released a statement on June 21 during a ceremony to launch the new mineral sector regulatory framework. Three days later, revealing a sense of urgency, she met with Brazil’s 27 state governors and 26 state capital mayors. Then, on national television, she laid out new reforms to respond to protestor demands: fiscal responsibility; inflation control; stricter penalties for corruption; and reforms in public health, education, transportation, and politics—culminating in a partial constituent assembly that would consider modifications to Brazil’s constitution.
Rousseff’s Proposed Reforms
The president’s proposals seemed to prioritize political reform and addressing corruption. According to Rousseff, the constituent assembly would establish specific rules for selecting leaders and lawmakers as well as new regulations for campaign finance, coalitions between parties, and advertising on TV and radio.
The idea of a partial constituent assembly is not new in Brazil’s recent political history. In 1999, then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso supported the implementation of a partial constituent assembly to more efficiently address tax, political and judicial reforms.
Rousseff’s proposal received immediate backlash, however. The president of the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Brazilian Lawyer’s Bar Association), Marcus Vinicius Furtado Coelho, reaffirmed the association’s opposition, stating that political reform did not warrant changes to the Brazilian Constitution. Recently-elected Supreme Court Minister Luis Roberto Barroso and Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, both ardent constitutionalists, also disapproved. As of June 25, President Dilma Rousseff had opted to forego the constituent assembly.
The boos that hailed down on Dilma Rousseff last month at the Confederations Cup are growing louder. Approval for the Brazilian president fell 26 percentage points in the last month, from 71 percent in June to 45 percent in July, according to a July 9–12 poll conducted by Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Public Opinion Research Institute—IBOPE).
But rather than taking a turn toward higher public spending, analysts and economists expect the Brazilian president to instead recalibrate toward more investor-friendly policies that will encourage private infrastructure spending, reverse a trend of rising unemployment, and spur GDP growth.
For observers of Brazil and other emerging economies, today’s social unrest may be the necessary step backward before the market can take two steps forward.
“If there’s one unifying theme that has held together the emerging market economies over the past 10 years, it is that incumbents have been strong and riding this economic cycle,” said Christopher Garman, the Latin America director of Eurasia Group, on July 17 during the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s mid-year political and economic outlook in New York City. That cycle contributed to today’s average length of incumbency being 7.4 years, he said—twice as long as in 2002.
“What we’re witnessing in Brazil is the end of a political supercycle and the return of economic constraints on politicians,” continued Garman. “As these constraints rise, we’re going to have a return of more constructive policies, both in terms of working more aggressively with the private sector in order to find more ways of boosting investment, and also on a macroeconomic framework.”
On Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reiterated her proposal for a plebiscite on reforms to address citizen discontent over corruption and public spending that have fueled massive protests since June.
Rousseff first proposed a plebiscite on June 24. According to her plan, voters would select from a menu of options to overhaul the nation’s political system and address corruption. The plebiscite would precede any congressional deliberations and Congress would then legislate based on the plebiscite’s results. However, Congress quickly rejected the proposal. Instead, some members of Congress favored first drawing up a package of political reforms that would then be put to voters for approval in a national referendum.
During a meeting to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Consejo de Desarrollo Económico y Social (Economic and Social development Council—CDES), Rousseff defended the plebiscite, noting that recent protests have demonstrated a deep desire among citizens to have greater and more direct say in their government’s policies. A plebiscite, she maintained, would offer a chance for greater citizen participation than a referendum and help guide the government’s plans for reform.
While Rousseff’s popularity has suffered since the start of the protests—a MDA Pesquisa poll showed a drop in her approval ratings to 31 percent this week, from 54 percent in June, support for the plebiscite is strong. According to a Datafolha poll, 68 percent of Brazilians favor holding a plebiscite. The Brazilian Constitution stipulates that any changes to electoral rules must be in force a year before elections. Rousseff had originally hoped to hold the plebiscite before October 5—a year in advance of 2014 elections—but congressional opposition will make that timetable unlikely.
¿Cómo quitar los ojos de Brasil que en las últimas semanas ha sido objeto de la toma de sus calles por parte de jóvenes apartidarios, indignados, cansados de las políticas del gobierno de Dilma Rousseff?
¿Cómo no asistir casi estupefacto al crecimiento de un movimiento que espontáneamente apareció en vísperas de la Copa Mundial en un país que no solo se enorgullece de tener uno de los mejores niveles futbolísticos, sino que hasta hace poco sólo aparecía en las noticias como el milagro económico, la potencia emergente, el gigante latinoamericano y otros calificativos bastante generosos que indicaban que por lo menos en términos de políticas financieras, seguía la senda correcta?
No es que los indignados brasileños en las calles estén puntualmente protestando por el modelo económico, pero no es poca cosa que los indicadores por los que se alzaron tengan nada menos que ver con las inversiones en salud y educación y que los índices de reducción de la pobreza y desigualdad no sean tan alentadores.
La salida de Dilma fue darle a eso que significa en griego la palabra democracia, y resume todo su valor: el poder del pueblo. En pocas semanas los indignados consiguieron que no se aumentara el precio del tiquete de autobús—demanda original del movimiento Passe Livre que busca reducir a cero la tarifa de transporte público—y que sus demandas alcanzaran esferas insospechadas. Esta semana, los congresistas brasileños aprobaron un proyecto de ley que define la corrupción como un "crimen atroz", otro que destina el 75 por ciento de las regalías petroleras a la educación y el 25 por ciento a la salud, y rechazaron uno más que le retiraba facultades investigativas a la fiscalía, una propuesta de enmienda constitucional conocida popularmente como PEC 37.