Dilma Rousseff has a Second Chance to invigorate Brazil’s Foreign Policy
The South American giant needs to live up to its ideals on the global stage, and civil society activists have a role to play
After an election campaign that was more unpredictable and nerve-racking than Brazil’s popular soap operas, President Dilma Rousseff will lead the country for another four years.
Brazil’s government has defined its foreign policy as “active and prominent”. This is a legacy of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who wanted to lead Brazil towards greater autonomy and relevance in the global order. He wanted Brazil to contribute to a more democratic and multipolar world; diversify its partnerships – with particular focus on countries in the global south and the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); and promote South American integration.
However, these initiatives were not without their tensions and contradictions. Rousseff appeared to give less priority to foreign policy and some of the achievements of Lula’s administration stagnated under her. What should she focus on now the election is out of the way?
Given its size and influence, Brazil should seize the opportunity to be both a political and economic engine to trigger a different and more collective answer to crisis and strengthen the region in the face of an increasingly globalised and volatile economy (for example, Russia increased food imports from Brazil as a result of Europe’s sanctions over its actions on Ukraine). Moreover, its initiatives need to go beyond economic integration and promote people-centred integration.
While Brazil should continue to pressure the US Congress to approve the changes negotiated over five years ago with the G20 on a larger voting quota at the IMF, it needs to move beyond traditional sources of finance available from the Bretton Woods institutions. The Brics development bank, announced in July, is one obvious space in which to do this.
Brazil’s record has been unimpressive in relation to similar initiatives such as the IBSA Fund and the Bank of the South. If it truly aspires to alternative approaches to development, and hopes to challenge this northern-dominated sector, Rousseff’s administration will need to make this a priority.
One area in which Brazil has been prominent politically is south-south cooperation, promoting collaboration on politics, economics, society, culture, the environment and technology. However, there have been persistent challenges. Brazil’s budget for cooperation initiatives has decreased significantly since 2010, while there have been concerning trends blurring the boundaries between cooperation, trade and investment. The ProSavana project in Mozambique is a perfect example, where the Brazilian government has been accused of exporting domestic contradictions.
Brazil needs a strong agency to coordinate its efforts; ways to ensure transparency; and spaces for civil society to be involved. Rousseff has to prove that south-south cooperation really is different from north-south cooperation, as both she and Lula have declared.
Democratising foreign policy
Civil society has been calling for foreign policy to be more democratic by creating a participatory council linked to Brazil’s foreign ministry. This is in the context of a wider effort to incorporate social participation across government, and has even been agreed, in principle, by foreign minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo. However, negotiations reached a standstill.
Brazil’s foreign policy in the past 12 years has taken a new turn. The country has gained a place at the global table. It has played its cards as both a southern and a rising power. It is Rousseff’s responsibility to lead a public dialogue to define which identity better fits the wakening giant.
photo: Rede Brasil Atual