Brazzil - Brazil/USA
April 2004
How the U.S. Lost Brazil

When the new American ambassador to Brazil arrives at his post in May, he will find a Brazilian foreign policy agenda hostile to U.S. interests. Brazilian President Lula refers to the U.S. as an "empire", and says he wishes alliances with India, China and Russia to "block the imperialist's geographical advance."

Gerald Brant

 When the U.S. was attacked by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001, Brazil's President at the time, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, immediately invoked the Rio Treaty—a pillar of the inter-American system upon which the Organization of American States was founded. It has a simple and important premise: if any member country in the Americas is attacked militarily by an outside force, that constitutes an attack on all member states.

Brazil stood firmly by the United States after the 9/11 attacks. But times have changed. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, is now attempting to remove Brazil from the Rio Treaty. The arrival of a new U.S. Ambassador to Brazil in coming months creates an opportunity to re-examine Brazil's important, but often overlooked, relationship with the United States.

The new plenipotentiary in Brasília will be John Danilovich, a Bush appointee and international shipping executive who served as chairman of the Panama Canal Transition Committee prior to the canal's transfer. When he arrives at his post in May, Danilovich will find a new Brazilian foreign policy agenda that is usually wary and often hostile to U.S. interests.

Danilovich will replace Donna Hrinak, a career diplomat and former aide to liberal congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, who often acted more like Lula's Ambassador to Washington than as a spokesperson for U.S. values and goals. The daughter of a Pittsburgh steelworker, Hrinak praised Lula as the "embodiment of the American Dream," during the height of Brazil's 2002 presidential campaign.

As Donna Hrinak leaves Brasília, her "American Dream" is starting to resemble a nightmare. If there are any doubts left about Lula's views towards the U.S., his interview published on February 13, 2004, in Brazil's largest circulation daily, the Folha de S. Paulo, is revealing.

Lula says he tries not to "appear anti-American", refers repeatedly to the U.S. as an "empire", and says he is developing alliances with countries like India, China and Russia to "block the imperialist's geographical advance". He says the ties with these countries are "visceral and based on common interests" because "nobody wants the empire to survive".

Lula says the countries of the South American region have never been more "united" and repeats that Brazil will "defend" Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. His foreign policy advisor, Marco Aurélio Garcia, a hard-line Marxist operative, has been regularly dispatched to Caracas to help thwart the referendum sought by most Venezuelans to peacefully oust Chavez and uphold that country's constitution and rule of law.

All of this is worrisome, because while he does not have Hugo Chavez' oil, Lula may get off the train if Brazil's economy worsens and he needs someone to blame.

As The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news outlets have reported, the Lula government has plans to both enrich and export uranium. This is a matter of public record and Lula's actions make it difficult for the U.S. to seriously consider Brazil's legitimate aspirations for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Since taking office, in January of 2003, Lula has refused to allow nuclear inspections by IAEA—the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has also visited state sponsors of terrorism such as Syria, and toasted ruthless dictators like Fidel Castro in Cuba and Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya. What's more, Lula has announced plans to visit members of the clerical dictatorship in Iran, and a "strategic partnership" with mainland China.

The 1990's are over. Clearly, partnerships with the U.S., Chicago economists and democracy are "out" in Latin America. The São Paulo Forum is "in".

Left Bound

It doesn't take a Henry Kissinger to figure out that political parties affiliated with the São Paulo Forum—an organization of leftist and radical groups co-founded in 1990 by Lula and Fidel Castro with a goal to "replace our losses in Eastern Europe with our gains in Latin America"—are now in power or on the verge of taking power in almost every single country in South America. For those who follow the region's political calendar, Uruguay is next in line—the leftist Frente Ampla's candidate Tabare Vasquez is leading in the polls for President.

The Bush administration has clearly struggled to come to terms with a new geopolitical reality in the Americas. Why? For starters, most of the higher-ups in Washington calling the shots on Latin America are Clinton holdovers, or Cuban-Americans who understand and care little about the Southern Cone. The Miami Cuban-American perspective on the Americas typically views the region through the prism of Cuba, which is a bit like analyzing Soviet Russia through the prism of Albania.

It is high time to recognize the fact that the U.S. lost Brazil and other erstwhile allies in its own backyard, such as Argentina, while the Bush administration focused on matters in the Middle East.

In the most recent fiasco of Ambassador Hrinak's tenure, there is a disturbing story that seems like a page out of a cheap spy thriller. Carlos Costa, the FBI's representative in Brazil, essentially defected and gave an extensive cover story interview to Carta Capital magazine, leaking secret information on U.S. intelligence gathering methods and cooperation agreements with Brazilian law enforcement agencies. To make matters worse, Costa hints the U.S. government was eavesdropping on the Alvorada Palace, the presidential residence in Brasília.

So what is really going on in Brazil? Under Lula's watch, his Worker's Party, known as the PT, has become one of the most well financed and influential left-wing political parties in the world. The PT has been very skilled at fooling Brazil's "bourgeoisie" and exporting the "revolution" to neighboring countries like Bolivia. Such skill, unfortunately, does not apply to their social programs.

Lula's Zero Hunger program, unveiled with great fanfare at the beginning of his term, has been nothing but a hyped-up, empty slogan and is widely considered a failure. Lula insists on "demagogueing" the issue, and proposed a new worldwide tax to fight "global hunger" that was readily endorsed by France's Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. People of the world, watch your wallets!

Gramci's Connection

To understand how the PT's brain trust thinks, it is well worth studying Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci's classic book Letters from Prison. Gramsci, a truly masterful political strategist and 20th century author, is revered as the Machiavelli of much of the European and Brazilian post-Cold War Left. His writings constitute the playbook from which Lula and the PT's strategists are winning the power game in Brazil and all over South America.

One of the formulas prescribed by Gramsci is to gradually take over all segments of civil society, to stifle any and all opposition before constituting a Marxist state. This is now happening in academic circles in Brazil, one recent example being Roberto Fendt, a prominent free market economist and editor of Conjuntura Econômica, the respected economic magazine published by FGV, the Getúlio Vargas Foundation. He was fired after running a cover story that was critical of the PT's economic policies.

It also happens in the Brazilian Congress, where most political parties have been aggressively "bought off" with appointments and pork. The center-right PFL—Liberal Front Party, is split between Senator Jorge Bornhausen's genuinely conservative wing and those affiliated with a notorious caudillo, Bahia state's Antonio Carlos Magalhães, whose followers often side with the governing PT.

This leaves Lula's opposition weak and divided, which gives the PT the advantage of positioning most media debate between themselves and their own party's more radical members, often self-defined Trotskyites. Opposition parties will likely soon have less than 100 votes in the Lower House, so Lula is gradually reaching his goal of controlling 80 percent of Congress, or 411 votes. This will give him a huge margin to pass any kind of constitutional reform he wishes—amendments require three-fifths of the Lower House, or 308 votes.

This trend is being criticized by many analysts and politicians, who view it as the first step toward a long-term hegemony of Lula's coalition, as was the case with the PRI in Mexico. It remained in power for 70 years. Another indicator of the "Mexicanization" of Brazilian politics is the recent corruption scandal involving Waldomiro Diniz, a key aide to Lula's most powerful cabinet minister. The incident has tarnished the PT's reputation for honesty.

End of Opposition

In the fourth estate, conservative media mogul Roberto Marinho is dead, and his media giant Globo has suffered financial troubles, so it now tends to follow the PT line. As for the Brazilian military, part of the officer corps is very nationalistic and likes Lula's nods and winks about nuclear weapons, submarines, and cooperating with China on spy satellites. The other part is simply keeping quiet and will likely remain that way. The only real anti-communists left in military circles are retired and have little influence.

Two things can happen in Brazil. The first scenario is that Lula maintains economic orthodoxy, fails to deliver on his promises of growth and jobs, and places his bid for re-election in 2006 at risk. In the other scenario, we have the abandonment of economic orthodoxy, a likely default on Brazil's foreign debt and the potential for greater social upheaval and chaos.

The possibility of economic failure may also incite the PT to allow its allies in the landless peasant movements, the MST, to run amok and set the countryside on fire with unchecked land invasions.

Intertwined with all this, there are already steady, recurring rumors that both Finance Minister, Antonio Palocci, and Central Bank president, Henrique Meirelles—both Wall Street darlings with the latter being a former worldwide president of BankBoston—will resign or be fired.

Will Brazil remain the eternal "country of the future"? In his book Head to Head, renowned economist Lester Thurow observes that developing countries have historically reached First World status by following one key path: exporting to the U.S. This was the case with Japan and South Korea, and could be the case for Brazil.

As it stands though, George W. Bush's proposed FTAA, or Free Trade Area of the Americas, does not interest most Brazilians, and for good reason. The message Brazilians are hearing from the U.S. is "we believe in free trade, except when it comes to your steel, your orange juice, your beef, your soybeans…" and so on.

Republican administrations are historically less protectionist than Democrats. Bush should not allow special interest groups, like the Florida Citrus Growers and National Cattlemen's Beef Association, to hijack the trade agenda and impose unfair tariffs on Brazil's most competitive products.

President Bush still has an opportunity to show that the U.S. will practice what it preaches when it comes to trade, and that he will respond to the emerging threats to democracy in the Americas.

Gerald Brant, a Brazilian-American, is a former candidate for a chair in Brazil's Lower House of Congress. He ran on the PFL party ticket in 2002. He is a director at PROBUS Research, a political consulting firm based in Rio de Janeiro. The author welcomes comments at

This article appeared originally in Infobrazil—