Why Brazil matters

French President Charles de Gaulle is alleged to have said once that “Brazil is not a serious country”. Indeed, until the military dictatorship ended in the 1980s and Fernando Henrique Cardoso later sorted out the currency and controlled inflation, Brazil lacked the wherewithal to play any influential role in world politics. That situation dramatically changed due to the Workers’ Party (PT) governments of Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and the now embattled Dilma Rousseff, Mr. Silva’s successor. Mainly thanks to Mr. Silva, Brazil built alliances of developing states with a distinctively independent Third World line that emphasised South-South cooperation with strong undertones of anti-Americanism.

Richard Bourne
Krishnan Srinivasan
Brazil became recognised as a key participant in the G-20, which helped its nationals to be elected to important international assignments — José Graziano da Silva become Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Roberto Azevêdo became Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. When the New Development Bank, a Chinese initiative to challenge the supremacy of the West-dominated World Bank and international financial institutions, was set up for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), Brazil was an essential participant as it was in the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) group for South-South cooperation and the Brazil-South Africa-India-China (BASIC) combine for climate change. In Latin America, the PT governments worked to consolidate the various subregional groups that served the southern cone and the Andean states. In Brazil itself, the government’s success in winning the staging of both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Olympics is an achievement that testifies to Mr. Silva’s skill in mobilising fellow governments, sporting bodies, civil society, and the media. These developments were satisfying and provided support to countries such as India, Russia and China — whose footprints in Latin America were yet to grow to optimal levels — though opponents saw a socialist tide flowing through South America — the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, the Kirchners in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, all motivated by the leader of the biggest and most populous nation in Latin America, Brazil.

Political crisis

But with the leadership crisis first in South Africa and now in Brazil, the efficacy of BRICS, IBSA and BASIC has become precarious. Brazil’s economy is in decline, threatening the PT’s success in bringing the poor into the new middle class cohort. The Petrobras scandal and the way the impeachment of Ms. Rousseff has been instigated by the right wing is a case of the pot calling the kettle black — her accusers are guilty of the same malpractices. The collateral damage to Brazil’s international reputation is immense, irrespective of whether the Olympics are successful or not. It is unclear whether all the corrupt Brazilian politicians will be unmasked and indicted, which would be a task of immense magnitude. The reality is that while there are problems regarding the removal of a President ahead of his/her term, the current political crisis in Brazil looks highly partisan and lacks total legitimacy. Whatever the shape of the government in Brasilia after the Silva-Rousseff years, it may hold together for the remaining two years of Ms. Rousseff’s term, but will have lost lustre and international influence.

The impact of the Brazilian political crisis on global politics has been damaging because the world needs the contribution of the region’s largest country. Geographically and politically, Brazil has to be the axis around which its predominantly Spanish-speaking neighbours must turn and coordinate their policies. Without Brazil’s input, the political and economic issues confronting the whole subcontinent will become much harder to resolve. Though the allegations of corruption differ, the political futures of Mr. Silva and Ms. Rousseff now hang together, because their opponents are particularly anxious about Mr. Silva’s popularity, which, unlike Ms. Rousseff’s, is likely to be enduring. This concern gives them an additional incentive to eliminate him together with Ms. Rousseff from the political scene.

The proximate allegation against Ms. Rousseff in the Brazilian Parliament is her alleged concealment of the size of the budget deficit for political gain. She and her supporters say they will fight to the end against what they see as a conspiracy and an attempted coup, but she has been suspended through a Senate impeachment vote. The massive support she and Mr. Silva have received because of their pro-poor policies has withered away due to poor economic results and widespread unhappiness at the dwindling quality of life — issues arising from the global slowdown that Ms. Rousseff could hardly have influenced. That some of the sports stadia built for the world tournaments have become white elephants has only added to the President’s current discomfiture.

Wait for another leader

Despite Brazil’s key role in the U.N. and various international groups during the tenures of Mr. Silva and Ms. Rousseff, world leaders have been reticent about voicing support for them. Russia, China and India have strengthened their politico-economic bilateral relations with Brazil considerably in recent years, and will be fearful of what the future may hold. Perhaps it is prudent for New Delhi not to express any opinion publicly, since Ms. Rousseff has none of the charisma or mass popularity of Mr. Silva, though she will probably drag him down with her. Expressions of sympathy in any event are not likely to be of any avail, and the other members of groups like BRICS, BASIC and IBSA will have to wait for a successor leader to emerge from the PT — one who has an unimpeachable record of public service and a similar proactive attitude towards Third World solidarity. The wait may prove to be a long one.

( Richard Bourne is the author of Lula of Brazil: The Story So Far and Krishnan Srinivasan is a former foreign secretary. )

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 5:56:35 PM |

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