Friday, 27 August 2010

Notes on Global Governance: A Brazilian Perspective

A month before the presidential elections due to take place on 3rd October 2010, Brazil finds itself at a cross-roads. The most likely winner of these elections is Dilma Rousseff, President Lula's former Chief of Staff, whose candidacy was created by Lula himself. It is a foregone conclusion that, if she wins – by a landslide in the first ballot, as expected – Lula will in fact continue to govern for another four years (2010-14), if not eight. The Brazilian people will in fact be voting for Lula, through Dilma as an intermediary. Thus, it is easy to appreciate the importance of Dilma's campaign slogan: continuity. And yet while Lula's system of government continues to prevail in Brazil, the rest of the world will move and change. It is important to reflect on Brazil's position within this dynamic context.

For the first time in Brazilian elections, foreign policy is part of the electoral campaign. Lula has exercised this policy at his will, under the near-imperial powers granted to the president under the constitution. However, Lula has never understood the difference between the state and the government, and the foreign policy of his administration has been that of his political party, PT (the Workers' Party), heavily ideological in content, and often questioned by the opposition and a large portion of the business community, academia and the media. Particularly distasteful to these groups are Lula's embrace of tyrannical regimes, and his inexplicable failure to sanction their gross human rights violations. Lula enjoys an extraordinary popularity rating (75 per cent) after his nearly eight years in office, thanks to his charisma and his uncanny, intuitive communication with the common people. These same qualities propelled him to a prestigious position on the international scene, but it is his persona – his rags-to-riches story, the exploit of a humble lathe operator rising to presidency of the fifth largest world economy – that has impressed foreign audiences and international organisations, and not his ideas, some of which are highly aspirant and idealistic like the fight against hunger, a programme that in Brazil itself has failed completely.

It is undeniable that Lula, thanks to his proactive diplomacy, has generated a much higher level of exposure for Brazil among international decision-makers. Occasionally, though due to his self over-estimation and lack of understanding of complex historical issues, this has led to disasters, such a botched attempt at Middle East mediation, yet they seem to leave him unperturbed. However, this kind of highly personalised presidential diplomacy, which favours form over content – often ignoring Brazil's very professional foreign service – is unique to Lula, and cannot be replicated. It certainly will not be emulated by Dilma Rousseff, a pallid technocrat who feels uncomfortable with the vagaries of domestic politics, let alone the international variety.

Dilma will have to confront the challenges of globalisation, and (if PT party lets her) it is probable that the foreign service will resume its position of controlling and implementing foreign policy. Lula had placed Brazil on a privileged situation, first in the G-8 (as part of the Outreach 5, with the Heiligendamm process), then in the G-20. The obsolescence and decline of the United Nations; Brazil's inability (for the past 65 years) to secure a permanent seat on the Security Council, an aspiration for which the Lula government made heavy sacrifices; the failure to bear fruit of “strategic partnerships” launched with China, India and Africa when it came to the crunch; the growing irrelevancy of UN and regional specialised agencies, incapable of modernising themselves to face new times; all of these factors, and others, led Brazil under Lula to seek new alliances in informal groupings such as the BRICs (Brazil Russia India and China) and IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), to cultivate a South-South relationship and to strengthen ties with Arab and African countries.All of these initiatives, quite costly to the Brazilian taxpayer, have not had an impact on global governance.

Under Lula, Brazil has created many expectations in the Latin American region, Africa and the world at large. So far, they remain largely unrequited. Rhetoric in the G-20 has not been followed by action. The president's vibrant personality has not had an impact of an international scale. However, two achievements stand out: Brazil's role in maintaining stability in Haiti. And the commitment made at the COP-15 Copenhagen conference of December 2009 to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG). Aside from the aforementioned, Brazil's diplomatic successes on the world stage are largely theoretical. Yet there is no doubt that the country is now a major player on global governance. This in itself is commendable, but the fact remains that given a rostrum from which to address mankind there has to be concrete, viable proposals aiming at peace, security and sustainable development. It remains to be seen if Dilma Rousseff's government will be able to avail itself of the opportunity, created by Lula, to make a significant contribution.

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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