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Over the weekend, Brazil elected its first female President. Dilma Rousseff campaigned as a successor to popular incumbent Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. But the election could mark a shift in relations with Washington, which had soured over the last year. We examine how a new administration is likely to affect U.S.-Brazilian relations on issues of trade and foreign policy.
- Paulo Sotero Director of the Brazil Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center; Contributing Columnist, "O Estado De Sao Paulo"
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, whether we can enjoy comedy about terrorism. But first, Brazil elects its first female president. Brazilians took to the polls this weekend, electing Dilma Rousseff to lead South America's economic and political powerhouse. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva actively campaigned on her behalf and many observers expect Ms. Rousseff to continue his policies.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOver the last eight years Brazil has become a global economic power and a major player in global foreign policy, but relations with Washington or between Washington and Brasilia have cooled over the last year, especially after President Lula became involved in the ongoing nuclear standoff with Iran. Now, some people think U.S.-Brazilian relations need a reset button.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore how the new president is likely to approach foreign and domestic policy and her country's relationship with Washington is Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center and contributing columnist to O Estado de Sao Paulo. Paulo Sotero, good to see you again.
MR. PAULO SOTEROPleasure to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIThis Sunday, Dilma Rousseff was elected president of Brazil, first woman to hold that position in the country's history. On the one hand, this is a huge milestone for women in politics, but her campaign actually played down gender. Tell us about Dilma Rousseff.
SOTEROYeah. She ran as the, you know, continuator of President Lula. She was really a nonexistent political figure basically three or four years ago. Her success comes directly from the fact that she managed -- and she managed it well -- Lula's government in the last five years and was handpicked by him to run for her first elective office as president. So she start at the top, and she highlighted that. Yesterday, though, in her victory speech, she made, you know, an important statement to women and to girls in Brazil saying, well, look at me. It is a new chapter. Now you can think about, you know, occupying a position of power in this country.
NNAMDIShe has been President Lula's chief of staff for the last several years.
SOTEROFor the last five and a half years.
NNAMDIDuring her victory speech, Rousseff did a couple of things that seen designed to send a variety of messages to different groups inside and outside Brazil. Most noteworthy perhaps, she talked about human rights and why that is significant. Tell us a little bit about its particular significance because of her own past.
SOTEROYes. Because she was a political opponent as a young lady, as a young woman, in her 20's, to the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from '64 to '85, she was arrested as a consequence of her activities in an armed movement, although she was not directly in the armed activities. She was more in the planning area of that. She was -- she spent three years in jail, was brutally tortured. So human rights to Dilma Rousseff has a very real dimension and it was very significant that she choose to highlight that, to make -- renew her commitment to the judicious and permanent observation of human rights.
NNAMDIBoth Iran and -- on the one hand and United States on the other hand have had some problems with human right issues in general and torture in particular. Is that likely to affect her approach to either country?
SOTEROI think it will. It will in the case of Iran. I think that she will be probably more aware and more -- less -- more reluctant than President Lula was to engage with Ahmadinejad on -- because of that particular issue. Oh, and you are right, you know, the United States, over the recent past, has really went back on its commitment to respect of human rights. We know all the stories -- Guantanamo, Iraq, et cetera. And I believe that is also, you know, has to be part of her calculation as she approaches her new job.
NNAMDIIt's an interesting question, who has the higher ground on human rights in this matter, but if you can remind our listeners exactly what the President Lula and Turkey tried to do with Iran.
SOTEROI think they tried to do in good faith an effort to open a potential way for a rapprochement between Iran and the United States and the other powers. It was not taken as such in Washington. Washington responded very immediately and convinced the other members that possessed nuclear weapons at the Security Council to adopt sanctions against Iran. But the problem remains unresolved. There were also criticism in Brazil not -- by the way President Lula approached that. President Lula was -- and the prime minister of Turkey sort of had a little celebration with Ahmadinejad on May 17th when they announced this agreement. This is the part that, I believe, that a president like Dilma Rousseff would refrain from doing. She could probably even make the same effort but in a much more sober, much more careful way.
NNAMDIWe’re talking with Paulo Sotero about the new president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. Paulo is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center and contributing columnist to O Estado de Sao Paulo. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Does it matter that U.S. relations with Brazil have eroded somewhat over the past year to you? And what role do you think Brazil plays on the international stage? 800-433-8850. And do you think that this new presidency will make a significant difference with U.S.-Brazil relations. 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, join the conversation there at kojoshow.org, send us an e-mail to email@example.com or a tweet @kojoshow. Paulo, under the current president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian economy has grown at a historic rate, and the incoming president, Rousseff, has taken steps to signal to the international business community that she's not going to steer the government in what some would call a radically left-leaning direction. Tell us about her likely economic policy. She is, by training, an economist, isn't it?
SOTEROShe's an economist, and she understands very well the importance of economic stability. In her speech yesterday evening, she reiterated her commitment to a fiscal discipline. There has been criticism over the past years in Brazil of growing expenditures by the public sector. She and some of her advisers especially have had already highlighted the importance of using her quite sizable popular mandate initially to address that issue. It is significant that she mentioned that yesterday in her speech. She also mentioned the necessity for a tax reform in Brazil. Those are things that markets, investors et cetera will take very well. At the same time, she renewed the commitment to manage the economy in a way where the fruits, the benefits of economic growth are more shared, and that Brazil continues to expand its middle class. This was the most important achievement of President Lula.
NNAMDIIndeed, President Lula, as you pointed out, reduced poverty significantly during his tenure in Brazil, and, as you also pointed out, it seems like international investors are cautiously optimistic about President-elect Rousseff. On the one hand, they don't like leftist rhetoric, but they seem to like the direction in which the Workers' Party has taken the country.
SOTEROYeah. They, you know, the Workers' Party is the party that -- with the predecessor party, the Social Democratic Party, helped to put Brazil in the path of a market economy, of a function modern market economy. Dilma Rousseff is very aware of the challenges Brazil still faces. To continue to consolidate that position, Brazil needs to invest a lot in education. Our schools are not forming the skilled workers required by our economy. Brazil will have to continue to invest hugely in infrastructure to prepare -- the Brazilian economy needs better roads, betters ports, better airports and not only that -- for that, you know, in 2014, we'll host the World Cup. In 2016, we'll host the Olympics. So, you know, Brazil -- we are preparing our big coming-out party in those years, and we have, you know, as an emerging global player, an important actor in world affairs. We have to really address those internal issues, because in the end, you can project abroad only what you are at home.
NNAMDIHere is Cameron in Boonsboro, Md. Cameron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAMERONThank you for having me, Kojo. I just wanted to say that I think if there isn't any chilling in U.S.-Brazilian relations, it might not be a bad thing. It might be a sign that our long-term relationship is becoming a healthier one, and that the relationship between Latin Americas and the United States is shifting between one of dependency and client states as of Cold War to one where we're equals or where in a more equal setting. And I think if you look at some of the poor actors Latin America like Mister -- President Chavez or some of the past strongmen, Da Silva represents a path towards the future and modernization and a path away from that. And a stronger Brazil means a stronger Latin America, and it means a more -- a richer Latin America and a richer and stronger United States, because we won't have to have the kinds of destructive political conflicts that have ran rampant in that continent for so long. So I say bravo Brazil, and a strong Brazil is fully in the interest of the United States. And if I could wish anything of Brazil is that they remain strong and independent. And if they differ from us and many United States and many issues, that just means that they're a normal state.
NNAMDICameron, thank you very much for your call. Paulo Sotero, even though Cameron sees this as the way ahead, it doesn't necessarily mean that the interest of Brazil and the interest of the United States will always coincide?
SOTERONo, they will not always converge, but I think there is enough of a history and enough of an understanding on both sides that Brazil and the United States share interest, that Brazil and the United States -- that this is the new part, that Brazil and the United States will start to encounter, to meet one another in places where it -- Brazil was not a player before, like international security, like global warming, environmental policies, trade policies. Brazil is a member of the G-20. By the way, President Lula will be accompanied by the President-elect Dilma Rousseff in less than two weeks when he goes to Seoul to attend his last G-20 summit, that is starting to reform the international financial architecture. So I believe that there is a willingness on both sides, Brazil, the United States, to sit down, to discuss what happened in Iran. Maybe, there is still room there for Brazil and other countries to try to help the international community, to restart a dialogue with Iran, because, as we know, the way it's going now, it's going nowhere.
NNAMDIIf you believe -- if you have a comment on Brazil's role on the international stage that Paulo was just discussing, you can call us at 800-433-8850, and what do you feel that role should be. 800-433-8850. As we speak, Paulo, both American major political parties are on a frenzy trying to build a coalition of different interest groups for tomorrow's elections. It strikes me that the political parties in Brazil have maybe an even more complicated task of building a national coalition. The worker's party had to string together several sectors. Talk about that coalition.
SOTEROWell, as an Antonio Carlos Jobim, our great composer...
NNAMDII figured it.
SOTERO...once said that, no Brazil is not for beginners, and our political environment tells you that. Dilma Rousseff will lead a coalition of 10 parties where you have various communists, evangelicals, small farmers, landless peasants, you have professional politicians, you have urban workers, you have functionaries. So it's a very diverse heterogeneous coalition, and the task of a Brazilian president is to put together a government, an administration and to manage it constantly because it's a sort of a variable geometry thing. It changes by issue. And this is the task -- this is going to be a major challenge for a sort of a neophyte in electoral politics like Dilma Rousseff. But she is a very intelligent woman. She is a very talented administrator, and she will have, obviously, President Lula nearby in the background helping her.
SOTEROThis is the difficulty -- as far the election here, there is obviously a preoccupation you know. The United Sates is probably as a consequence of the results tomorrow that are predicted, will be probably an inward country for a while. And we do need the United States to be more engaged at any international trade, in global warming issues, et cetera. It looks like the United States will take a pass for a couple of years on those issues.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned that. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. But I'm glad you mentioned that Paulo because we have talked before about the dangers of transposing our politics onto other countries. Yes, Brazil is ruled by what somewhat characterize as a leftist coalition. But during the 2008 presidential election, you said that Brazilians were probably pulling for John McCain. Why?
SOTEROWell, there are, you know, in Brazil, especially the business community, but there is sort of a myth in Brazil that Republicans probably are best for Brazilians. Because I think it's because they tend to, you know, be in principle, philosophically more for free markets, although this is now non-operational right now. And also that, you know, Republicans tend to know what's good for themselves, while Democrats tend to know what's good for you. And Brazilians are -- don't like very much interferences in our own domestic affairs, like no other people.
NNAMDIOnto Chris in Berwyn, Md. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHello. My question was for the guest on military -- on Brazil's military. I'm Brazilian first-generation American. And being in Brazil, I worry a lot about the military that this is not a very strong military in Brazil and, you know, the sovereignty of the country. I mean, there's a lot of threat going on around it. A lot of people like from Venezuela doing shady deals, getting military equipment and things like that. Brazil is coming to its own. Do you see any sort of military investment in the future for Brazil?
SOTEROYes, there is a plan to re-equip the military forces in Brazil. We have a 350,000 strong military force, mostly army. There will be a major purchase of airplanes -- fighter airplanes for the air force. The navy is being re-equipped. And there is this awareness that, you know, we have to invest in better protecting our territory, to protect our resources, to protect also our borders because of drug trafficking from neighboring countries. So I think there is this awareness.
SOTEROIn terms the size of the military, it's really a matter of doing this more competently, giving better training, equipping our military. The military in Brazil do a very good job. We are through the period of, you know, where there are some resentment vis-a-vis the dictatorship. It is very meaningful to have Dilma Rousseff elected. She was persecuted by a military regime, and now she will be our commander-in-chief.
NNAMDIThank you for your call Chris. We have time for one more. Here is Maria in Bowie, Md. Maria, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
MARIAHi. First, I wanna congratulate Brazil in this momentous election. I've had an opportunity to look at some of Dilma Rousseff's position and some of the things that she wants to do. I'm a teacher and I'm really encouraged to hear she's looking to fund some education through some of the oil revenues they plan to find off the coast of Brazil. And all of that is great on some respect. I'm wondering if there are some things and place in Brazil to make sure that they don't make the same mistake we've obviously made.
SOTEROThe education challenge is huge in Brazil. Let me give you some information. Most of the teenagers in Brazil are half -- not most -- half of teenagers in Brazil are not in high school. 55 percent of kids of age 15 in Brazil can read only mechanically, so they do not understand what they read. This is the problem that -- unfortunately, it's starting to re-appear in United States. And we have an educational system that is really -- has failed the country at this point. We know how I think to fix it, but it's a huge task involving negotiation, you know, obviously access to public funds, involving negotiation with unions, teachers' unions like in the United States like in...
NNAMDIThat was what I was going to say, like Washington, D.C.
SOTEROLike Washington, D.C. But the question here is that the awareness of the need to tackle this is finally there. And I think that Dilma Rousseff and the other leaders and the team that will help her, you know, has -- they have the competence, and it's a matter of dedication, it's a matter of persistence in to make this a national cause in Brazil. Because we are not going to make -- to be the big country, the wonderful country, the influential country that we can and hope to be without addressing this problem. This has, in the end, to do with the quality of our people.
NNAMDIMaria, thank you very much for your call. Paulo, thank you very much for joining us.
SOTEROIt's always a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIPaulo Sotero is director of the Brazil Institute, the Woodrow Wilson Center. He's a contributing columnist to O Estado De Sao Paulo. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, whether or not we can laugh at terrorism. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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