Lula, Chavez, Cross-eyed Policies
and the Diplomacy of the “Lesser Evil”
The key to success or renewed failure of American policy in Latin America is to know how to distinguish true and reliable friends with common goals from false friends who promise you the world and deliver nothing
Nicholas Burns, American undersecretary of state for political affairs, recently visited Brazil expressing hope that the Lula government will affirm Brazil’s role as a “regional power” in Latin America. It could thus act as mediator with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and counterbalance his influence. Burns recognized that “Latin America has remained on the sidelines of American concerns” and went on to defend “multilateralism,” saying the U.S. “cannot take on all problems on its own.” In addition to the Burns visit, Brazil expects the arrival of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and on March 9, President Lula will receive the visit of President Bush, which he will reciprocate later this spring in Washington.
These statements signal the Administration’s intention to transform the Brazilian government into its most important and trustworthy ally on the South American continent. The crucial question is whether or not the present Brazilian government deserves such trust.
In relation to the United States, Roberto Abdenur is an experienced diplomat who, until two month ago, was the Brazilian ambassador to Washington. He recently stated that Brazilian foreign policy is profoundly imbued with “anti-Americanism.” His statements were immediately and emphatically rectified by former foreign ministers Luiz Felipe Lampreia and Celso Lafer. Also disclosed was the existence in Itamaraty (Brazil’s Foreign Ministry), of an obligatory course of leftist ideological reeducation for career diplomats, organized by the secretary general of the foreign service, Ambassador Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães.
In relation to Venezuela, he noted that the Lula government has so far adopted a temporizing policy of dialogue with Chavez. This has helped allay the jitters of neighboring governments and important sectors of public opinion on the continent, as well as demoralize Venezuelan opposition to Chavez at home. It is therefore legitimate to raise doubts about the real foundation of American hopes that the Brazilian government could become a trustworthy ally.
One thing is for governments with different ideas but in need of each other to have diplomatic and trade relations, exchange points of view and other normal functions. However, it is something altogether different to confide in the help of governments that play a double game and adopt a clearly anti-American foreign policy.
The key to success or renewed failure of American policy in Latin America is to know how to distinguish true and reliable friends with common goals from false friends who promise you the world and deliver nothing. A recent survey by Latinobarometro showed that large numbers of Latin Americans adopt center and center-right positions, and that the left is a minority in every country on the continent even when it has won power through elections. This finding – that a majority of Latin Americans stick with the center and center-right – should be a fundamental premise of the new American policy of rapprochement with Latin America.
For the sake of inter-American relations, one should avoid cross-eyed policies and the diplomacy of the “lesser evil.”