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The (non-)continuity of Lula’s diplomacy under Dilma Rousseff - Paulo Roberto de Almeida (2015)

The (non-)continuity of Lula’s diplomacy under Dilma Rousseff

Paulo Roberto de Almeida
Hartford, September 17, 2015

Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil by favor and grace of her mentor and patron, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was expected to preserve, in her first government (2011-2014), the same political foundations, similar agenda priorities, and, probably, a comparable set of international commitments that characterized Lula’s diplomacy during the first eight years of PT’s governments (started in 2003). If those were the intentions of the party leaders – beginning by Lula himself –, the effective results (if any), by whichever criteria that we can pick to evaluate them, were below their expectations, certainly for the party apparatchiks, but also for the public opinion, at large, and for the diplomats themselves. If she tried to follow the aims and goals – but certainly not the style – of her more illustrious predecessor, she never succeeded, or perhaps, that was impossible, since her début. In fact, by personal features, political inclinations or some other reasons, Dilma’s achievements in foreign policy – if there was a single one – can be defined as mediocre, at the best, or irrelevant, to be realistic. 
Reasons for the pity attainments in foreign policy are not difficult to devise, starting by the most important one: Lula, who never departed from the presidency, really, also acted, not infrequently, as a kind of “shadow foreign minister”, traveling extensively with plenty of facilities – executive jets, embassy receptions, almost as a second head of State for Brazil – given by big Brazilian companies logistics, not to mention the political support of the diplomatic network abroad, and arranging (at least according to his declarations) new business opportunities for those companies, in reality building his own personal interests and strengthening the profits of his new patrons. Personality is also something to be counted in the erratic record of this accidental president: where Lula kept just one foreign minister during the whole period of his two mandates, Dilma replaced her two first diplomats as foreign minister, and kept her third at the beginning of her second (disputed) mandate. Even her closest advisors were not afraid to recognize her irritable behavior, bursts of rage and a notorious lack of esteem for the nuances of the diplomatic life and rituals. 
Those factors – an overbearing shadow, and a difficult personality – explain, probably, half of the lack of success of Dilma’s foreign policy, the other half being the different circumstances surrounding her first government, a complete failure in domestic economic affairs (by her own creation) and a deterioration of the political affairs in the regional scenario, starting by Venezuela, but also for the USA cases of hearing activities against Brazil and herself. She declined to undertake a State visit to Washington because of those findings – revealed by Edward Snowden – and choose to strengthen the cooperation with the Brics countries, at a moment when they also started to lack the same brilliance that they enjoyed since the beginning of the 2000s.
At the institutional level, things were not so different vis-à-vis the conceptual hybrid created since the beginning of Lula first government: decision-making process continued to be divided – even if at a uneven basis – between the PT’s views and political preferences (in particular those of the Cuban friendly foreign policy advisor of the presidency, a longtime International Secretary for the PT), and the Itamaraty high officials, hand picked by the adherence to, and conformity with, those views. Itamaraty’s role continued to be relevant mostly for the operational conduct of the diplomacy, but decisive choices always had to be delivered by party fiat. With a lack of the same “ideologues” of the first mandate, and the absence of president’s empathy for the nuances and customs of diplomatic activities, the performance suffered an evident decline, if not a complete deficiency of visibility. 
 It rapidly became clear that the meager theoretical views and the poverty of the conceptual diplomatic universe of the new actors involved in foreign policy-making, combined with the crude “developmentalist” and nationalist approach of the economic team – starting by the president herself – were depriving Brazil of any significant role in the important international discussions in forums such as the financial G20, but also at the regional level, were Mercosur and Unasur had their respective agendas neutralized by the Argentinians peronists – in the first case – or sequestered by the Bolivarian chavistas, in the second case. Brazil had the unfortunate privilege to be managed by the Chinese of the Russians at the international level, and led by the Venezuelans in the region. During the two previous administrations, the nonchalance, but also the impulsiveness, of Lula guaranteed at least some luminous roles for the Brazilian diplomacy; with Dilma, even that faded away.
To be honest, as far as the technical support and the operational substantiation of the diplomatic game are concerned, things improved for Itamaraty, as there was a reduction in the large number of political players involved in foreign policy (many party apparatchiks were abated by corruption scandals or left the government under Dilma), even if political agenda-setting continued to be controlled by a strict party orientation. So, the most important choices – South-South diplomacy, preference for the old leftist, or dictatorial, partners in the continent and elsewhere, mistrust towards “hegemonic” powers, etc. – preserved the same standards of conduct and patterns of relationships as in the preceding administration, but the lack of commitment of the president for the complexity of some diplomatic dossiers (regional integration, for instance, but also trade negotiations, and so on), and the above mentioned traits of her personality contributed to give Brazil a lesser role in determining South American affairs or in creating new opportunities for Brazilian businessmen with the traditional partners in Western Europe or North America. 
As regards the three major issues at the top of Lula’s hyper-activist foreign policy agenda – namely (a) obtaining a permanent seat in the United Nations’ Security Council; (b) securing a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations, and (c) strengthening and reinforcing Mercosur as a customs area – not a single progress was reached, but certainly not due to Dilma’s faults (except, perhaps, the complete lack of advances in any new regional trade agreement). In place and lieu of facilitating Mercosur’s reinforcement and expansion, according to the bloc’s rules and commercial requirements, there was an easy negotiation and entrance of new partners exempted of the same disciplines as the old members, especially the Single Customs Tariff and other mandatory trade rules. In fact, Mercosur, as much as Unasur, became just a setting for presidential political speeches, and for integration rhetoric without any real integration advancements.
While resisting intrusive activities of some major powers – such as the NSA penetration of Brazilian reserved communications, including the president herself – Dilma gave some attention to a few diplomatic priorities of Lula’s government: at least two interregional summit meetings with Africa and Arab countries, one IBAS meeting, and the annual ballet of the Brics group, with a new entrant, South Africa. Other issues also appeared, or reappeared, on the diplomatic agenda: reforming international economic institutions, a pet subject in the summits of the financial G20 and also within Brics. At this forum, the most important – at least from the point of view of PT’s diplomacy – issue was the creation of a New Development Bank (but with headquarters in Shanghai), dedicated to the financing of projects in the developing world, and a Contingent Reserve Agreement, a sort of IMF-like facility in case of disequilibria in external accounts. Brazil also adhered to the China proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, just for not being left out. 
So, Dilma has been less diplomatically outspoken than it was the case with Lula, and she certainly cannot emulate, or even try to imitate, the exaggerated presidential hyper activism of his mentor and “protector” (some would simply say “boss”). Additionally, besides making it difficult to manage items on the foreign political agenda with a personality who clearly has no elective affinities with the diplomatic style and substance, Itamaraty has suffered tremendously from the deep budgetary and economic crisis that has engulfed Brazil since the middle of Dilma’s first mandate. Her second mandate started with a deepening of that crisis, which evolved towards a governance crisis, menacing the continuity of her presidency. At the heart of the serious political crises, succeeding accusations of a vast scheme of corruption conduct by PT against Petrobras and some other public agencies, is a lack of confidence by politicians and the business community in her capacity to manage the economy during hard times. In those circumstances, no far-reaching diplomatic decisions or new initiatives can be made either by Itamaraty or the president herself, without a necessary background work by the former, or under reflection and guidance by the second, deprived of any strong influence over the public opinion or the governance community (mainly, the Parliament, which regained independence).

While it cannot be denied that Brazil continue to be an influential actor on the international and regional scenarios, and that its diplomatic staff is intellectually well equipped to defend its national interests, to gain international prominence while in the midst of such crises – economic, political, moral – is highly unlikely. Dilma’s erratic first mandate has undermined the real basis of Brazil’s economic stabilization, the foundations of which were lain during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s presidency (fiscal responsibility, exchange flexibility, and a good management of domestic debt and foreign accounts). In fact, Brazilians discovered that the accountability for those important elements of macroeconomic stability has completely disappeared: the target system for inflation vanished in face of a doubling of stated goal; the exchange rate fluctuation regime has been manipulated by the Central Bank since the beginning of her mandate (always for “developmentalist” purposes), the primary surplus in the management of the national budget was replaced by a nominal deficit superior to 8% of the GDP, and a law mandating fiscal responsibility (that prevents high-ranking politicians from spending irresponsibly and leaving debt for their successors) was eroded by secret mismanagement of the national accounts. The whole matter left the political realm to be transferred now to the high tribunals: the Supreme Court and the Electoral Tribunal, and is due to finish at the Parliament.
The large capital of sympathy acquired by Lula around the world is also being squandered by accusations of briberies and corruption in the “dubious affairs” that the ex-president has conduct with some prominent capitalists in many African and Latin American countries. Without good economic governance it is difficult to conduct good diplomatic transactions with bilateral partners and within multilateral forums. Despite the fact that PT governments have had, at their disposal, very large resources for self-publicity – and could count on the general public’s ignorance of the foreign policy agenda, given that Brazil has few research centers dedicated to international issues – public opinion arouse not only for the internal corruption schemes, but also for the fact the PT governments have contributed with other very large sums to some despicable dictatorships, in the region and elsewhere. Consequently, this government latitude of action in foreign affairs has substantively diminished. This is a new reality that affects not only domestic policies, but also the very heart of Brazilian diplomacy.

2871. “The (non-)continuity of Lula’s Diplomacy under Dilma Rousseff”, Hartford, September 17, 2015, 5 p. A small piece of evaluation for adding to a book on Brazilian diplomacy, as an appendix to the section on Foreign Relations. Unpublished. 

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