A bold Brazilian attempt to integrate South America has run into difficulty. Critics at home say Brazil should put national interest over leftist ideology
"WHEN the leaders of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUL in Portuguese), a 12-country group inspired by Brazil, met in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, on August 10th, there was little spirit of union. Their meeting followed a row between Venezuela and Colombia, whose president, Álvaro Uribe, did not attend, in part because Ecuador broke off diplomatic relations with his country last year.
Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, backed by his allies, Bolivia and Ecuador, wanted to condemn Colombia for granting facilities at seven military bases to the United States, which is helping it battle guerrillas and drug-traffickers. “Winds of war are blowing,” he thundered. Four countries, including Chile and Peru, backed Colombia. Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, tried to damp down the dispute, suggesting that the group meet both Barack Obama and Mr Uribe to seek reassurances about the use of the bases. But then Mr Chávez launched a diatribe against Colombia and Mr Obama. Lula cut short his visit to Ecuador and headed home, giving warning that UNASUL could “cease to be an integration process, becoming just a group of friends.” If only."
"This fiasco provides fuel for both sides in a long-running debate in Brazil about the foreign policy of the Lula government. The critics, who include several senior former diplomats, accuse the government of placing ideology above Brazil’s national interest—especially in policy towards South America. "
"Lula’s predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, sought to boost trade and other ties with the United States and Europe. On taking office in 2003, Lula placed new stress on south-south ties. Brazil has doubled the number of its embassies in Africa, to 30, and joined or set up a clutch of new clubs. These include IBSA, with India and South Africa, of which Itamaraty, the foreign ministry, is especially proud. "
"As evidence that this policy has borne fruit, Celso Amorim, the foreign minister, points out that most of Brazil’s trade is now with developing countries, thus anticipating Mr Obama’s advice that the world should not rely on the United States as consumer of last resort. He concedes that Brazil does not agree with the other big emerging powers on everything, but they do share an interest in trying to change the way that international institutions and the world economy are run."
"The critics see in some aspects of the government’s diplomacy an implicit anti-Americanism. Lula got on well with George Bush even while disagreeing with many of his policies. Brazil’s relations with the United States are correct, but oddly distant. Lula retains a soft spot for Cuba, perhaps because Fidel Castro helped him and his party when they were struggling against a military regime which, at its outset at least, had American backing.
But the anti-Americanism comes from some aides more than from the president himself. He has promoted ultranationalists within Itamaraty. He gave responsibility for South America to Marco Aurélio Garcia, the foreign-relations guru of his Workers’ Party. This was one of Lula’s many balancing acts, compensating his left-wing base for its disappointment that he ignored them on economic policy. "
"By common consent, policy towards South America has become more pragmatic in Lula’s second term. In particular, Brazil’s relations with Colombia have improved. Brazilian diplomats say privately that their aim is to contain and moderate Mr Chávez. But Lula has often seemed to endorse him. Would Brazil ever criticise Mr Chávez for endangering democracy? “It’s not the way we work,” says Mr Amorim. “It’s not by being a loudspeaker that you change things.” Yet Brazilian officials were not shy about criticising Colombia’s military agreement with the United States. "
"Their critics argue that Brazil should seek to integrate South America on the basis of rules, rather than political sympathy, and that by proclaiming regional leadership it risks becoming the target of regional grievance. They also question the utility of UNASUL and its first project, a South American Defence Council. “To defend against what?” asks Mr Cardoso. Brazil’s armed forces did not propose the defence council, nor do they see the American presence in Colombia as a threat. “The United States isn’t attacking Latin America. Chávez threatens, he’s not being threatened,” says Mr Cardoso."