Brazil’s New President: U.S. Ally or Rival?

Ray Walser /

On October 31, 2010, Brazilian voters elected that country’s first female president: Dilma Rouseff. Ms. Rouseff of the leftist Workers’ Party defeated her Center-Right rival Jose Serra by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent of the votes cast. A former leftist guerilla turned technocrat, Ms. Rouseff was chief of staff to outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Siva. This is her first elected post.

Ms. Rouseff glided into presidential office on a crest of optimism generated by the policy successes and popularity of Lula, Brazil’s popular president. With an over 80% approval rating, Lula has overseen eight years of nearly uninterrupted economic growth, substantial poverty reduction and an expanded if sometimes ambiguous role for Brazil on the global stage.

Of fundamental interest to Washington will be Rouseff’s future role as foreign policy leader. While Brazil has played a positive role in Haiti, and promised action on climate change and protection of the Amazon, it has also sparred with Washington. Observers have begun to ask questions regarding the inner character and moral compass of Brazil’s leadership. As a democracy will Brazil stand with it natural democratic allies—the U.S., Europe, Japan—on governance and human rights issues? Will it speak out when others are repressed and democracy is trampled?

In the Americas, the Obama Administration and Lula’s government have fenced over issues such as Honduras, Cuba, and the U.S.-Colombia Defense Agreement. In South America, Brazil has done little to speak out on the muggings of democracy in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.

As former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G. Castaneda noted: Brazil has been too cozy with Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, not questioning the jailing of political opponents, crackdowns on journalism or electoral fraud. It has, according to the Inter-American Dialogue, a “warm, uncritical relationship with Iran and other oppressive regimes.”

Last May, the Obama Administration received a rude awakening when Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan brokered a failed nuclear fuel swap with Iran and voted against U.N. sanctions aim at curbing Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. Railed The New York Times editorialist Thomas Friedman: “Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, to, can playat the big power table?”

Will winner Rouseff, once a victim of the repression in a military regime, continue the Lula track and cozy up to the likes of Admadinejad, Chavez, and the Castro brothers? If she does, then Washington, Brasilia, and global democracy will be the losers.