RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 4 2005 (IPS) — Analysts do not expect anything significant to come of U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to Brazil this weekend, which they say will merely confirm the smooth relations between the two countries’ leaders and their willingness to cooperate, despite the fact that they are at different ends of the ideological spectrum and have widely divergent political interests.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will treat Bush to a barbecue Sunday, while the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), Brazil’s largest trade union federation, which is close to the leftwing government, has joined together with other social movements to organise demonstrations in cities around Brazil from Friday to Sunday, to protest the U.S. president’s brief visit.
In interviews with Latin American journalists this week, Bush praised Lula – who he described as “an interesting man” – as well as the leadership role played by Brazil.
But observers have not forgotten that Brasilia opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, or that it was discrepancies between the United States and Brazil that blocked progress towards the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Nor have they overlooked Lula’s good relations with leftist Washington nemeses like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
Bush admitted to the Brazilian daily O Estado de Sao Paulo that he has differences with Lula, a former trade unionist. But he also pointed to “shared objectives,” like the fight against hunger and poverty, promoting democracy in Latin America, and cooperation in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) multilateral trade talks.
Despite their differences, the two countries are “condemned to maintain good relations, because of their reciprocal importance,” according to Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira, the author of several books on the history of inter-American ties.
Bush’s visit to Brazil after the two-day Summit of the Americas ends Saturday in Argentina “will be a formality, without major consequences,” because it is merely part of an attempt by the U.S. leader to show that he has not neglected Latin America, the analyst told IPS.
Washington sees Brazil as a reliable country thanks to economic policies that safeguard the interests of investors, but there are sectors in power in the United States that are upset with Lula’s foreign policy and thus do not want to see him reelected next year, said Moniz Bandeira.
The main problem that the United States has with the Lula administration would appear to be its warm ties with the Chávez government in Venezuela, which the Brazilian president has described as “excessively democratic” due to the number of elections held since the Venezuelan leader took office, and because his popularity was confirmed when he took just under 60 percent of the vote in a presidential recall referendum organised by the opposition.
But it is, precisely, the emergence of political leaders like Chávez and socialist presidential candidate Evo Morales in Bolivia – the popular indigenous leader of that country’s coca farmers – which has accentuated the importance that Washington ascribes to Lula and his leftist Workers Party government, say observers.
In the view of U.S. officials, Brazil plays an important role in maintaining political stability in the region, thus helping to safeguard democracy.
Brazil’s diplomacy has traditionally shunned radical positions and has been marked by a tendency to assume a moderating role, said Clovis Brigagao, director of the centre for studies on the Americas at the Candido Mendes University in Rio de Janeiro.
With a more complex society than that of Venezuela and other neighbouring countries, Brazil cannot “embark on adventures,” and Washington is aware of that, he remarked to IPS.
Brigagao also believes that “nothing big or decisive” will come out of Bush’s less than 24-hour visit to Brasilia.
He noted that shared interests between the two countries range from cooperation on law enforcement question, like the fight against drugs, to touchy issues like the use of the Alcántara satellite launch site in northern Brazil, and United Nations reforms.
He also underlined that Bush’s good relations with Lula do not guarantee Brazil the permanent spot on the U.N. Security Council that it is seeking.
On the trade front, the two countries have experienced disputes, like Brazil’s successful legal action against U.S. cotton subsidies in the WTO and the stalling of the FTAA process, he added.
But “a few centimetres” of progress could be made, for example, on the question of the Doha round of WTO trade talks in this weekend’s meetings between the two presidents, said Brigagao.
Lastly, the analyst joked, Bush and Lula could “share experiences” with respect to the scandals facing their governments, which have led to the resignation of several of their closest aides.
Security will be tight in Brasilia over the weekend, with 500 federal police officers and the armed forces providing protection for Bush, his wife Laura, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the rest of the presidential party.
Sunday morning’s formal meeting between the two leaders will be followed by the barbeque that Lula traditionally offers his guests at his country house.